How I Quiet the Voices
When I was diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder, the hardest part of coming to terms with it was the difficulty of managing the voices that come and go. Medication plays a large role in keeping the auditory hallucinations at bay, but much of the work comes from the therapeutic ways that I cope with it on a daily basis. Having a thought disorder comes with a lot of stigma, and telling people that I am hearing voices initially made me feel vulnerable to being seen as “crazy” or “nuts” or “psychotic”. However, by using humor, coping skills, a strict medication regimen, and being honest with my treatment team, I have learned how to quiet the voices.
Schizoaffective disorder is a thought disorder with a mood component. It includes symptoms of schizophrenia including hallucinations and delusions, as well as mood disorder symptoms like those found in bipolar disorder, such as depressive episodes and manic episodes. Sounds fun, right? However, when I first showed symptoms of schizoaffective disorder, I used humor to my advantage. Laughing about the symptoms that I was experiencing brought me a great deal of comfort. I was hearing voices, music, and seeing and feeling visual and tactile hallucinations. So what did I do to manage through such a scary time? I laughed! I joked about what I was going through, and in the difficulty, I found humor as a way to live with my disease for the first few years. By finding a bit of humor in what I was going through, it released the dopamine in my brain and eased my anxiety, which often calmed the hallucinations down.
Along my mental health journey, I have been using coping skills learned through Dialectical Behavior Therapy, also known as DBT. These skills provided me with a metaphorical toolkit for managing the voices associated with schizoaffective disorder. When I am feeling paranoid and the voices are pulling me away from my sense of reality, I ground myself and describe my surroundings in reality. What can I see? What can I touch? What can I hear in the moment? Methods such as checking the facts of the situation help me to shush the voices, because I remind myself that they are just a symptom of my disorder, thus taking away their power. I also use imagery to quiet the auditory hallucinations. I like to visualize a stop sign when an intrusive voice pops into my head. Seeing the stop sign through my imagination stops the voice dead in its tracks, and prevents my brain from running with the hallucination. I can come back to reality much quicker.
It may sound obvious, but taking my medication does wonders for quieting those pesky voices. I have learned to take my medication at the same time each day, maintaining a strict regimen and decreasing the chances of experiencing a problematic episode, such as a psychotic break when it is difficult to see reality from delusion. The medication can only be relied on as long as I am taking it as prescribed. Additionally, avoiding mind-altering substances such as alcohol, eating healthy, and getting exercise can help my medication work in combating the voices because these all help to keep me at my best, allowing the medication to have the best chance at working properly.
Don’t Suffer in Silence
I spent the first three years of my disorder suffering in silence, not being honest about the frequency of my hallucinations, and attempting to handle it on my own. The most valuable tool that I use in quieting the voices is talking. I finally came clean to my treatment team and told my psychiatrist and therapist that I heard voices on the daily. Once I was honest with my support system, and really honest with myself, I was able to get the help I needed through talk therapy and medication. Honesty is by far the most valuable component in being treated. Asking for help is not a negative thing, it is commendable and can help save your life. Talking about my symptoms helped me recognize that I had support, I no longer had to suffer alone, and it brought me back to a better sense of what was real and what was not. The voices no longer had the immense power over me; I was now the one in control.
With any mental health disorder, there are always ways to combat symptoms and treat the illness. The key to keeping the mind healthy is different for everyone, and I hope that sharing my story helps someone who may have felt alone. Please remember that you are not alone. I am lucky and grateful to be a part of a support community that has helped me cope, and I hope that anyone suffering in silence can reach out. Help is hard to ask for, but it is well worth the results.