The Student News Site of Sacramento City College

The Express

The Student News Site of Sacramento City College

The Express

The Student News Site of Sacramento City College

The Express

Mind games: Taking control of my mind and learning to practice good mental hygiene


As I walked into Taco Bell recently, it was business as usual. There were people ordering on the electronic menu and some who preferred to order at the counter. I had just placed my order and was waiting for my number to be called. I had bought one of the Party Packs for my brothers and me, which came with 10 tacos. 

As I waited, I noticed a fairly thin, 60-something woman enter with $2 and some change tightly held in her hand. She wore a peach, cute off-the-shoulder top, which made her look like she was going to go clubbing. But from the waist down she looked as if she had been sleeping in dirt with little pieces of oak leaves on her clothes. She was also fully engaged in a conversation, though she had no earpiece to a phone in either ear. My stomach started to tighten, a kind of physical premonition that something bad was going to happen to that woman. I knew that feeling, one I’d gotten before when I went through dark moments in my life. Something had happened to her in her life—something like a mental illness. 

All of a sudden, the cashier, who’d been bending over to reach under the counter, straightened and saw her. “I’m sorry—you cannot be here!” he exclaimed. 

At the sound of his voice she stopped talking to herself, crinkled her money in the palm of her hand, turned around and left. 

My tense stomach flipped over into rage, a burning sensation like an ulcer. I wanted to confront the cashier. Why didn’t he want her there? I flashed back to the days 20 years ago when I had walked around talking to myself. But now I had a different idea. I grabbed my box of tacos and followed the woman outside. She had resumed talking to herself. Careful not to startle her, I asked, “Excuse me. Are you hungry?” I knew I had interrupted the voices in her brain, but she smiled, then put her head down as she accepted a taco from me. I was reaching into the box for another taco, but by the time I looked up again, she had already left.

I could relate to that woman all too well. Back in 2000, when I worked for an Assembly member as an administrative secretary, I was like a pot of water that had reached its boiling point and boiled over. Although I was not an experienced secretary, I had spent a lot of time as a journalism major at City College before transferring to UC Berkeley in 1995, and I was eager to learn and willing to be trained. I didn’t mind starting work at 8 a.m. and staying past 5 or 6 p.m. I did not have a problem with the member, but two staffers, who harassed me. One of the staffer’s friends was laughing, mimicking the professional way I answered the phone. 

In one of my political science courses at Berkeley I learned the term “get along to go along.” Loosely translated, it meant to conform in order to gain ground. But I refused to join in the gossip meant to ruin someone’s reputation or deny access to the Assembly member based on a person’s social or economic Status. I couldn’t get along to go along. I got tired of the baloney and, though my boss wanted me to stay, offering to talk to the two staff members, promising that it would get better, it didn’t. 

One day in 2000 I had a meltdown, the culmination of many things that left me stressed out and feeling worthless and helpless. I started to feel like my head had been bashed in with a baseball bat. I thought I was going to have an aneurism or something. My eyes felt watery from the pain, and my eyes were ready to pop out of their sockets. But through the pain, I knew that my health was more important and that I needed to resign from my job. 

After I got home from work, I started hearing voices telling me that I smelled like three awful things: “You made the office smell like sweat, cum, and pee.” I heard this over and over and over, my head throbbing. I tried to rationalize it all: I know I didn’t smell like those things. If I had, I would have been fired. 

The voices didn’t stop. I heard them over and over, the voices of people I had worked with, even someone I used to date. I went to the E.R. where I was evaluated and taken to County of Sacramento Mental Health Facility on Stockton Boulevard. I stayed quiet while hospitalized. I did not want to speak anymore, because, I thought, voicing my concerns about the harassment was what got me sent me to the psychiatric facility in the first place. 

I had no idea how sick I was. In fact, my older sister said that the psychiatrist informed her that she should prepare my family because I might never come back to reality. I was 29 years old.

