I was waking up from a nap this afternoon. I was thinking about jobs that I’ve had in the past, and about the possibility of applying for a new job in the future. Although I think I would prefer to work on my writing, and try to make money that way, rather than working at a traditional job. I thought about a pet store, and a coffee shop that I had worked at in the past. They were both jobs I had thought at the time would be “fun” jobs, where I could really enjoy what I was doing, and enjoy the people I was working with. Both, however, came with their own type of stress that was unique to that job. The pet store had a manager that nobody could get along with, and the coffee shop had its early morning rush every day.
While I was thinking about my previous jobs, and wondering about the future. I heard a voice blurt out, “You’re not allowed to have a job!” At that moment, my mood changed. I became irritated and angry, that someone (albeit in my head) would have the nerve to say that to me. After all, who are they to determine what I can and can’t do with my life. For some reason, these voices have a tendency to try to tell me what I can and can’t do, or sometimes, what I should or should not be doing with my life. It makes me angry, and is often frustrating.
When I was working last year, occasionally I would hear voices at work, and I thought that they were trying to get me fired from my job. I could hear voices that sounded like they were talking to me from the other side of the wall of the building that I was in, and it would make me nervous because I didn’t want my supervisor to find out. I thought my voices were calling my work, and trying to get me fired because they were mad at me for chanting. Sometime during the spring/summer of last year, I chanted periodically for my voices to go away. I believed that this had made them mad, so in turn, they tried to get me fired from my part-time job. I worked for the same company, but at two different locations. One in the morning, and one in the afternoon. It turned out that I did end up getting fired from the one in the afternoon, although they claimed it was for financial reasons. The location where I worked in the morning, I ended up leaving because they reduced my hours so drastically that it hardly made it worthwhile driving the distance to work.
When I hear voices telling me that I’m not allowed to have a job or earn any income, it does make me angry, but I don’t pay any attention. I ignore what they say, and continue on with my day, and now that I have a blog, I write about it. This is much more productive than sitting around dwelling on what they say, and getting frustrated and annoyed. I hope that in the future I do earn a respectable income from writing, and this is what I am going to continue working at.
Yesterday at my group therapy session we talked a little bit about what it means to do a “reality check”. We were discussing the different kinds of symptoms that we have, and how our symptoms can cause paranoia and anxiety. Our group leader encouraged us to do a “reality check” as a way of confirming that our fears (or paranoia) are unfounded and not based in reality. I shared an experience I had a few months ago before I went into the hospital, when I was experiencing extreme paranoia.
I was hearing voices quite a bit during this time, and one morning I got upset with what I was hearing. I heard someone (a voice in my head) say that if I didn’t move out of our apartment complex, they would kill my husband. They had also been making similar threats if I didn’t stop chanting. They said they had filed a lawsuit because my chanting offended them, and that many of them had complained about it to the management of the apartment complex. Apparently, the apartment complex managers had said there was nothing they could do (about my chanting).
The morning I heard that threat, I became fed up, and decided to do my own “reality check”. I walked down to the leasing office, and asked the women there if anyone had ever complained to them about my Buddhist practice or my chanting. They asked me what apartment I lived in, and then said no. No one had ever complained about me, and if they had complained, I would have been notified. This was quite a relief. While it did nothing to prevent me from hearing the voices in the first place, at least I was reassured that what I thought might be true, really was not true, and had no basis in reality.
My husband always checks with me to make sure that I don’t start to believe in the voices that I hear in my head. He wants to make sure that I know they aren’t real. I think that by encouraging us to do our own “reality check”, our group leader is helping us to realize and believe for ourselves that our symptoms are just that: symptoms of an illness, and nothing more.
The past few days have been good days, especially in terms of my symptoms. Every time my husband asked me if I had heard any voices that day, I always was able to say “No!” It’s such a relief not to hear anything. I think I was getting to the point of acceptance, meaning that I felt like I had come to accept the fact that I would always hear voices, at least once or twice during the day. But these past two or three days over Labor Day Weekend were very good days! I didn’t hear anything! That’s very hard for me to believe, but it’s true. I do feel relieved, because I know that I shouldn’t be hearing anything at all. It’s just because of my illness that I hear voices.
