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Claire Bien

The Path Between Two Seas

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clairebien

After Answering the Voices, What’s Next?

Truly grateful to Dr. Larry Davidson for having suggested to New York Times science writer Ben Carey that I be included in this article about recovery. The article includes comments by both Larry and Dr. Gail Hornstein, professor emerita from Mount Holyoke and a leader in the Hearing Voices Movement, USA.

“Personal recovery,” Dr. Davidson wrote, “has as much to do with the quality of a person’s sense of identity and belonging to a community as it does to subjective experiences of mental illness per se.”

“People’s responses are extremely varied,” Dr. Hornstein said in a phone interview. They might say, “I have a different relationship with my voices now.” Or, “My voices used to bully me, and terrify me; now I have relationship with them based on mutual respect.”

Living after Psychological Diagnoses: The Connection/CBS Radio segment with Ann Baldwin and Lisa DeMatteis Lepore

Many thanks to my employer, The Connection, for making this radio interview with Ann Baldwin of WTIC radio possible. The interview is quite good! Thanks to Ann’s sympathy for the subject and my supervisor’s friendly presence, my conversation was fluid, articulate, and I like to think insightful.

The Connection: Living After Psychological Diagnoses

 

Hearing Voices, Living Fully: Nonprofit World segment

Many thanks to Sara DeGraff, producer of Nonprofit World, a Public Access TV series that spotlights the work of nonprofit organizations in Connecticut, for inviting me to be on her show, and to host Jerry Vaillancourt. It’s a good interview . . . imperfect . . . but with much content that will be of interest and may be of use.

Mental Health Wellness and Recovery Interview by Richard Weingarten on my Memoir and Recovery Journey

Claire USNH Portrait croppedI was reminded recently of this video, recorded in the summer of 2016, when Connecticut mental health advocate Richard Weingarten, interviewed me for his local access television show in Branford, Connecticut. Thank you to Richard for his continuing education and advocacy work in mental health.

Advocating for mental health reform

On August 1, Health/Medical reporter and sports anchor Tim Lammers and photographer Tom Carl of Fox 61 spent over an hour interviewing me. The two minute and forty-seven second segment they produced aired on Monday, August 7. It’s really nicely done. Thank you to Tom Burr, Don Fisher, and Kate Mattias of NAMI Connecticut for sharing my story with the staff at Fox.

This is the link to the segment.

Connecticut woman who suffers from auditory hallucinations discusses mental health

ISPS-US Conference Book Readings

I was one of six authors who gave a 10-minute book reading at the ISPS-US Conference in Boston in October. It was videotaped and went up on their website at the end of December. The other authors included Marilyn Charles, PhD, ABPP; Ty Colbert, PhD; Joan Fiset, MA; Narsimha Reddy Pinninti, MD; and Ira Steinman, MD.

Silk Road Art Gallery Book Reading Saturday, September 10, 4-6 pm

I will be doing a book reading and signing on Saturday, September 10, 4-6 pm, at the Silk Road Art Gallery at 83 Audubon Street (across from Neighborhood Music School) in New Haven. I was invited to do this reading by Dan Li, the former manager of the gallery because she felt it important to reach the Yale Chinese community. If you are free and would like to see a beautiful gallery right in the heart of New Haven, socialize, and hear me read, I hope you’ll come. The passages I’ll be reading will be focused more on my heritage and the ways in which the facts of immigration and growing up Chinese in America contributed to the conditions that led me into psychosis. Because the goal is to demonstrate to the Yale and New Haven Chinese communities that seeking treatment for mental distress is not shameful, but can be life saving, and also to urge people when they seek treatment that even while acknowledging that they need help, they should trust themselves and try to find the balance between what busy professionals say is necessary, and what they need to do to be as fully alive, and human, and engaged with their families and loved ones and this world—in other words, as fully themselves—as they can be. Claire

Reviews of Hearing Voices, Living Fully

 

Hearing V0ices, Living Fully: Living with the Voices in my Head.  ISBN: 9781785927188. Published by Jessica Kingsley Publishers, http://www.jkp.com, on June 21, 2016.

