How Mindfulness-Based Therapy Helped Me with Schizophrenia

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Imagine hearing a chorus of voices inside of your head at any given time of the day. Whether magnanimous or menacing, this group of voices can disrupt productive thoughts and daily activity. Furthermore, imagine that no one else can hear these voices, but you and that other people respond with fear or pity when you cry out for help. While it may sound like the plot of a horror movie, this condition is the reality for people with paranoid schizophrenia.

In my journey to treat chronic schizophrenia, I have encountered numerous hurdles, including anxiety attacks, stress problems, disrupted relationships, and negative reactions to psychiatric medication. Often, I believed that there was no answer, and I would need to simply accept the negative effects of hearing voices. Fortunately, my condition began to slowly improve with the discovery of mindfulness-based therapies and writing about personal and other paranoid schizophrenia stories.

I was going twice a week to a therapist. Except that I didn’t really saw any real improvement. I was still having panic attacks and stress problems (maybe less frequent). I’ve heard that meditation could help me with this. I’ve tried taking the time at home to meditate, but I was distracted by everything around me. I went to a yoga class, and I learned more about my body, my breathing, and letting go of all the disturbing thoughts. I felt better after every class. There I discovered the variety of mindfulness practices and decided to take the time to try each at least once.

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How Mindfulness-Based Therapy Reduced My Anxiety

Mindfulness was the main reason I stopped staying in bed all day.  Getting into these calming activities played a tremendous role in reducing my anxiety. Because schizophrenic voices often prompt self-destructive thoughts and behavior, people with the illness, myself included, can feel panic or despair when they try to use the rational side of the brain. Mindfulness helped me have a different perspective on my problems. I started discovering myself even better. I was more in sync with my inner self.

According to a Harvard Medical School study, stress-based illnesses result in nearly 80% of doctor’s visits. Because schizophrenia traditionally results in high rates of entries into hospitals or wards, mind-body therapy is an essential way to keep stress under control. This way, the risk of serious hospitalizations is reduced. Given that I didn’t want to go to the hospital except for the regular check-ups, I gave mindfulness a chance.

I had the experience of going to a therapist. I knew how it was like to pour your soul in front of a stranger. I thought mindfulness would be just the same and that after I finish talking, I was going to feel more relaxed. It wasn’t like that. I didn’t talk about experiences, I was thinking about my feelings, and I was analyzing them. I was trying to understand them, to give them meaning. I learned that I could take 5 minutes every morning and evening to think about my day. I don’t know how my hormones work when I’m taking this me-time, but I know I feel better afterward.

How Mindfulness-Based Therapy Reduced My Distraction

Schizophrenia can cause unparalleled mental and emotional distractions. These voices distracted me because they came in the form of instructions and commentary, and they also disrupted daily activities as I struggled to concentrate on more than one sound at a time. When I went to my first yoga class, the voices kept making comments about the other participants. It took me a while to pay more attention to the yoga instructor than to the voices. The same thing happens when I’m reading a recipe. I read the instructions, but the constant noise in my head makes it harder for me to understand what I have to do.

According to research at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the Harvard School of Public Health, mindfulness can reduce these distractions by regulating the flow of information to the brain’s cerebral cortex. And what I can tell you helped me was the guided steps towards communication and affirmation. Reducing these distractions improved my concentration in general and made me see clearly the road towards achieving my goals.

Celebrated mathematician and Nobel-prize winner John Nash used mindfulness to calm his racing thoughts and focus on a single goal at a time. As a result, he used this laser-focus to solve pervasive math problems and transformed academia.

The techniques I used in therapy have also boosted my working memory and helped me simply become a more productive member of society. As I mentioned before, it was difficult to follow instructions. Controlling my breathing helps me make the voices disappear. I couldn’t concentrate when I was trying to write an article. They were disruptive. Now, I take breaks for breathing exercises or meditation. I still work at a slower pace than the normal human being, but I know my productivity improved a lot! 

How Mindfulness-Based Therapy Reduced My Fear

Since schizophrenic voices often felt highly invasive, fear was one of my primary reactions to hearing these conversations and sounds. Voices often sounded hostile as they reinforced my most innate insecurities.

During the acutest schizophrenic episodes, I often experienced a “smothering” feeling as the voices seemed to exploit my most negative fears about my own lack of self-worth. However, mindfulness-based therapy enabled me to change this outlook by focusing on compassion. By seeing myself as worthy of the time invested in meditation and self-care, I eliminated the fear of accepting negativity as truth. 

mindfulness-based therapy

How Mindfulness-Based Therapies Reduced My Self-Sabotaging Thoughts

Because schizophrenic voices often reflect latent insecurities and fears, the condition can result in painful self-loathing. I often heard negative reflections on my personality from a distorted point of view. This resulted not only in my having low self-esteem, but it reduced my desire to participate in interpersonal relationships. I become detached, stop seeking the company of my girlfriend, and had difficulty speaking intelligibly altogether.