I used to describe the times when I didn’t hear voices as “quiet” times. When it’s “quiet”, I feel better, and am able to think more clearly. I think one of the positive aspects of having this illness is that it has definitely allowed me to appreciate my life more when I am not hearing voices, and even sometimes when I am. It takes so much effort for me to ignore what I hear in my head, that when I don’t hear anything, I feel such a sense of relief. I am also able to enjoy my life so much more.
I’ve also come to realize that I can’t allow my own happiness to be swayed or influenced by what I hear in my head. This is easy to do. Often we allow our happiness to come from someplace outside ourselves. When this happens, we become dependent on whatever that external source is, and we do not rely on our inner selves to be happy. I often think that if only I didn’t hear any voices, or experience any symptoms of my schizoaffective disorder, then I would be happy. However, I need to learn how to be happy regardless of the symptoms I might be experiencing, otherwise, my happiness becomes dependent on my external circumstances, rather than my own internal state of life. When I can develop a state of life that can experience happiness regardless of my external circumstances, or regardless of what is going on in my head, then I can enjoy true happiness in my life.
One afternoon, at the suggestion of my husband, I wrote down everything I heard the voices say. I took a sheet of notebook paper, and while I was writing articles on the computer, I would pause periodically to make a note about what I heard the voices say in my head. This was awhile ago, when I was hearing voices pretty regularly throughout the day. When my husband came home, I showed him what I had written down, and of course he didn’t understand much of it. Mostly I had written down bits and pieces of what I had heard, fragments of conversation, and incomplete thoughts. I tried explaining to him what each note meant, but when I looked back at it, it didn’t make sense to me either. It was as if I had just written down one part of a conversation, and the rest was missing. Sometimes when I hear voices, it’s as if I’m having a conversation with them in my head. When I write down what they say, my part of the conversation is missing.
I took my notes to my next appointment with my psychiatrist, and showed him what I had written down. He looked at the paper briefly, and his only comment was, “They are all negative.” Of course I knew that. It wasn’t hard to figure out, just by reading them. My therapist had also said that for most people who suffer from auditory hallucinations, the voices tend to be negative. I’m not sure why that is. For me, it’s almost as if my inner doubt, lack of confidence, and negativity manifest themselves as the very audible voices in my head. I’ve read in self-help books about how we have to use positive self-talk, and not be influenced by our own self-doubt. That’s exactly what these voices represent in my life, my own negativity.
I try to stay positive, and when I chant, I chant to challenge my doubt and negativity. Usually this helps. I feel better afterward, and have more confidence. My husband has often said that it’s too bad the voices aren’t positive, and that they aren’t telling me to do things that are good for me, like exercise, write, or listen to music. Unfortunately, that’s not the way it is. When I hear voices, I have to counteract what I hear with something positive, otherwise, the negativity can be overwhelming.
Recently, and in the past, I have heard the voices say to me (usually when I am chanting), “You can’t change your karma!” I do not believe this. The Buddhism that I practice teaches that we can change our karma, and that we can use our experiences, both negative and positive to learn from, and to help us grow. Often I will chant or pray to be able to “change my karma”, and that is when occasionally I will hear something like the voice I described above.
Karma is a tricky concept. Most people think of it as “what goes around, comes around”. This is true to a certain extent. But when you take into consideration the Buddhist teaching that we have had infinite previous lifetimes, and will have infinite future lifetimes (all of which come with our karma that has accumulated from the past), then it is not so easy to link what happens to us in the present with any particular past good or bad deed, especially when it may have been carried over from a previous lifetime.
When I chant to be able to change my karma, it is more of a desire to change my life, and improve how it is in the present. I don’t want to constantly focus on the past, or worry about what might happen in the future. When I face problems or difficulties, rather than viewing them from the perspective of “what bad karma I must have”, it is better to look at the situation as an opportunity to take responsibility for my own happiness, and change myself positively from within. In this sense, we can change our karma. It all depends on our attitude and our determination.