 

Remarkable and inspiring. In a clear and resonant narrative voice, Claire Bien tells how she struggled and eventually surmounted auditory hallucinations and severe emotional turmoil while living a full life:  maturing in the first generation of a Chinese-American family, marrying, working full-time, and nurturing a son in a supportive family and community. Selby C. Jacobs, MD, MPH, Professor Emeritus of Psychiatry and Public Health, Yale School of Medicine, Department of Psychiatry

 

If you come to this book with an open mind and a responsive heart, you will be rewarded with a well-told tale of human aspirations, courageous actions, and notable achievements. From the Foreword by Larry Davidson, Ph.D., Professor of Psychiatry, Yale University School of Medicine.

 

Bien’s memoir witnesses to the resilience of the human spirit and her determination to live a full life, thus illustrating that a person is more than a diagnosis. Therapy, medication, relationships and work are all critical components that enable a person to regain a life despite debilitating symptoms. She is a woman of courage. Nancy Kehoe RSCJ, PhD, Author of Wrestling with Our Inner Angels: Faith, Mental Illness and the Journey to Wholeness

 

In this candid, informative memoir, Bien, a trained facilitator for the Hearing Voices Network, describes experiencing auditory verbal hallucinations throughout much of her adult life. Having eventually learned to manage this condition, she aims to bring hope to others in the same circumstances. . . . Bien is lucid and calm in looking back at her life and battles, displaying an admirably unflinching self-awareness. . . . and her journey will appeal to others struggling to overcome or better understand the same affliction. (Publisher’s Weekly, June 2016) To read the full review, please visit: http://www.publishersweekly.com/978-1-78592-718-8

 

This is a revolutionary book, written by Claire Bien, who has experienced and dealt with auditory hallucinations-latterly without medication. Now living with a son and successful career, it tells of her determination not to let the disease beat her. …Some of the book can be graphic, as Claire provides a full picture of the ‘degree of horror’ such a condition can engender; however, she also provides hope of recovery, ‘even the most horrifying and bizarre beliefs are not sign and symptom of an irreparably broken mind.’ (Anne Parfitt-Rogers, New York Journal of Books) To read the full review, please visit: http://www.nyjournalofbooks.com/book-review/hearing-voices-living-fully-lhead

 

Reader reviews are available on Amazon.com: https://www.amazon.com/Hearing-Voices-Living-Fully-Head/dp/1785927183/ref=tmm_pap_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&qid=1471780463&sr=1-1

 

 

 

 

Hearing Voices, Living Fully

Foreword by Dr. Larry Davidson

 

“Beware of strangers bearing gifts.” Claire gives several gifts to the reader of this warm and enlightening memoir, and perhaps it is only those readers who think that they already know what mental illnesses are who should be cautioned. If you come to this book with an open mind and a responsive heart, you will be rewarded with a well-told tale of human aspirations, courageous actions, and notable achievements. You will take delight in our protagonist overcoming the odds of her presumed “illness” and life situation—as so many others with these kinds of struggles do—and may bemoan the fact that mental health services did not help more to bring about her happy ending. If, on the other hand, you believe that you know what mental illnesses are and believe, or expect, psychiatric treatments to be effective in easing the suffering wrought by these conditions, you are likely to be at least bewildered if not also dismayed. Just know that that discomfort is another one of Claire’s gifts.

 

Claire starting hearing voices when she was 31 years old. She was encouraged by her loved ones to seek psychiatric treatment, was hospitalized twice, and tried a number of different medications at different doses at different times. While she received some short-term relief from the voices and associated delusional beliefs in response to medication, none proved helpful in the long term and, as she writes in the following, “I believe it was my decision, finally, to take responsibility for myself as well as for my young son that changed everything.” How, in these days of “brain diseases” and direct to patient pharmaceutical advertising, are we to understand how Claire “changed everything” through her own resourcefulness, ingenuity, and dogged persistence? How do we understand that the voices she heard could be helpful at times and that they responded to her thoughts, decisions, and moods? How are we to understand that she has recovered?