In addition to indirect relationship sabotage, schizophrenia can cause interpersonal problems through direct instruction. Common symptoms of schizophrenia include auditory delusions and hallucinations. These auditory delusions can instruct a person to do or say insensitive things to others, resulting in a bad reputation with others.

Personally, delusions have caused me to imagine a non-existent romantic relationship or speak rudely to others without direct intention. Even worse, hallucinations can cause irrational visions or falsely perceived threats from others. Examples include imagining that others have weapons or intend to cause bodily harm.

Mindfulness has really mitigated my relationship problems at the time I had a girlfriend. It has targeted my irrational thoughts and kept the action-process grounded in fact. Meditation, for example, focuses on centering thoughts and focusing the importance of purposeful action. Yoga also requires complete focus to perform movements correctly. In this way, mindfulness can increase self-awareness and go on to help with awareness of how we treat others.

British clinical psychologist Rufus May, who has schizophrenia, believes that mindfulness is essential to successful social interaction. Using mind-body therapy can also boost emotional intelligence and help other people with schizophrenia go further in their careers as it has helped me stay grounded and focus on my interest in writing and living healthy.

How Mindfulness-Based Therapies Have Improved My Self-Image

I believe low self-image and low self-esteem are among the most devastating repercussions of chronic schizophrenia. For one, voices often speak critically to the person suffering from the illness. Secondly, the sheer distraction of the illness can often result in the sufferer bearing a disheveled appearance.

Schizophrenia often made me feel acutely abnormal, but I lost interest in keeping groomed and proper as a direct consequence of the disease. This, plus the negative thought pattern, was the premise for my destructive self-image.

Fortunately, mindfulness-based therapies have made me overcome body shame and dissatisfaction. Through guided meditation, I started focusing on my uniquely positive traits instead of dwelling on the negative.

Traditionally, meditation leads with compassion and benevolence. Getting help from experts can help individuals redirect this empathy into self-improvement. Just as one would demonstrate kindness toward a child or pet, one can condition and treat the mind with the same rearing and care.

In addition to meditation and yoga, I also benefited from inpatient therapy such as mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT) and mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) which worked wonders on my psyche.

According to the American Psychological Association, mindfulness can increase body appreciation while reducing the risk of relapse into depression and dysmorphic disorders. Similar therapies include natural language processing (NLP) and cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT).

With the right treatment plan, you too can improve your self-esteem.


How Mindfulness-Based Therapies Improved the Quality of My Life

Overall, mindfulness-based therapies can have an unparalleled impact on quality of life. Foremost, mindfulness can help beat anxiety and depression. Speaking from experience, my own struggles with anxiety manifested in the form of lethargy. My therapist explained that lethargy is the body’s way of coping with stress (as the alternative would be complete shut-down). By practicing mind-body therapy instead, I replaced anxiety with energy and self-awareness.

Other qualities of life benefits include:

  • Lower rates of rumination (e.g. “reliving” traumatic experiences)
  • Lower rates of reaction to emotions or “triggers” – Learning to take some time for myself to calm the voices or the negative feelings, helped me not going to the hospital so often and have fewer panic attacks.
  • Improved emotional intelligence – I had a better understanding of my feelings. I learned to analyze why I was feeling a certain way and if it’s something I could improve or make it different
  • Improved relationships – I became being more open with other people. This lead to making new friends and reconnecting with some of the old ones. My relationship with my parents it’s stronger now.

While paranoid schizophrenia may have frightening implications, the prognosis is far from hopeless. Using mindfulness-based therapies can help you overcome a negative outlook and live a happier life. With the right self-care, inner voices can no longer have the power to stop you from getting ahead. Tackling your diagnosis with the mindset of an experimenter and the love of your family and friends will set the course of a happy everlasting. Remember to find your motivators and your heroes (mine is and will always be Elyn Saks), find support, and don’t isolate yourself!

How is my life different after learning about mindfulness? I can concentrate better. My writing quality improved. I have more friends and feel closer to them. I don’t go as often to a therapist or the hospital due to panic attacks, injuries, or negative reactions to the voices. I know how to block the voices for 5 minutes. Most importantly, I’m happier!

How to Practice Mindfulness & Reduce Anxiety

This post was written by  Mike Jones. Mike was diagnosed with schizophrenia during college. He hopes to be an example for anyone dealing with a stigmatized disorder. Having a mental illness doesn’t mean you can’t build strong relationships, have a job, or an absolutely ordinary life.

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