I met with my psychiatrist early Monday morning. We mainly discussed the fact that I’ve stopped taking the anti-psychotic medications that he had been prescribing for me. I had been on 800mg of Seroquel XL and 9mg of Invega, both of which I stopped taking. He was definitely glad that I told him about the medication. He asked me why I hadn’t told him sooner. He said I could have just told him that I didn’t want to take the medication anymore because it wasn’t working for me. I think I was afraid of what my family would think if I told them that I didn’t want to take the medication anymore. My husband and my parents tend to worry quite a bit about the symptoms, and how they effect me as well as how they effect our marriage. After the past 10 years of taking both anti-depressants and anti-psychotics, I felt that the anti-psychotics were useless. The voices never really went away and I began to believe that my auditory hallucinations weren’t in any way related to whether or not I was taking medication.
My psychiatrist discussed an alternative anti-psychotic with me that I haven’t tried before and said that if my symptoms ever become worse, for me to call him and we can try something different. This sounded like a good idea to me. He also asked me how my symptoms were. I told him that they are about the same. I am doing better at not letting the voices that I hear intrude on my life and affect my mood like I used to do. I occasionally hear a girl’s voice whispering in my head, usually imitating my own thoughts, like an echo. If I’m making breakfast in the morning, I’ll think to myself, “Hmmm. Maybe I’ll have a bowl of cereal with some toast and a cup of coffee.” Then I’ll hear the girl’s voice in my head repeating almost exactly what I’ve just said to myself. “Hmmm. I’ll have a bowl of cereal with some toast and coffee.” This whispering voice isn’t frightening or loud, just irritating if I let it get to me.
When I hear voices yelling, however, it’s sometimes harder to ignore. I’m no longer afraid, but it’s still a little unnerving. Especially if I’m in a public place like a coffee shop and it sounds like the voice is coming from the parking lot outside. All the same, I’m constantly making every effort possible to distract my thoughts and ignore the voices that I hear in my head. I listen to music during the day, sometimes I turn up the volume pretty loud so I don’t hear any voices. I’ve learned to think about things other than the voices and what they’ve said to me in the past. I’ll think back to a funny part from a favorite movie or TV show or I’ll think of something funny John has said or a joke he’s told me that made me laugh. I also think of old childhood memories that I remember with fondness. It isn’t easy to keep my thoughts off the voices, often I feel that I tire too easily during the day. I think it is more of an emotional or mental tiredness, not so much physical, but it’s much better than listening to the voices or taking toxic amounts of medication. I chant at least an hour a day for my own happiness and for the happiness of everyone in my life. Every day I make the effort to leave the past behind and keep moving forward.
I haven’t heard much from the voices these past few days in Colorado. A little yelling, and a little whispering here and there but that’s about it. I really enjoy spending time with my mom and dad and I only wish that John had been able to join me. I know that he’s really supporting his parents at this time since his brother passed away a few weeks ago. I’ve been relaxing, reading, writing, and baking.
I helped my dad put together a photo book for his two sisters. When my grandmother passed away a few years ago, he kept her photo albums and she had a lot of old pictures from when she was young, and from when my dad was young. It’s really fascinating to go through her photo albums and look at the pictures. Especially when you can see how my dad and his family lived back then. There are pictures of different places in Wyoming where my grandmother and my dad grew up, the animals they kept and took care of, old cars and bicycles, the type of clothing they wore, and what the land looked like. Of course Wyoming hasn’t changed much since the early 1900’s, it’s still mostly a lot of wide open spaces, but there is a bit difference in how people lived their lives.
So much has changed in this country over such a short period of time – even over the course of my dad’s life – going from pumping water from a well outside the house, to indoor plumbing makes a huge difference in his life. There are so many changes, especially advances in technology and medicine that many of us take for granted. We live in such a high tech age now, that the younger generation has no idea what life was like before cell phones, video games, and the internet. What if we wanted to make a phone call from the grocery store or let our partner know we were running late? We just had to wait until we got home. What a concept.
Many times I think back to my Peace Corps experience, and the most valuable part of my experience is what I learned about how other people live, especially compared to how we live in the U.S. We take so much for granted that so many people in this world don’t have. Things like electricity, heat, running water, telephones (not even cell phones), television, and the list goes on. I always try to remind myself of how fortunate I really am in this life.
