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Open to Hearing: Living Well with Schizophrenia

​For Schizophrenia Awareness Week, we had a chance to sit down with Dawn, a Skylight participant living with schizophrenia. We chatted about Dawn as a person, her new-found hobby, and her outlook on schizophrenia. 

"Sometimes the voices say something funny and you burst out laughing. It can be company when feeling lonely."

- Dawn

A drawing of a flower by Dawn. This piece was created during the Art program.

How long have you been coming to Skylight's Active and Social programs and what it is about the programs that you enjoy?

I have been coming to Skylight for about 14 months. A community worker introduced me to the Sound Minds group and later I became a part of the activities program. The support I get from Sound Minds is great. We share our stories and they help me find solutions for myself and practical help with finding distractions.

In the activities program I get a lot out of the Mindfulness program, Art, Music, Cooking, Art Therapy, Communication, and Music. These activities allow me to express myself, share with others, foster a calm and peaceful approach to life, enjoy myself and communicate effectively with others.

What are things you like to do that make you feel good? Your hobbies and interests?

  • Mindfulness: It keeps me centered and takes my mind to calm places. It makes me aware of the small things like smelling a flower or a pebble on the river or even the sound of the sea lapping at the beach or the smell of the sea air. It helps me to be calm and restful.
  • Foods: tastes, textures, smells, colours to the eye. Salty peanut butter, sushi, curries, pasta, salads
  • Reading at home
  • Movies
  • The internet: research, connecting with family, information on my condition. I take an interest in politics in different forms.
  • Going out with friends
  • Spending time with family
  • Beading, sewing, knitting and crafts at home
  • Walking
  • Fishing is great for distractions and grounding techniques

You've recently started playing the guitar – tell us about that. What inspired you to take it up?

I am musical and music has played a big part in my life. In the past I sang in a church choir and also a church band. I was a mezzo soprano but when my dad died I stopped singing. When Danja, a Skylight staff member, asked me if I would like to learn the guitar I agreed and found it an interesting instrument to learn. Others at the Skylight activities program encouraged me. I didn't have a guitar to practise on so, one day Danja and I were looking on the internet and we found one for $25 with no strings. My friend, Alan, helped me to buy it and bring it home. Another friend put the strings on the guitar and tuned it, and now I have a guitar to practise on. Every week I attend a lesson with John or Danja.

List three words to describe yourself

Tenacious: Holding firm to things

Challenge: I love a challenge, I see a problem and I want to work through it

Spiritual: In tune with environment. In general it includes a sense of connection to something bigger than ourselves and typically involves a search for meaning in life. And as such it is a universal human experience.

Who are the people in your life that you can rely on for support? Do you also support others?

I have found a great many people who have supported me through my issues. From medics, family, friends, community services, Skylight and the Sound Minds group. Role models like Eleanor Longden on the internet. Just people who live day to day with schizophrenia.

In terms of supporting other people I am involved in an open group called "Sharing Voices" out in the Goodwood Community library. We are compiling a booklet to help others who live with hearing voices and other mental disorders.

If you could change one thing about the world, what would it be?

That there would be more understanding, kindness and caring for those that are lonely and isolated and that we can all learn about our issues. And that we can find the practical help and support and ongoing care for those issues.

As well as the struggles associated with living with mental illness, do you think there are any benefits?

You can hear a voice day or night, constantly through electrical appliances ie. television, radio and electronic devices. It just means you are too aware, too sensitive. Most people experience them at night or when alone. Frustration is the biggest struggle and irritation because there is no peace from it. If you are gullible they can take advantage of you. It's distracting sometimes when talking to others. Or when you're doing something.

However, there can be benefits to hearing voices. Sometimes they say something funny and you burst out laughing. It can be company when feeling lonely. Sometimes it's intelligent conversation. Sometimes new things to think about. Great songs. Usually a message. Sometimes there is a point to what they tell you. Sometimes an energy burst. You just have to be open to hearing.

What do you think is the most common misconception about people with schizophrenia?

That we have different personalities. That we are violent. Both are wrong. We may act out when irritated by the voices we are hearing, usually in frustration. Sometimes the voices can be loud, annoying, say really nasty things about us and can be more horrifying than a horror movie for some. But some are positive voices that help us to learn in difficult circumstances. We are sensitive people.

Do you have any advice for people with schizophrenia?

Yes, my advice would be to see the label of schizophrenia as a challenge and to find out the hows, whens and whys you hear voices. What caused it to happen? Is there something you can learn from it? It may be an opportunity to grow as a person. Finding ways to put limits on the amount of time it disrupts your life. Finding balance. Learn your triggers. Find positive role models who have had some experience of living alongside the condition. Understand you are going to have good days and bad days. Know you don't have to listen to the voices, you can use techniques to distract yourself. Don't isolate yourself, get involved in community. There is help, just reach out. And write about it. 

​"I do not fight my battle with schizophrenia alone. My allies are Skylight and my spirituality. Nor do I surrender."

- Dawn
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