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Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Showing My Hand

Any card player knows that the last thing you want to do in order to win the game is to show your hand. It is important to keep your cards hidden so that when you make your move to win, no one expects it and you walk away triumphant with all your secrets intact, leaving your opponents wondering how you did it.

When I started this blog, I decided that I would show my hand, so to speak, and would write about my mental illness in all its glory without leaving out the parts that might be hard to face or that I might want to hide. So today I will show my hand, expose my secret, risk losing the game...

About three months ago I started hearing voices. It was one of the scariest and most confusing things I have ever been through. It was hard to identify at first. It started with the sound of car doors closing, when there were no cars around. I would hear it and expect to see my parents walking into the house and when they didn't come, I'd walk to the porch and see that they weren't home. The first couple of times, I dismissed it, since occasionally we all think we hear things we don't actually hear. But this persisted. And then came the voices.

It was like having a crowd in my head, sometimes chanting the same thing altogether, sometimes all speaking at once, but saying different things. They were always there--like a loud whisper at times or a screaming mob at others. They were there to tell me that I wasn't good enough, that I was a burden to those around me, etc. Depression and low self-esteem have been a problem for me all my life, so hearing these things was nothing new really, except that it wasn't in my thoughts, it was coming from the voices in my head. Then came the demands. These voices started demanding that I pay more attention to them, that I do what they wanted, that I obey because they were never going to leave me alone, that they were just showing me my own desires anyway, so it was ok to listen...I fought with the voices for about 2 weeks before I finally gave in to their demands. I tried to kill myself. As usual, it failed. This time, though, it wasn't failing a suicide attempt, it was failing to succeed in the mission the voices had given me. They were angry and I was tired.

I don't know how to explain what it's like to hear voices. As I read over what I've written, I know it doesn't capture the experience. I keep wanting to insert that I'm not crazy, but once you get to "this level" of mental illness, it is hard to make that assertion because media and society are not kind toward those with hallucinations of any kind, but mainly because it makes me feel like I must be crazy. I have friends with different mental illnesses who have experienced both auditory and visual hallucinations and because I know these people, I have never thought them "crazy." I know that they are people with mental illnesses whose illness sometimes gets the better of them, even when they are doing everything "right"--taking their meds, using their coping skills, etc. Sometimes things just get too big, too powerful, too much for one person to handle. Sometimes a person needs some help.

First, I lied. I was already the "crazy" relative in the family; I didn't want to add to it. Lying, however, is only appropriate when Shelly supports it and I knew this was not a lie she would support. So, I got help. I admitted that I had lied and I confessed the voices to my family and my psychiatrist. They didn't run away screaming, I'll give them that. Although, admittedly, some may find out when they read this blog. What I found from those I did tell though, was support. There were a lot of questions to answer, and I know my family doesn't understand the experience, but they understand that it's scary. They understand it's confusing. They understand that I'm playing a card game they've never heard of.

I was put on a new medication once I told my psychiatrist about the voices and am happy to say that it has worked for me. I still hear the sound of car doors closing, but that I can handle. I have added coping skills to my set and am more equipped than I was before. I am learning to accept my new diagnosis and adjust my view of myself and my mental illness. Sometimes it is hard to separate the two, but I'm working on it.

Life is not a card game, but if it were, this is me, showing my hand. Professionals in card games will show their hand when they are teaching the newbies, when they are trying to show a newcomer how the game works and why they have made this move, or avoided that one. I don't know that I am teaching anyone anything, but am hoping that somehow showing my hand helps someone else. Not only that, but in this case, my opponent is mental illness and showing my hand, revealing my secret, is the play no one expects and is what makes me walk away triumphant.