A Peer Support Specialist's Journey to Recovery

In January of 2017, for the first time in my life, I experienced complete peace. The depression and anxiety I had lived with my entire life seemed to have finally dissipated, and I felt a connection to the universe that was euphoric.

This change sounds positive, but the events that occurred as a result of this transition soon became catastrophic. Within weeks I would choose to disconnect from consensus reality, and I would be involuntarily placed into my first psychiatric facility.

What happened? How did I go from being an international award-winning photographer, business owner, performer, mother and faithful companion, to a person who was observed as “talking to walls” and labeled as someone needing to be “committed”? The full answer lies within my history, but simply stated – I had enough of feeling worthless and I was deeply misunderstood.

I desperately wanted to cure my feelings of emptiness, self-doubt and heartache. In 2016, I reverted to my younger ways of dealing with these emotions. This came in the form of spiritual practices. For years, I had shut down all paths of spirituality because I had been emotionally damaged by religion. Still, as much damage is there, there is a part of me that will always want there to be validity behind certain aspects of what I was taught.

To try and heal, I started to open up doors of spirituality that felt comfortable to me. This is when my emotions began to shift. I started feeling more whole. I started feeling worthy. I started to feel “happy”. Then something happened. The spiritual paths I turned to, opened my mind in a different way. I started having sensory experiences that I attributed to my newfound spirituality. I began hearing voices and seeing people others could not. I began to engage more and more with this euphoric reality I found. Soon, I would feel my place was with the voices I was hearing. A few of these voices were God, Jesus, Buddha and a spirit I believed to be my “twin flame”. I had very little desire to be in this reality. In a state of complete euphoria, I wanted to die. I wanted to be with the voices who loved me unconditionally.

The voices promised me everything I had ever wanted. They said the right things to make me feel purpose, unconditional love, self-assurance, acceptance and peace. The voices also told me I would need to prove myself to them before I could be with them. I became like a puppet to the voices I was hearing. I began to do everything they told me to do.

Under their command, I wandered the neighborhood. I went into a house uninvited. I threw out my cell phone, threw away my keys, abandoned my car, went missing for three days and so much more. My loved ones were terrified, and to say this caused my family trauma would be an extreme understatement.

I was not acting like myself, but I had never felt better. I had no desire to go back to the way things were, so I continued in this pattern of accepting the voices without using my critical thinking. I thought if I just proved myself to the voices, they would take me. It wasn’t until I landed in my second mental facility that I came to the conclusion that my physical reality was not going to match my mental reality. I started to see a change needed to take place.

I decided the best way to change my physical reality was to disconnect from my voices. This was incredibly difficult for me. I knew it meant I would be giving up my peace. I knew it meant I would feel anxiety and depression again. Still, I didn’t want to continue living in mental facilities, and I knew that was what my future held.

In my hospital room, I had a conversation with the voices. I told them I needed to let them go because engaging with them was not safe for me. The voices replied, “we will always be with you, and it’s okay for you to let go.” After that, voices remained relatively silent for the following year.

During that year, I worked very hard on honoring my needs. I recognized on some level that the only “being” who could take care of me was myself. I began to self-advocate for things I had pushed aside, and I started working on projects that highlighted my strengths. I decided I would not be a puppet to anyone or anything ever again. I would be my own puppet master. I made this quite literal when I chose to start a puppet show and puppet blog that would tell my story under my own terms.

The first year of recovery was difficult. I lost the peace and self-acceptance I once had. The most difficult part was I changed my connection with God. I went from believing I was hearing his voice to stripping myself away from his presence. Still, I felt I had to make this transition in order to be safe and live a full life again.

Further into recovery, I started paying attention to my feelings, thoughts and body. I began to interact with my body as if each part of me was its own individual self with its own unique needs. This introduced me to IFS (Internal Family Systems) therapy. Finding IFS ended up being crucial for my interaction with my feelings, emotions and eventually, new voices.

IFS gave me a safe way to interact with myself. This brought new voices to the surface. These voices felt different than those before. These voices felt like parts of me, rather than outsiders. They didn’t fall under the banner of spirituality, but instead, they were unique portions of myself. Once they began to surface, I realized that any voice I had ever heard was trying to tell me something. Usually metaphorically (although I didn’t recognize them as metaphorical in the beginning), but sometimes directly. This idea and process has allowed me to reintroduce voices in a safe way.

I talk and interact with the voices differently. I do not believe everything they say, and I try to get at the “why” they are communicating. Typically, the voices are trying to tell me I am not taking care of my needs in some way. Often, I have to regulate between the voices, because some voices want things that are not currently beneficial for us as an entire system (or as me as a whole). Still, I make sure they are known they are being heard, and I offer them compromises as I’m able.

Interacting with the voices in this way has given me back some of the comfort I lost. I have redefined their presence in my life. They are not here to prepare me for my afterlife, but rather to help me in this life.

Hearing voices was never the problem. The problem was that I didn’t love myself, and I was desperately seeking peace. I didn’t know how to find that. Therefore, my behaviors, what I was experiencing, and being misunderstood by others, led me to be institutionalized. Although being institutionalized was awful, good did emerge from it. I was given a diagnosis that helped me accept aspects of my former life. This time also taught me to pay attention to my needs, and to be more understanding.

My tools for self-help are much more refined now. I recognize what I need to do for my mental health, and I understand that I have purpose and place in this reality. The process of learning to love myself is on-going, but it’s a process I am willing to work on. All the voices coming from me agree to this process, and they are happy to finally be heard.

My life looks different than it once did. My experiences have not changed who I am, but they have enhanced who I am. I am still an international award-winning photographer, business owner, performer, mom and companion… but now, I am also a voice hearer. I am a puppeteer and speaker for mental health. I am a Peer Support Specialist who helps others on their journeys of healing and recovery. Most importantly, I am someone who is taking charge of her own life. I no longer want to escape my life, but I want to engage in it.

For decades I have been plagued by the idea that “I am not good enough”. Now, I think that it’s not that I’m not good enough, but it’s that I am actually too good for what the world has led me to believe.

This was written by Anginet, a Peer Support Specialist at Community Reach Center.