Since I was a child I’ve struggled with extreme emotions, voices and powerful out of body experiences. I remember falling to the ground once in third grade, writhing in agony because I believed something was grabbing my back. I saw cartoons projected on the ceiling, and my fear was sometimes so strong I fell mute. I often hid away, alone, overwhelmed and unable to describe what was going on.At age 26, I hit a breaking point and wandered the streets of San Francisco all night hearing angry voices telling me to kill myself. I ended up on a locked psychiatric ward. For the next year, I was in and out of hospitals and homeless shelters.
My diagnosis was schizoaffective schizophrenia, and the treatment was powerful anti-psychotic medications. What the doctors had to offer didn’t help me, however. I left the hospital with more problems than I had going in, and I had to cope with the trauma of restraints, seclusion, plus a stigmatizing label that offered little hope for the future.
With nowhere to turn, I started to search for an answer on my own. In 2000, some friends in the Northampton, Mass., area let me stay with them, and I got a job in a local convenience store. Then I worked in a bookstore. The daily routine of a job, getting away from the memories in San Francisco, the small town tempo–it all helped. Step by step, over these difficult years, I learned a different way of responding to my madness.
I learned about nutrition and changed my diet. I took classes in yoga and meditation and began to see an acupuncturist. I watched for early warning signs of problems and began to consider the spiritual aspects of what I was going through, listening to the voices I heard and exploring their meaning. At one point back in San Francisco, for example, I heard a loud voice telling me I had to do yoga or I would die. It was frightening, but I realized it was like the voice of an angry parent or guardian looking out for me. So that voice is why I began to practice yoga....