Allow me to tell you something that I have dealt with and continue to manage, but certainly, does not define who I am as a person at all. I was diagnosed with a mental difference called schizophrenia. About two and a half years ago something happened to me; when a history of experienced trauma in my life, copious amounts of stress about what I was going to do with my life, heavy self-medicating by smoking synthetic marijuana (at the time, a cheaper and legal alternative, as opposed to the natural plant marijuana), all coupled with a genetic predisposition for this particular mental health difference, caused my brain to reach a tipping point. A tipping point that I was in no way prepared to deal with or even expect to happen to someone like me. It was a change in my life that I thought ruined me forever, but with a change in mindset and consistent faith that I was not going to give up, gave me a new perspective on fixing the most difficult setback I have ever faced in my life.

I’ve learned with proper medication, education and intensive therapy, I could return my mind back as close to the way my mind used to function. I don’t want to limit my impact to people with this just this one type of mental health difference. I want to help people of all mental health differences and even healthy individuals who are experiencing a difficult time during their life. Which is all of us. I am steadfast set at inspiring faith in each and every one of you today. I would love for you to listen to this idea and please remember it forever: You can get through whatever life throws at you no matter how difficult it may seem; I know if I can make it through the pain, suffering, depression, hallucinations, decline in physical health, negative impact on my cognitive abilities, loss of all friends, loss of a steady job, stopping the school I was attending, a complete withdrawal from society, and still turn out the way I am today – with all the progress I’ve made, then hopefully I can be living proof to you that nothing is impossible.

Always find it in your heart to never give up. We are all here tonight to begin the discussion about mental health, and hopefully have this discussion impact you in a way so that you continue to have a more firm foundation to take the correct action for seeking help for your own mental health, if you think you need it, or if the situation were to arise with a friend or a family member, you could be the encouraging hope they need to seek help for their safety, mental health, and bettering their chance of recovery. It all began two years ago when one day I began hearing voices which seemed to be real noises at times and were the resemblance of familiar people in my life. One was my neighbor, the other was my other neighbor, another was a girl I knew, and the rest did not resemble any people I had known in my life. There was one voice that always stuck around though, even to this day. It is my own voice that sounds auditory and it is being heard by my brain in certain regions that make it sound like it is thinking back to me after I have a thought sometimes. It is not always there, but when it is it would be helpful and encouraging and this has always been the most prominent auditory involuntary voices I would hear. My own involuntary auditory thoughts I was having at random times were not always mean, nasty or degrading; but mostly helpful in the most beautiful ways one could possibly imagine. These derogatory ‘‘voices’’ I did not recognize, on the other hand, were products of my imagination and were the beginning of what had consumed my life, auditory hallucinations.

Now it may seem like a really scary word, and it can be at rare times, but after much intensive therapy, thorough education, and psychological treatment, I now only associate my auditory hallucinations directly for what they are – the auditory cortices inside my brain firing neurons with no external stimuli, which causes me to perceive noise on top of the real noise from the outside world. This made it difficult to distinguish the difference between the two layers of my reality I was experiencing cohabited with a layer of untamed imagination. I began to think my neighbor was talking to me through my head because when something sounds so realistic, persistent, and convincing, rationale gets thrown out and a non-real belief had been formed. This went on for a week and then I told my parents that I needed to go to the hospital because I was hearing noises of people who I knew, when in a quiet room and nobody was around. I voluntarily committed myself to a psychiatric hospital for six days where I found no real help was received, and I essentially lost all my rights as to what I wanted to do and when I wanted to leave. I was a prisoner being punished for having a difference in reality. I was locked inside a place that claimed to help me but had no therapists, none were provided or even there to talk to, and a medical doctor saw me for what I clearly remembered counting six minutes spread out over six days. I know it needs to be common sense or a major flaw in the system, to have the idea that a person going through a psychological crisis needs someone to talk to, a therapist. Something I thought a place that specializes in helping patients would have by now. Yes, many parts of the mental health system are flawed and even completely broken, but I can assure you that it does not mean it is all broken. By finding psychiatric help that utilizes special techniques, contains a consistent reputation for successful outcomes, has staff that are truly dedicated to their patients – treating them as humans with a problem that needs resolving, and most importantly, treating the person in seek of help with dignity and respect, then it’s likely a great outcome with steady progress will be made.