After about two weeks. I started to respond to the nursing staff and doctors. I started to engage in conversations with the voices, though not aloud. After about two months of therapy and medication after my initial diagnosis, I bounced back to my old fighting self. The voices had gotten the best of me by breaking my spirit, but I decided that I’d be damned if they’d make me a vegetable and hospitalize me indefinitely. 

Unfortunately, it was not over. In 2001, the voices nattering in my head, I decided to walk toward downtown in Sacramento, talking aloud, telling off the voices. I marched like a soldier through ivy near the I Street Light Rail station. In my right mind I never would have done that because that type of foliage attracts mice, and I am petrified of mice. I hopped on an Amtrak train headed for Berkeley and the City. All I wanted to do was to return to school and finish my degree. 

I had dropped out of UC Berkeley in 1998. In those days I drank every chance I got in the pub on campus. I would drink in the morning before class, then later after class, too. I had PTSD and didn’t know it, but over time I learned that it stemmed from childhood sexual, verbal and physical abuse by two of my brothers. My father was unaware of it, and my mother was diagnosed with schizophrenia. I was molested at the age of 4 and again around 11. My third brother started to tell me he, too, had done something to me, but I could not bear to hear it no matter how minuscule or great an offense because I had no recollection of it. Now that I am older, I realize that my brothers only did what was done to them by a Catholic priest, and I have since forgiven them.

On the train that day in 2001 I had left Sacramento with only the clothes on my back, wearing tennis shoes and carrying a black sweater. I wandered for two to three days, completely oblivious to my family’s efforts to try and find me. I was in such a melancholic, suicidal stupor that I tried to catch a Muni from Berkeley to San Francisco to go to the beach, drown myself and end it all. But just as I tried to board, the Muni was just as fast to depart. As I recall, I stayed the night in a BART station bathroom, locked the door and slept on the floor. I heard people banging on the door but was fearful of opening it because the voices were making me paranoid. Something triggered me to mute myself. 

Sure, there are tons of very helpful newsletters out there that really can help you to move your finger. low cost viagra This includes your ability in burning calories coupled with depleting energy levels. Visit Website viagra online stores In order to qualify for this, you will need to find an Apple Repair service in Scottsdale to help restore your gadget to its functioning state. cheapest prices for cialis check out this link The only difference between the buy viagra without two comes in the color.

I’d left Sacramento to get away from the voices, but they followed me all the way to Berkeley and to this BART Station bathroom. They said that I needed to watch my back because they were going to get me. Sometimes they were muffled, but I knew they were still there. They embarrassed me, criticizing my flat buttocks and small breasts. I got up from the floor and tried to go to the toilet. They taunted me, saying I couldn’t make it to the toilet, and sure enough, I found that I hadn’t. I felt ashamed and embarrassed that the voices were dehumanizing me to the point that I had an accident. I thought that if I could somehow move farther away, the voices would dissipate, but they did not.

I wandered back to the campus and asked someone the time. It was still very early, but there were a lot of students all over campus. I had been one of them once. I could hear laughter all around me, but since I could hear what they were saying, I didn’t think people were laughing at me. 

I decided to go to the International House on campus where international students and other students live. I wanted to see if they could rent me a room so that I could rest. The student clerks at the I-House said they could not and suggested that I go to a hotel across from campus. 

Just then, I heard a voice that was not inside my head. Gary Arnold was a school friend from Sac City, standing in front of the I-House. He said he lived there. He took one look at me and could tell that something was wrong. He offered to let me stay in his dorm room and sleep in his bed, while he slept on the floor. I felt embarrassed by my disheveled, confused state, so I politely declined. Instead, we stayed in a student living room area with big couches. 

As nightfall was creeping upon us, he offered to play the guitar for me. He could tell that I wasn’t myself. He brought me a blanket and was a perfect gentleman, just as I remembered him. We stayed up talking in the living room area, and in the morning, he helped me get back home. He looked up the Amtrak train schedule and told me to call home because my family would be worried. 

I’ll never forget that night when a friend’s music brought me back. I was so detached from reality that I had forgotten about my family. As I watched Gary’s fingers strumming the strings of his guitar, I felt a melodic peace, which took away the voices invading my brain. That turned out to be the sort of peace of mind I found in therapy during hospitalizations—music. 