My brother-in-law’s funeral service is this morning, and I am visiting my parents in Colorado. John stayed behind to be with his family. As much as death is a part of life, we are never prepared for someone’s passing. John’s brother’s death is a loss shared by all of us.
I’m glad that I’m able to enjoy these next couple of weeks with my mom and dad. Their house is very peaceful, and I have a chance to relax, reflect and spend time with my parents. It’s been a harrowing past couple of years and I feel like things are just beginning to settle down. I always chant for John’s happiness and to be able to challenge my own weaknesses. I found a wonderful quote in Daisaku Ikeda’s “The Vow of the Ikeda Kayo-kai: Encouragement For Young Women” book:
True joy can be found in the midst of challenges. Problems can help us grow. Strong opponents can make us stronger. It is just as Nichiren says when he writes, “It is not one’s allies but one’s powerful enemies who assist one’s progress” (WND-1, 770).
Often we think that we need to be surrounded by warm, loving and positive people, whether they be family members, friends, neighbors or colleagues. When we are not, we are unhappy. This has been my experience for many years, only the powerful enemies in my life took the form of disembodied voices. It is hard for me to believe that my enemies assist my progress, but perhaps it is true. If not for my struggles battling against the extreme negativity and evil of the voices, I might never have mustered the courage and strength to challenge my own weaknesses. The voices amplified my own pessimism, doubt, negativity, and lack of confidence to the extreme. I still have to constantly fight against this darkness that is part of my own life and create something positive. This why I write.
We had a beautiful Thanksgiving dinner last Thursday, and we truly have so much to be thankful for. I roasted my first turkey complete with brine and my brother-in-law’s herb butter sauce. Almost all of John’s family came to our house for Thanksgiving dinner, and we had his nephew on speaker phone during the prayer. We had a stressful weekend with John’s brother’s illness, and are starting to get back in the swing of things today.
I continue to improve with ignoring any whispering or yelling voices that I hear. At this point, I can ignore and disregard almost everything. Last week, I was very angry with the few voices I was still hearing occasionally, so I told John that I had written a letter and posted it online. We had a long discussion, and I also told him that I wasn’t taking my medication anymore. I am only taking the anti-depressant. I stopped taking the anti-psychotics because they didn’t work, I gained too much weight, and it was such a toxic dosage. I am doing well, however, and I believe that my weekly therapy appointments have done more to help me manage my symptoms and deal with this illness than the medication ever has.
Yesterday I took Savannah out for a walk along the bay. It was sunny and a little breezy, but by the time we started walking back to the car, the blue sky was clouding over. We walked down the path heading toward the drinking fountain, and I saw a man wearing a sweatshirt with the hood pulled over his head. He approached the pump and held his right arm out in the air almost perpendicular to his body. I heard a gun shot. The shot sounded like it had been fired toward the levees, toward the man who had stuck his hand out. He put his arm back down next to his body. 15 or 20 minutes earlier I saw a KTVU Channel 2 helicopter fly overhead leaving the bay heading towards the city. I heard a few shots fired at that time as well. Duck hunters often come during hunting season in the fall and winter to hunt ducks and other birds out in the slough. They aren’t allowed to fire toward the levees though, because of the joggers, walkers, and bicyclists out there. Hearing gunshots along the bay isn’t unusual.
I called out to Savannah so we could head home, and as I turned back I caught one last glimpse of the hooded sweatshirt man. He had continued walking down the trail and past the pumping station. He was standing facing the treatment ponds with his arms in the air and knees slightly bent. I heard a few more gun shots off in the distance. I wasn’t sure what he was doing there. He looked as if he was exercising, praying, doing some type of Tai Chi, or maybe surrendering. I pulled Savannah along and headed back to the car. I was nervous and left in a hurry.
We’re going back to the same trail for another walk today. We’re fortunate to have trails along the San Francisco Bay that are so close by. There are thousands of birds in the marshes, as well as plenty of other plants, animals and insects for Savannah to sniff and me to take pictures of. In spite of the trails being located next to the water treatment facility, they really are a great public natural resource.