HARTFORD - Claire Bien said she has suffered from depression since she was a teenager, but first started suffering from auditory hallucinations - hearing voices that weren't there - when she was an adult. Bien said, by the time of her second psychotic break, she was desperate enough to strongly consider suicide.
In her book, "Hearing Voices: Living Fully," she described the day she came close to ending her life.
“One morning before work I walked out on the 15th floor balcony of my office building and considered the pavement below.”
Bien said she started hearing voices at the age of 31, most likely as the result of an underlying condition being exacerbated by extreme stress..
“It was just a couple of months after my first cousin, for whom I had partial responsibility, committed suicide," she said, "and soon after that, I began hearing voices, and the first voices weren’t, you know, were mostly curious. They weren’t particularly mean. They were like, 'What’s she doing now?' "
At times, the voices were kind, even familiar.
"One of them would say, ‘There's a good girl. There’s a good girl, Claire,’ and my father used to say that to me. I would hear my sister talking with her husband and children. Or my mother. But then, eventually, they started being mean."
One day, though, the sounds of children playing became the sounds of children taunting her.
“So then the voices started saying ‘She’s an alcoholic,'’ and I’m not,” Claire said, "the difficult voices in our heads tend to be the voices of difficult people in our lives.”
Bien said the one person who stopped her from committing suicide was her young son.
"[I told myself] 'I have to live for Paul,' and at that point, over time, I started to get better because I embraced life.”
Life didn't change overnight for Claire. She had to learn how to control her symptoms, and Bien said the usual doses of medication robbed her of her ability to adequately feel, and love. Bien said the most effective way to treat a condition like hers is to use the minimum amount of medication possible.
“I think that medication is important. I don't think that reliance on medication is the answer,” she said, "I have continued therapy and I've also found a lot of other ways to cope with the various symptoms that I still have to a very mild degree.”
Claire said she's been medication-free since 1992 by learning to reclaim her own voice, and her own life. She sings, and writes. She also volunteers for the NAMI - the National Alliance on Mental Illness - as well as the international Hearing Voices Movement.
“The reigning wisdom is, in the Hearing Voices movement, is that we are to treat our most difficult voices with utmost kindness and respect,” Bien said.
She treats herself the same way.
“Success for me is going through a day where I’ve been kind to myself the whole day. Does that ever happen? Sometimes!”