And recently, when I saw the woman in Taco Bell, I thought that she, too, could use some music therapy along with medications and group therapies to re-direct the voices in her head.

With time, therapy and medications, I’ve become stronger. I gradually trained myself not to talk to myself, unless I am thinking out loud. I call my mental health disorder a mental health condition. Although I have an unfriendly environment within my brain, it does not stop my brain functions from answering other people in the physical world outside the realm of my innermost thoughts and those of the intrusive voices. A mental health disorder creates a stigma and connotes an inability to be cognizant of one’s communication ability. It also causes others to doubt the capacity of someone like me to be able to perform a job or daily care. Worst of all, it creates a dark cloud looming over a person that just won’t go away. 

I once heard a psychiatrist talk about the importance of having good mental hygiene—in other words, to be good to your brain. Do not bad mouth yourself or put yourself down, he said. And I say, “Don’t let others or your conditions define you.” We need to define ourselves. We all have the power within us to be successful and to contribute our skills and talents to society. 

People with mental health conditions can be some of the most intellectual, well educated people you’ll ever meet. For example, during one of my hospital stays, I met a professor who was quiet and kept to himself. After about three weeks of meds and doing group exercises, I saw him participating and coming out of his shell. All of us patients who participated in music therapy emerged out of a dark, lonely abyss. Whether it was singing karaoke songs like “Hotel California” by the Eagles or the group leader playing the guitar and us playing instruments and singing along to “Imagine” by John Lennon, for an hour it made us feel like we were not locked up in a facility. 

I cannot speak for all people with a mental health condition, but I have always loved listening to music. I discovered through music I could take my mind to new heights of escapism in my brain, so much so, that I could simply forget about the bad voices. One song that played an important role in my recovery is Ricky Martin’s “Gracias por pensar en mi,” which means, “Thank you for thinking of me.” It talks about children around the world who are living in conflict. It’s an optimistic song that fills me with hope. I love different genres because I get bored with just one type of music. I’ve discovered that most classical music helps me study, opening the flow and ebbs of my creativity—quieting the voices.

I have also learned to redirect my attention. There was a time when I heard so many voices. I heard voices of past friends saying hurtful lies about me. I heard voices outside my house. But I did an exercise I learned in a philosophy class: I said aloud what I was experiencing to rule out the so-called hallucinations. I looked around my room and said, “I see a chair, I see a mirror, I see drapes, I see my shoe rack, I see a fan. I hear many things. The fan is actually making real noises outside of my brain.” I looked outside and saw a quiet street with the noise of a car passing but no people talking badly about me. I am proud to say I am no longer suicidal. I am a spiritual person who believes that my angels, including my late grandmother, mother, aunt and father, as well as my living friends and family, are looking out for me. I go to church mostly to pray in solace, and I find that praying the rosary also helps quiet the voices in my head.

Now I want to become a journalist. I returned to UC Berkeley in 2014–2015 and finished my bachelor’s degree in political science. Now I am back at City College tuning up my journalism skills, determined to find my way back into the field I came to love 25 years ago.

Life happens. Sometimes we cannot predict the downfalls, but when they come, we can lift ourselves up and try again, which is exactly what I am doing. I hope to work for a daily paper, a news service like Reuters or NPR, or travel to Latin American countries and write news stories. 

For the first time in my life, I feel that all of my tribulations have given me fortitude and humility. I’ve worked for California Emergency Foodlink, the state Franchise Board and the Sacramento County Department of Human Assistance. I’ve come to recognize that I have a tremendous amount of strength and resilience. I’ve never had faith in myself the way I do now. If I can climb mountains mentally, then I can achieve whatever I put my mind to.

Leave a Comment
Donate to The Express

Your donation will support the student journalists of Sacramento City College. Your contribution will allow us to purchase equipment and cover our annual website hosting costs.

More to Discover
Donate to The Express

Comments (0)

All The Express Picks Reader Picks Sort: Newest

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *