Did you ever think you heard something and turn to discover nothing there? We all have. But have you ever heard voices that seemed to be inside your own head? Voices that told you you smell bad or that you should leap in front of a bus?
It's hard to imagine getting through life with such hallucinations. But for many people it is a daily challenge. I, for one, have spent most of my 29 years hearing these inexplicable voices. Two forms of severe mental illness Â– schizophrenia and bipolar disorder Â– are responsible.
I don't know why or how I developed these conditions. There is no history of mental illness in my family.
Perhaps the first sign of problems to come was when I was still a kid in school. I started acting out in front of other classmates. According to my teachers, I was hyperactive, and they suggested medication. But my mother refused.
When I was 14 I started hearing voices. They were frightening and foreboding. They would tell me to kill people and threaten to kill me if I didn't. To escape these demons, I did street drugs Â– angel dust, cocaine, and pills. I also began to drink heavily. Ultimately my mother had to commit me to a psychiatric institution for a year.
While I was being treated I was afraid to tell my doctors about the voices in my head. So I was treated for drugs and alcohol addiction.
After I was discharged, I continued to hear the voices. I became so depressed that I couldn't bear to be alive, and I attempted suicide. I had to return to a psychiatric ward, but I still didn't trust the people there to tell them about my voices. So they continued to treat just my substance abuse.
The voices at times were stronger than at others. When I was in my mid-twenties, they became unbearable. I began to run away from them Â– literally Â– taking trains and buses to cities such as Atlanta and Phoenix.
But nothing worked. No matter where I traveled, I could not escape them.
I finally took a bus to Santa Monica, California, where I went to a hospital and told the doctors about the overwhelming dialogue going on in my head. I was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia and given medications for it, but the voices still overpowered my mind.
I went back to New York, where the doctors added bipolar disorder and hypothyroidism to my diagnosis and started me on a new antipsychotic.
Two and a half months later, I stumbled out of my hospital bed and walked to the nurses' station, where I announced, "The voices are gone." For the first time, my mind was quiet and clear. I began learning things all over again. I felt like a newborn baby.
My life has changed dramatically because of these medications. I no longer wait for the voices to tell me what to do. I set my own goals. I've moved into my own apartment and attend a day program. And I'm hoping to go back to school this summer to become a chef.
The voices are gone, and I'm relieved (though I have to admit that sometimes when I'm lonely I do miss them).
This story was written by John Gillen with the help of Todd Huckabone. Based in New York, they both live with schizophrenia.http://www.mentalwellness.com/html/mw/pd_mentalhealth.xml?article=index_stories.jspf