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  • Writer's pictureAndrew Field

What is alogia, and what does it feel like?

There are a lot of symptoms that I experience as someone living with schizoaffective disorder, and some of them get a lot of attention when schizophrenia (schizoaffective is on the schizophrenia spectrum) is discussed, like delusions and hallucinations, including audible hallucinations, a fancy term for hearing voices. I experience delusions, and hallucinations, on a daily basis, and they are definitely worth describing and talking about, not only because they are strange, but because they are experienced; and if others have not experienced these things, then it seems important to share one's knowledge of these things to raise awareness and lessen aloneness. But alogia, or poverty of speech, is a symptom of schizoaffective and schizophrenia that is profoundly uncomfortable, and even somewhat distressing, and when I experience it I have the explicit and tacit sense that I am running into the limits of my own brain. And very few people know about it, or presumably have experienced it. What is alogia, and what does it feel like?

Essentially, alogia - another term for it is "poverty of speech" - is when one has a hard time talking, but not because of reticence or social anxiety but because of a mental illness. One casts about, like dropping a net into a well, but one does not come up with anything. It's like a blankly clanking thing, something that feels like an inner resourcefulness that is supposed to be there but is not. Dried up. Wan and faded and pale to the point of being invisible. Scraped. Oftentimes I am struck with alogia in social situations that ask me to bring up a topic, or initiate a conversation, and when I am placed in these situations I feel acutely the sense of my self, what I want to call "the me," confined within the "not me," like a muffled barrier standing in the way of me saying something, or some opaque substance getting in the way of me reading the situation clearly and therefore knowing what to say. A mummified situation. Alogia is not social anxiety, which I have experienced and do experience; instead it's the visceral sense of words having fallen to the floor, but not speakable, grippable by my mouth. Thought blockage. Thought chokage. The words' living substances don't find me, but are elusive, like fish I can't catch. They fall to the floor, and I fall down and try to find any that will fit the contours of the situation, the contours of my social need, that I might voice, and be someone who says that thing that I wish I could find somewhere to say, but by the time I come up with "yes" and "no," which is often the best I can muster with alogia, the momentum of the conversation has dwindled, and the "yes" and "no" turn boringly at the bottom of the conversation like dregs in wine. The thoughts, the words, just aren't there.

Luckily we can also communicate in images. I picture alogia like this:

There something brick-like about being denied the ability to find the right words, but also something gravestone and eraser-like, as if in one fell stroke, because of schizoaffective, or schizophrenia, there was some sort of erasure in the language area of the brain. That muffled feeling, of the "me" being confined by the "not me," being muzzled almost - it's not mutism, but its mute-like. And it's not just being quiet, but being actively denied the ability to rustle up what is needed to find and voice the right words. This is why, sometimes, when I enter into a conversation, I feel as if I enter into it hiding behind a wall, like this:

For with alogia, what is often not being expressed is not just the words, but the affect behind the words. Hence the grayness, the dull affect, like someone who doesn't want to be going through the motions going through the motions. The strangest feeling, that - to feel on the inside a brightness, but to only be able to voice a grayness - another example of the "me" caught in the snares of the "not me." So I guess I will leave this blog post by saying that, when one is speaking with another in a social situation, do not assume by the interlocutor's minimal answerings or responses a lack of engagement. Sometimes I will feel quite engaged, or wish to be engaged, but will run up against the wall, the brick, the gravestone, the fat gray eraser of alogia, and then, no matter how bursting I am with the desire to participate, a "yes" or "no" in that moment, dull affect included, will be the best I can do.

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