There is great mental health help out there when you find it, but do not hesitate to try more than one treatment, because one therapist may not be able to have the trust and comfort that one would seek out but another most definitely will. We are lucky enough to live in Massachusetts, a community that has some of the best leading hospitals and colleges in the world that have the leading and most effective mental health treatments. After my psychiatric hospital stay, I left with so many unanswered questions, lost and confused as to where to go from that point on, and the need to still find help. That is when I recognized that the system needs desperate updates and changes as to how many of the places approach mental health care. I did some research online to find better care and got extremely lucky after almost giving up and wanting to toughen it out myself, if it weren’t for a research I study found, involving treatment of schizophrenia with a type of psychotherapy. I had done my own research about this study, and it turned out that the study had previously reported this treatment is effective for the treatment of persons with schizophrenia. More importantly, I found a clinician in the research program who I connected with and continued to help me accomplish my goals and helped me make more progress each and every week. It took time and effort for both my clinician and me to accomplish a successful trust/bond, but it helped dramatically for me to divulge all my thoughts, feelings and emotions which in turn allowed her to personalize the help she offered me and made for a faster recovery. I must emphasize that finding someone you really connect with is a key component to finding the best help.

It may take a few tries, or it may be the first therapist, but never give up. If your clinician/therapist connects with you, then you will find that you will be willing to trust this person more than you trust anyone else and eventually begin to see your therapy as if you are visiting a friend for a nice conversation that happens to benefit your mental health and even your physical health. You will be more open as to what you decide to disclose to this clinician and/or therapist and the better help you will receive from them, since they know your whole story, your life, and who you are as a person, not simply just a patient. I had been working with my clinician, for almost two years, and she had helped transform my life from having nothing at all, to having a support system, a developed skillset for preventing and combating symptoms, assisting me with getting services I needed at certain times, and most importantly, being someone who would listen to me and not once lose hope in me. I engage in talk therapy, checking in about my life, asking questions I needed answers to, answering questions that were asked of me, psychological training that greatly remediated the deficits I had endured, and group sessions each and every week. I also required some medication that facilitated my functioning so I could operate much more efficiently and not be bothered by symptoms that would have otherwise hindered my progress. I’m not yet finished with the complete recovery process, but my life has been starting to come back together as I seek opportunities and take courageous steps toward living a better quality of life. This therapy changed my views from seeing myself as a broken individual, into knowing that I am a human with interests, hobbies, character, personality and most of all the concept of me not existing as a broken individual, but an individual with some repairable setbacks that would never become permanent.

I manage my symptoms very well, so well, in fact, no one can tell I have schizophrenia unless I were to be open and honest with them. I’ve learned to disclose my issue that I deal with after someone has taken the chance to get to know me as a person with qualities, and not me with setbacks such as an illness or a disease implying that I was broken. When the time comes to disclose my most personal secret, I never say to someone ‘‘I’m Schizophrenic’’. I always say them, ‘‘I have Schizophrenia.’’ This applies to all health issues like, ‘‘I have a broken arm,’’ instead of ‘‘I am a broken arm.’’ My life has progressed in many other ways that I am so very grateful for. I have a few great friends who are always there for me and never give up on me by always being there to help me when I need it. They consistently show their acceptance of me to remind me that I am the same as everyone else and they instill confidence in me when I’m feeling insecure. When the time comes I will be going back to school to finish my four-year degree or even looking for a career because each and every day I become closer to the old me who never had psychosis or any other emotion/mental difficulties and life starts to happen much easier and natural for me.

