A Mind Unraveled, A Memoir

My experience with schizophrenia affected my thinking. For Kurt, his body took surprise breaks giving up on him as frequently as every other day. His college days were heartbreaking. Becoming an independent adult and looking for a job with a pre-existing condition was tough. I can’t imagine how he survived through all that. Kurt’s memoir is inspirational; I could not put this book down once I started.

Again, I am reminded that doctors are such important determinant of lives of people with chronic conditions. We tend to give doctors all the control when we are in need of urgent help and care. We are lucky when we meet the right person from the start. Kurt was not so lucky. Eventually he took control of his own care and participated in the decision making process. I went through a similar journey. Now I ask questions and don’t just obey. A collaborative relationship between doctors and patients seems to be the best even though sometimes as the non-medical-trained, patients feel not qualified to question.

Medication is not perfect and has side effects. I recognize Kurt’s journey in finding the best balance between stopping his convulsions, minimize side effects and living his life to the fullest. I was lucky. My first medication was very effective for me for part of my symptoms. I did experience an undesirable side effect of some weight gain. But it did also take me a few years to finally gain awareness of what I have, since my condition is mental. Again, Kurt was not so lucky. Kurt is courageous in his determination to fight! His will power is incredible.

Then, there is the family and friends. I recognize that in my journey too. A helping hand means a lot. We know who our true friends are when they keep showing up again and again while we are beat down.

I highly recommend kicking of 2019 with this memori!

On Writing, Bird by Bird, The Memoir Project, Writing About Your Life, The Modern Library Writer’s Workshop

When I first started writing, I just wrote. I didn’t have any specialized training in English, Literature, or Writing. After a while, I did not feel very productive. That was when I started reading books on writing. I always turn to books when I am stuck. Here are my favorite ones so far. As I am wrapping up my memoir, I am rereading them again.

I Wrote It. Now What?

It’s been an incredible journey to write down my experience with schizophrenia and sort through my imperfect thoughts. After writing about it on and off for about 5 years or maybe longer, at the most, I had about 65,000 words. I googled “how many words in a memoir” and found out that I just barely made it.

My first editor Ben took off about 20,000 words while I was still trying to decide on an ending. He went through a few passes. I felt uncomfortable every time he crossed off a huge section of my writing. There went the word count. Of course, he was mostly right. “Why are you telling me this here?” After he was done, about a year ago, I submitted the query letter for my memoir to 31 agents. No one was interested.

I picked myself up from the handful of responses and rejections and started rewriting again. I came up with an ending, changed it, and changed it again. The writing could always be better. My second editor Beth is now about two-third way through. She is making great progress, changed orders, clarified what I wanted to say, took more stuff out. Now I am at about 50,000 words and don’t care about it so much.

I realize I can write and edit forever. I have logged at least 10 passes through this memoir. I have worked with two editors of different styles and focuses in length. With a third or fourth editor, she will find something else to rewrite and edit. The writing will never be perfect. The writing is not meant to make everyone happy. What I do know is that I am very good with it now.

I have been experimenting with kindle direct publishing (KDP). I have gone through almost the whole process and found it pretty doable by myself. Gone is the thought that I want someone to endorse and publish my memoir. If no one is interested in even taking a peak, I can self-publish. (This is the benefit of working in technology!)

I have wrote all I wanted to say. At this point, my goal for publishing is closure for myself. I have done what I can. It’s time to “put this to bed.”  I would like to complete my first writing project and self-publish on Amazon by the end of this year. I am happy that I have gone this far with it. For bonus, if I can reach even one person with my story, with one download, that would be fantastic! Meanwhile, I have even started to think about a possible second writing project.

Let’s do this!



Educated, Hunger, Born A Crime, Hillbilly Elegy, Happiness: The Crooked Little Road to Semi-Ever After

I love reading about someone else’s life, to learn and experience life through another mind and heart. Here are my five favorite memoirs from the last six months.

educatedEducated by Tara Westover

I learned how to be an adult through my family. Growing up, my father made sure that I did not have to worry about anything but just being a happy kid. I had a loving home. I was never hungry. I never had to worry about money. I also learned from being at schools how to breakdown problems and think logically.

Tara grew up in a completely different family and environment from me, much less loving support and order. Reading her memoir, I am so impressed by how strong she was. It is an eye-opening story about perseverance, fighting to live one’s own life against all odds, and making sense of it all.





Hunger, A Memoir of (My) Body by Roxane Gay

I was always a stick growing up, until I started taking the medication for schizophrenia. Now, compounding that with aging, I gain weight very easily. I try my best to manage this.

Roxane talks about her body and weight with amazing clarity. Similar to me, there were triggers, life changing events, for her.  Trigger might fad in our memories if we were lucky. But we are still left to manage the after effects. I command Roxane’s brutal honesty and letting me learn more about her both outside and inside.




bornBorn a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhoodby Trevor Noah

I am lucky that for most of my life I felt that I belonged, to the country I was born in, in the family I grew up with, in the new country where I became independent, where I lived and worked.

