Comments by Claire Bien, M.Ed.

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  • Dear Margaret,

    Thank you so much for sharing your story. Our stories are similar in many respects. I was also “late onset” and had been working successfully for many years when I was diagnosed. And like you, I successfully weaned myself from medication and I have worked mostly full-time and mostly professionally throughout my adult life. I think I was successful because I was stubborn enough to question the need for ongoing medication and succeeded in weaning myself – twice – as I was “recovering” from two extended periods of distressing hearing voices and being paranoid. Unlike you, I shied away from meditation, as I’d had bad experiences in my twenties (I started falling all the time because I associated my mantra with negative words – anger and anguish – not healthy). So my forms of focus and reflection included being the best possible mom to my son, joining a faith community that focuses on social justice and social action, singing – to recordings as well as in choir — and of course work—which is vitally necessary to sustaining our lives as well as to maintaining balance—the requirement to keep our jobs forces us to negotiate the terms with the voices—whether negative or absurdly flattering. I would love to communicate with you further about your experiences. The one commonality I didn’t mention above is that we’re both Asian.
    At the risk of shameless self-promotion, I’d like to let you know that I’ve written a memoir, Hearing Voices, Living Fully: Living with the Voices in My Head, which was published last June. I would be very interested in learning your thoughts about my experiences if you’re willing to read it. It’s been very well received and has gotten some great reviews, including one from Ron Unger, who is a leader in the Hearing Voices Movement. I’ve also had occasion to meet and talk with some young people who struggle with voices and paranoia and am told my story helps. Those interactions have inspired me to go back to school – I’m now 65(!) and work toward the clinical degree that I abandoned in my twenties because I kept making myself physically worrying about the student clients I saw in “Practicum” as part of my program. I’ll be going very part time, as I must work nearly full-time for another five years. But by the time I’m ready to “mostly” retire, I’ll have my degree. We’ll see where this leads – but one of the best things that I am doing for myself as I continue to struggle sometimes, is adding my voice and story to the survivor movement.

    Very best wishes,

    Claire Bien

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  • Dear Fiachra,

    I’m so glad that CBT has been helpful to you. I am such a firm believer in the power and utility of enlightened therapy and the desire and will of the individual in addressing and overcoming psychological distress.

    You write that you’ve “often wondered if hearing a voice was the end of things, or if the hearer could find a way of working things out.” For me it was a beginning. I truly believe I am a better person and more fully myself for having had voices and survived them.
    I’ve come to understand, through the Hearing Voices Movement (HVM) and some of the readings I’ve done in the past couple of years — notably an ISPS (International Society of Social and Psychological Approaches to Psychosis) publication, Psychosis and Emotion, that the voices in our heads generally address unresolved issues — feelings that we’ve blocked because taboo, or socially or culturally unacceptable — but because they are strong, and perhaps because they represent our own true selves, and will out. And when we continue to ignore them, they begin yelling at us to pay attention. One of the tenets of the HVM is that voices speak metaphorically–so their true meaning isn’t always easy to discern. I don’t know the reason–perhaps it’s a self-protective mechanism–because being direct might cause us more distress. But trying to discern meaning—and also just sharing – in therapy, and in support groups, is enormously useful because we feel less alone.

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  • Dear Berta,

    Thank you for your lovely, thoughtful comment. And thank you also for noting that my presuppositions rang less true for you. I have to admit that my pronouncements in the last pages of the memoir are intended to serve as a rallying cry for a reform and are, like many rallying cries, based upon limited knowledge (I truly know only my own story, along with a bit of what others have shared with me, and what I have been able–or cared–to understand.) Those pronouncements are based upon my own prejudices, and sadly limited perspective. The hope is to promote respectful conversation–and an earnest effort on everyone’s part to achieve what understanding we can. I’m glad you’re part of this conversation. Claire

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  • Dear Someone Else (and how many of us, truly, are there?),

    Thank you for sharing a bit of your own story. So many of the phenomena you describe are similar to my own experiences–during the height of my second “break” I felt connected with a universe of sympathetic, merely curious–and malevolent–“others.” It was incredibly heady–and terrifying. And for a time, I wished to stay in that world — but ultimately I realized that my real place belongs in this one. And here we both are, reading and writing on the Mad in America site. Congratulations on finding yourself again, and very best wishes. Claire

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