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Woman finds her voice writing spiritual poetry

By Deidre Jacobson

When Michelle Schlienger, participant in the Women’s Hearth writers’ workshop, lost the “voices of schizophrenia” she found her own voice.

Adopted at three days old, Michelle lived her first 10 years in Caracas, Venezuela.  She moved to Spokane at age 13. 

Michelle Schlienger

“I remember my childhood as happy, traveling with my parents, swimming and riding bikes.  I read voraciously—Walt Whitman, Shakespeare, Edgar Allen Poe—and at 13 I began writing spiritual poetry and keeping a personal journal,” Michelle said. 

At 19, she married her childhood sweetheart.  They lived in Scotland for two years while he served as a North Sea diver. 

Back in Spokane at age 21 and divorced, Michelle’s life changed forever.  She began with paranoia, living in the dark, the house filled with garbage, shades pulled. 

Voices began by speaking through the TV. Michelle started pacing, pacing, pacing and pacing. 

Her three-year-old daughter called her grandmother on the phone:  “Please come, mommy needs help.”

A neighbor also called for help. Michelle spent two weeks at Sacred Heart Medical Center.

Diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia, Michelle began her 30-year experience with the mind-twisting disorder.

 “The first medicines I received made me almost catatonic.  They did help with the pacing. I could sleep but the voices did not go away,” she said.

“There were three voices.  I assumed the personality of each voice for periods of time—a four-year-old girl, a man and “a protector.”  The man helped me survive on the streets,” Michelle said.

“Some memories are patchy. I had periods of extreme paranoia and was suicidal.   Through it all I prayed.  I think that is how I survived. God watched over me.  Maybe I had a guardian angel.  At one point I was ready to end my life.  A voice, different from ‘the voices,’ commanded me to stop.  I did.”

Michelle suffered a stroke while living on her own.

“I heard a ‘pop’ and thought I was dead.  It was a brain aneurysm.  I was hospitalized for a long time, but remember little.  I saw a bright light, the room was aglow, and I heard a voice say it was not time to go.  I was paralyzed, and the voice told me to stand up.”

In 2005, Michelle started a new medication that has taken away the voices and paranoia. 

“It makes me feel like I’m back to age 19 and picking up where I left off.  I have been writing, playing the guitar and singing,” she said.

Michelle hopes to use her writing to be a voice for schizophrenics.

“I don’t hear the voices, but I remember them,” she said.

She has a journal she kept throughout her illness that she hopes to make into a book of her life. She also has poems published in “Coming Together, an Anthology of Poetry, Prose and Art from the Women of Transitions.”

Michelle and others from the Writers’ Workshop have read their poems at Auntie’s Bookstore, at the Empyrean, and the Women’s Club on International Women’s Day.

The group will read their poetry at noon, Wednesday, April 26, in Monroe Hall at Eastern Washington University’s Women’s Center.

For information, call 710-0204.