In South Africa, Trevor was born a crime because of the races of his parents. He had to hide. He had to be careful. As he grew older, he had to find groups and places where he felt like he belonged. He had to navigate complicated racial issues, just like breathing air, through his smart and wit. A great memoir about being triumphant through all the racial odds the world dealt him.




hillbillyHillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisisby J. D. Vance

I feel quite ordinary like J. D. Vance. I am writing a memoir even though I feel that I have not accomplished anything great. But J. D. Vance has! The world that he grew up and lived in kept generations of people in the same place. Lives were hard for him and everyone around him. It was hard to see a way out. This is part of the America we live in today. This is a very honest memoir about abuse, alcoholism, and poverty in middle America. As I read this, I thought, we can not forget and turn a blind eye on this part of our country.




happinessHappiness: A Memoir: The Crooked Little Road to Semi-Ever After by Heather Harpham

I considered being a single mother once and wanted to be responsible for loving a new life. Heather described that beautifully in this memoir. But something unexpected happened. I can’t imagine how terrifying it would be to give birth to a baby girl and immediately go to the emergency room. Reading about a sick baby is heartbreaking. Then there was the father who did not want to be a father. Aside from the challenges that life throws at us, this is a memoir about love. Heather’s love for her daughter. Love between a mother and a father. And the father’s love for his daughter. I felt love!



Have you read these? What do you think? Do you have another favorite memoir that you would recommend? Leave me a comment!

My First Voice

Update from April 16, 2018: I submitted an updated version of this post to NAMI and they posted on the NAMI blog. 

No one ever asked me what I had heard from my voices. I think it’s a tough topic to talk about. If you have never heard of your own voices, you might not know what to say. Voices are not normal. Regardless, I remember them. Some voices are more memorable than others, just like real people.

On a sunny day, I heard “him” for the first time. Later on, I would name him Joe who reminded me of my crush at the time. I woke up in my room and was getting dressed. All of a sudden, I heard a young man talking. I was not sure if he was talking to me. I thought, “Let me walk outside of the house to see if I can still hear him.” I stepped out of the front door and there was silence for about 5 seconds.

Then, he said, clearly. “Can you hear me?” I stood in front of the door, locked the door and start walking towards work. “Yes.” I said quietly and smiled. “Don’t smile. You are going to look silly if you walk on the street, talk to yourself and smile on your own.” Okay. I thought in response. I transitioned my communication to Joe from speaking out loud to in my mind only. That did not bother me. Actually, I did not notice the transition. “You need to ask someone for help,” he said. I still can’t believe that my first voice warmed me about the situation I was in. “Jennifer?” I thought again. “No, it has to be a single guy.” I thought, “Are you joking? Is this some sort of joke?” I don’t remember how the conversation ended. The voice disappeared when I reached work.

I had a completely reasonable “conversation” with Joe. We did not talk over each other. No one yelled. He did not make me upset. He did not give me commends to hurt or kill myself. Just like people, there are all kinds of voices.

My psychiatrist recommended Hearing Voices, A Common Human Experience to me when I asked him to help me learn more about my condition. The book covers many different perspectives on hearing voices, from mental illness to spirituality, from distant past to now. It is an insightful read.

Every time I think about my schizophrenic experience, I am amazed at what my brain can do, even when it’s broken. Perhaps, in the future, we would find out that it’s not really broken, but just behaving in a way that we don’t quite understand right now.

Human brain is incredible!


When I was 36 and very single, I was hit by the narrowing of the time window to have my biological children. With any life problem I face, I turned to books and my friends.

I was glad to find Selfish, Shallow, and Self-Absorbed: Sixteen Writers on the Decision Not to Have Kids. The writers in this book talk about how there isn’t one way to life. There were different scenarios for women to not have their own kids. Some had decided not to have kids for various reasons, some ended up not having kids because time had passed, and then there were those who gave away babies.

My first thought was I am a woman living in a modern time. I could logically separate being single and being a mother. I decided to become a single mother. I charted my basal body temperature daily for a few months. I took folic acid when I remembered to. My primary care doctor recommended a reputable donor bank in New England. I reviewed numerous profiles and got what I needed. I tried it once and failed. For couples who try to get pregnant together, it is not necessary an easy path. For me, doing it alone and failed felt devastating. I realized that I did not want to get pregnant and become a mother alone, when I had control over this. So my journey to single motherhood ended abruptly and quickly.

Now, at age forty something, I feel that I am okay without my own biological kids. I had thought about it and did something about it even though I failed. I can’t say that I am noble and do not want to contribute to the global overpopulation problem. Now I just have a few personal reasons to pass on having kids. For someone whose brain does not react well to high stress, being a single mother is not a smart move. There is also the chance that I might pass on my schizophrenic genes. The desire to want a family and take care of someone is now replaced with deeper personal reflections. The right time had passed.

There are times when I see my married friends and thought that I could be considered selfish. I live my life, for the most part, for myself. So I try not to be selfish through other means. I live my life everyday with gratitude.

Once in a while, my girlfriends would say to me, I really hope I can sleep in late. Or I would love to take a walk or read a book. I know that having time to myself is in a way a privilege. Between them and me, there is no right or wong. It’s just two different lives.

Unlike fertility, dating has no biological timeline. If I want to, I can date until I am 90 years old. I can still have kids, just not biological. Dating opens up all kinds of possibilities. He could be divorced with kids. He could be open to adopting kids. Of course, he could be like me, being content without kids or does not want kids.

That is just it. Life accepts all kinds of paths. Like the shitty first draft when I start a writing project, I can only write down what my inspiration takes me. No assumptions. Like driving at night in the dark, even though I can only see as far as the headlight, I can still make it to my destination. My life may not follow the most common or expected path but it is unique in its own way. For this peaceful mind, I am grateful.