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My name is Ayesha, I am a person with schizophrenia, and this is my story. I’ve been living with this illness for nearly twenty years. I want people to know that it is possible to be happy and successful with Schizophrenia. I have graduated from college, and I am a writer. I pledged to myself long ago to be as independent as possible in thought and life. I choose how I will live my life every single day, but it took a long time for me to get here.
I always loved school. I love to learn. The summer I turned thirteen, I had already started a high school program. I had good friends, and we talked every day. But then everything changed.
Schizophrenia started with the voices. They were loud and they followed me everywhere. They said the vilest, most hideous things to me. I said, “No!” but they would not listen. There were many of them, and they would all yell together and make fun of everything I did, everything I wore, and especially my hair. Then the visions came. Out of the corner of my eye, I would see shadows and forms that would move towards me. Nighttime was the worst. In the dark, they would threaten to hurt me. I could feel them. If I tried to turn on a light, they would brush against me. Nothing stopped them. Lights helped, but nothing quieted them. The voices are still with me today, always surrounding me. The big difference is they are much quieter, and they don’t interfere with my life as they used to.
It started with the voices. They were so loud every day, and they followed me everywhere. They said the vilest, most hideous things to me. I said, “No!” but they would not listen.
I could not help myself then. I was admitted to the hospital where they diagnosed me with Schizophrenia and started medication. The medicine made me tired. After I was discharged, I started seeing a psychiatrist, whom I stayed with for several years.
I went to an alternative school where I remember most of the people were friendly. My teacher, Miss Nisha, was a beautiful person. She was always respectful, and she cared. I remember she was kind, soft-spoken, and encouraging. She checked on me all the time. She regularly came over if she noticed I was alone.
I did very well in school, but the voices were nonstop, and to make matters worse, some classmates started to bully me. One tried to pull out my hair weave. Another joked about the weight I’d gained – the medication can cause that. The worst one picked on me so much, and I was terrified to take the bus.
I was terrified and confused. I felt broken. It seemed like my mind had shattered in thousands of pieces, and when I looked at my reflection, I could no longer recognize myself. I became paralyzed by fear.
Every night, the voices repeated the terrible things that happened during the day. Under the constant stress, I completely lost touch with reality. To best describe this, it was like looking into a broken mirror where all I could see was a reflection of my enemy. I was terrified and confused. I felt broken. It seemed like my mind had shattered in thousands of pieces, and when I looked at my reflection, I could no longer recognize myself. I became paralyzed by fear.
Excelling in school
After another hospital stay, to stabilize my Schizophrenia symptoms, I was able to return to school. Because I was advanced, Miss Nisha encouraged me to take college-level classes. With new medication and therapy, my thoughts were clearer, and I began to write a lot. I made the decision that no matter how loud the voices got when they yelled and screamed all of their hateful things, I would never shout back. I refused to fight them, I just thought, “No.”
Writing has always helped me process things and relieve stress…I always try to keep a positive focus through prayer, poetry, and song.
Therapy helped me find ways to manage the stress, I am passionate about writing, and it is therapeutic for me. (I was already writing a journal by the time I was in fifth grade.) Writing has always helped me process things and relieve stress. My college memoir professor taught me to write every single day in a wide-ruled composition book. I felt fantastic when I completed my memoir and graduated from college.
Another great thing I learned in therapy is to appreciate music and dance. There are many songs that quiet the voices. Dancing helps me find inner peace, and, when I dance, I feel stronger than this illness.
Faith also helps. I trust God to spread peace through me, and I always try to keep a positive focus through prayer, poetry, and song.
I became a mentor at a local college for DREAM (Developing Real Expectations for Achieving Mastery) a program that makes classes available to adults with special needs. I assist students with remedial English classes. It made me glad to have the opportunity to cover a class given by a former professor of mine, Miss Willner. Being able to help the students with organizing and polishing their writing gives me such a good feeling.
While I enjoy working with adults, I have always felt that teaching children is my true calling. I am currently studying to take the Praxis exam and eventually plan to teach kids. I am working on a children’s book, something that I have always wanted to do.
For the past ten years, I’ve been a volunteer for the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI). I help coordinate events and lead a social group for adults called Just Friends. Outings for bowling and pizza keep us connected, which is so essential for mental health.
Living and thriving
Currently, I attend a day program, five days per week, consisting of different groups and classes. There I can socialize with people close to my age. My favorite, of course, is dance therapy, and I’ve lost ninety pounds since I started this program in 2019. The doctor there changed my medication, and the new one is even more helpful. After completing a certain number of weeks in the program, you get a certificate, and I am proud to say I’ve received several. It felt good to hear the leader of our emotional awareness group tell me I have an excellent level of insight. Through many years of education and therapy, I have learned how important it is to trust myself.
The voices of Schizophrenia will never be totally silent, and sometimes I still see horrific images, usually after dark. But with insight into this illness and the many ways I’ve learned to cope, I’m able to stay positive and continue to thrive. I think the most important things I’ve learned are that we must accept help, believe in ourselves, and also try to help others.