 

Claire’s story is certainly not the only one of a person who manifested the frank psychotic symptoms of a mental illness, found a way to manage and live with those symptoms, and eventually recovered her life. We now know that that happens much more often than we used to think, and that, in fact, most people who do not take their own lives experience significant improvements in their mental health over time. In this way, Claire’s story adds to the increasing numbers of such recovery narratives that are appearing as courageous people take the risk of sharing their own experiences with mental illness. Like Claire, they describe the importance of love, faith, and family support, the value of pursuing their own passions and interests, and the crucial roles that hope and their own decisions and sense of agency play in their recoveries.

 

But Claire’s memoir is different from many recovery narratives in an interesting and challenging way. Since she did not begin to experience psychiatric symptoms until age 31, Claire takes the opportunity to lure us into, to gently immerse us in, the story of a very ‘normal’ person. Her life was in every way unremarkable prior to her first experiences of voice hearing. She was, and remarkably remains, an exceedingly ‘normal’ person throughout the memoir. As a result, it is easy for us to identify with her, to join her story early on in the book and to follow along faithfully as if we were reading a compelling novel. Having established this connection, she then tugs us along with her into her experiences of what psychiatrists would undoubtedly describe as psychosis. But—and this is the important point—it is not described, and then inevitably dismissed, by Claire as psychosis. Rather than distancing herself from what by all accounts were sure to be terrifying and disorienting experiences, she faithfully reports to the reader both these experiences themselves and her best efforts to make sense of these experiences as they were occurring. There is no Monday morning quarterbacking going on in this book, and as a result we get—perhaps for many of us, for the first time—to witness up close and personal what it is like to have to contend with, to have to live one’s daily life in the face of, the anomalous experiences that get labeled and packed neatly away from view as psychiatric symptoms.

 

There is little that is neat or orderly to Claire’s story. Through her earnest efforts to be transparent, we come face to face with both the kinds of experiences involved in mental illnesses and the kinds of treatments offered for them. When she tells us that she felt “like a piece of heavy rubber with a heart and soul of wood that was going through the motions of being human,” we understand why she stopped taking the prescribed medication. When she tells us that she worked hard, to the point of exhaustion, “not to seem too crazy” to her family, co-workers, and friends, we feel for her and hope she succeeds. And when she tells us that she “wondered whether some of my colleagues were practicing some form of witchcraft or voodoo” or whether she has really sold her soul to the devil, we appreciate that no one has really offered a better explanation yet for what is going on in her life.

 

Current estimates are that voice hearing may be as common as left-handedness. Few people are prepared for such experiences the first few times they happen to them, however. Claire’s struggle, in that respect, is very common in people who hear voices and whose cultures do not provide constructive or adaptive ways of making sense of such experiences. While many such people end up coming into contact with the mental health system and its labeling of these experiences as symptoms, many also leave the mental health system unhealed and unhelped because they do not find such a one dimensional, simplistic explanation nearly as compelling as the voices themselves. Claire shares with us that largely hidden story of people contending with voices on a day-to-day basis, helps us to appreciate how compelling the voices can be when they are responsive to the person’s thoughts and actions, and does not shy away from telling us, even as the story comes to an end, that she still doesn’t understand what has happened, or continues to happen, to her.

 

While we may feel discomfited or bewildered by this fresh and honest account of Claire’s experiences and her efforts at making sense of them, our society as a whole, and our mental health system in particular, may benefit tremendously by accepting this gift as an invitation to rethink the nature of mental illness and how we treat it. Everyone who experiences what we currently consider to be a mental illness was ‘normal’ before having those experiences, remains ‘normal’ as they try their best to make sense of and manage such experiences, and emerges as yet still ‘normal’ in the aftermath of such experiences as well. Now that Claire’s memoir has made this abundantly clear, we have to begin to figure out what to do about it.

 

Larry Davidson, Ph.D.

Professor of Psychology, Yale University School of Medicine

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