I went for my first volunteer session this morning. I haven’t actually started yet, but I had to go for a mini training session, where I was shown around the classroom, and introduced to their reading lessons. I am volunteering for a non-profit reading organization, so I will be working with individual students who need help with their reading. It seems like a worthwhile endeavor, and I am looking forward to starting in a week or two. I’ve never volunteered before, except as a Peace Corps volunteer, so it’s a little bit different for me. When I first walked in the room this morning, I automatically thought about how I was going to keep track of my time, so I could be sure and get paid accurately. Then I remembered that I was volunteering! Prior to my third hospitalization in May of this year, I had been tutoring for a learning center, so I am accustomed to teaching reading, and working with children. My training session this morning brought back some familiar memories from teaching reading to young children, so I think that this will definitely be a positive experience!
I’ve been doing so well, and I am really enjoying writing in my blog quite a bit. My symptoms of schizoaffective disorder (primarily the auditory hallucinations) have diminished considerably, and I am enjoying my life, and particularly my marriage quite a bit more. I am not sure exactly what caused my symptoms to decrease from the time I started writing my blog. My therapist said that it is because I am more focused on my writing, and less on “putting up a for rent sign in my head, inviting the voices to come in,” as she says. This means I have that much more time to spend on myself, and work on my own self-improvement. I don’t have to spend as much time trying to ignore what I hear and it also takes quite a bit less energy as well.
I have more time to write, chant, cook, read for pleasure, and work on song-writing with my husband. I didn’t have time for any of these things when I was working full-time. Maybe my long period of unemployment (or partial employment) along with the severity of my symptoms is really a blessing in disguise! I now have time for all these activities that I had never made time for in the past while I was working. The best thing would be if I could make a decent income from my writing. I also write children’s stories, short stories, and news articles, in addition to my blog. If I am able to compile my blog into a book, that would be great too. Anything to build my writing career!
I feel like I’m being given a second chance at a great career opportunity – writing! I’ve always enjoyed writing, even in school and for the few internships I had right out of graduate school. Now, I am able to explore other types of writing avenues, and hopefully one day they will pay off. I have a tendency to leave partially finished writing projects lying around. I have a couple of children’s stories that I haven’t finished that I am hoping to publish someday. I know it’s hard to get published (in any market) these days, but that is still my ultimate goal.
I went to my group therapy class today and we talked about assertiveness, and not giving our symptoms (voices) power over our lives. Both of these topics are great for people suffering from schizoaffective disorder, schizophrenia, and other types of mental illness.
Our group leader discussed ways to keep ourselves from giving our voices power over our lives. She said we should not give our voices power, momentum, energy, or authority. We should not allow our voices to influence our decisions, or tell us what to do. We need to be stronger than they are, although this can be a challenge. I have found that the voices I hear in my head can be overwhelming at times. Often, my voices seem stronger than me. Yesterday, my therapist told me I need to use my own strength in order to manage my voices. This can be difficult. Sometimes, I don’t feel like a very strong person. However, I need to be strong to manage my illness, and keep my marriage strong. I don’t want my illness to break apart our marriage, and that is a possibility if I allow my voices to have power and control over my life. I am the only one that should have power and control over my life. Not my voices.
Sometimes I give my voices power by dwelling on what they say. Other times I will just stop what I am doing, or stop paying attention to what I am doing, and listen to what they are saying. I know I should be ignoring them, but sometimes I can’t help it. Other times I give my voices power by thinking about how I can do what they say, or by trying to negotiate an agreement with them. I will also worry about what might happen if I don’t do what they say. These are all different ways that I give my voices power. In order to keep myself from giving my voices power, I try to keep busy. I write. I read. I visit with friends or call my parents. So far, my best outlet for distracting myself from my voices has been writing. It also helps to clarify what’s going on in my life, so that it doesn’t seem like everything is happening just in my head. It’s much better that way.
We also talked about assertiveness today in group. There are different ways of being assertive. We can be assertive when we want to solve a problem, or just express an opinion. I often have trouble being assertive. A lot of people don’t like to assert themselves because they think they will offend someone, or cause the other person to dislike them. I think I fall into this category. I have a tendency to think that everyone should like me, but I know that this is impossible. For me to assert myself, it seems like I’m taking a risk. Maybe the other person won’t like me if I tell them what I think, or if I express my true opinion about a particular subject. I don’t think that’s what we mean by being assertive. Being assertive does not mean being offensive, or disagreeable. It just means expressing ourselves, and standing up for ourselves. We should not allow other people to walk all over us. This is what it means to be assertive. Sometimes, people may actually respect us more when we do assert ourselves. It takes practice, but is definitely doable.
I heard some more voices yesterday afternoon while I was doing Pilates exercises and chanting. I tried not to listen. They were saying something about how “my argument was absurd”. As I have mentioned before, the voices that I hear, (and usually these types of auditory hallucinations in general) are negative. I went to my therapist appointment that evening, and she suggested that when I hear voices to try just letting them pass through my mind without thinking about or dwelling on what they are saying, or trying to make sense of what they say, or wonder if I heard them correctly. She wanted me to try this to see how it works, kind of like an experiment. I said I would try it, and see what happens.
Sometimes its hard not to react to what I hear. My husband constantly reassures me that the voices aren’t real, so I shouldn’t let them bother me. Still, sometimes I worry or get concerned about what I hear, especially if there are threats. I think it’s the threats that bother me the most, although I am getting better about not paying attention to the voices, and not letting them get to me.
Sometimes I think I hear a voice(s), but am unable to distinguish if it’s just in my head, or coming from someone in the apartment complex. Sometimes it’s difficult to tell the difference. Even when the voices are just in my head, they sound very real, and often very loud. Sometimes I will hear a voice, and then not be able to determine what I heard. Occasionally, I will just forget what I heard when I try to recall it the next day, or even later that same day.
This happened today in the morning while I was chanting. I thought I heard a voice or two, but I couldn’t distinguish what they were saying, so I ignored them. Now, when I think back, I’m still unsure of what they said. I think it’s probably better this way. I’d rather not be able to hear anything at all, and if I can’t quite make out what the voices are saying, then it’s for the best. My husband usually asks me what I hear when I tell him that I’ve heard voices that day. I tell him, and it’s always the same type of thing that they are saying (e.g. we’re going to file a lawsuit, stop chanting, we’re going to kill you’re husband, etc…). I think that if I do hear something, and can’t understand what they are saying, then it’s just as well, since most of what they say is nonsense anyway.
Sometimes I think I should be listening to what the voices are saying, or that if I ignore them, I might miss something. I don’t really believe this anymore. I find that if I am consciously listening to what I hear in my head, it makes it that much worse. I have often become so caught up in what I am hearing in my head, that I stop paying attention to what is going on immediately around me. If I am with my family, I find it hard to focus on what I am doing. If I am with my husband, I’ll get distracted. In order to stay “in the moment”, I find it’s much better if I completely ignore what I hear in my head, and not worry about what I don’t understand or what I might have misunderstood. Then I can pay more attention to what is important in my life, and stay in the here and now.