Remember the auditorily hallucinated voice of myself I would hear? Well, that always seems to appear at random times when apparently I need to know something that is of importance. A few examples of this occurrence is usually when I’m feeling down, depressed and feel like a failure, I would randomly hallucinate, ‘‘Don’t give up!,’’ or ‘‘You can do it!’’. Another example is when I was walking down to the far end of my backyard in the pitch black of summer to look at the stars. I was barefoot because I remember the grass being extra long and I had forgotten to mow it. As I’m minding my own business, out of the blue I hallucinate my own voice saying, ‘‘You are about to step on a flower.’’ I thought to myself, why I would hear such a hallucination and it was a good four to five seconds after hearing that thought that I ended up stepping on one of my flowers from my garden bed! I have hundreds of examples of my own voice auditorily being heard informing me of items of events before they take place in my actual conscious reality. Like the time my own voice warned me about the ‘‘Girl in the middle of the road with a baby in the carriage,’’ before I could even see her because I was driving down a winding side street that barely fit two at once.

I asked the world’s leader doctor in schizophrenia research what was going on. He said these are my own thoughts, but they are considered ‘‘high order’’ thoughts. He said that when the conscious parts of the brain hear a thought through the auditory cortices from the subconscious parts of the brain, the thoughts are normally recognized as one’s own. When this aspect of the brain is functioning differently (due to schizophrenia), this ‘‘voice’’ is perceived as if it is a third person because the conscious brain does not recognize it as itself. I finally had proof from a doctor that I was not delusional or irrational. I was experiencing a beautiful and unique way my brain sets up its own communication network. Gandhi was someone who spoke with a voice in his head that he heard auditory. Gandhi always referred to this voice he heard in his head as his subconscious mind. Other notable figures from our past who heard an auditory voice(s) were: Dr. John Forbes Nash (Nobel Prize winning mathematician) Sigmund Freud, Socrates, and Joan of Arc. In the beginning, I used to feel like I was broken, now that is not the case as I am only empowered and healed in a psychological/spiritual/and physical sense to where I now look at psychosis and schizophrenia as something not to be feared or looked down upon completely.

One girl recently told me that I have a beautiful mind. Now, If there comes a time that I doubt my progress, question my value, or feel like my self-esteem may be lower than it should be, I simply remind myself that I have come a long way with substantial progress, an unmatched determination to succeed at seeing the good in everything, and I think of that kind but also very true statement from that girl that I, Andrew LeClerc, really do have a beautiful mind. I am part of the one percent. Something I am proud of, and will continue to help other people like me, who are going through a difficult struggle, are trying to find answers, trying to be heard, trying to instill faith in themselves, and most importantly trying to be proud of who they are when faced with adversity from stigmatization of themselves from the public, family, friends, and sometimes even their own self. It is my goal to change the way the world views this difference that this one percent of people live with.

For the people who don’t experience this difference, in reality, I will continue to educate and inform to stop stigmatization and allow a new view on what people like me are experiencing, instead of the same old diagnostic ‘‘label’’ view. On a final note, I want to say that you and I really are not that much different and here’s a quote from Apple Inc. that I’d like to emphasize because it has such a deep meaning to me. It allows me to realize and remember that everyone is merely human and not a label. The quote is, ‘‘Different is the one thing about us, that will always be the same.’’ We all have our differences which in turn makes us all the same, the idea that everyone is different is what unites us as humans making us more similar than one would normally think. My final message to you is simply a reminder. No matter who you are, whatever difference or challenge or problem you may be facing, please remember to never give up.

My name is Andrew LeClerc. I am twenty-six years old and I live in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. I attended North Shore Community College where I began my two-year learning experience, and eventually hope to transition to a four-year school to obtain my B.A. I graduated with an Associates Degree in Liberal Arts of which I am very proud of. My favorite hobbies that I enjoy are, going to the gym to workout, gardening flowers that I germinate from seeds inside my very own greenhouse, and listening to various vinyl records ranging from the 1940s era all the way to the popular music of the current day, and most importantly, socializing and hanging out with my friends.

Andrew can be found on Facebook