Students and staff overflowed the library auditorium to attend The Awareness of Mental Illness symposium, led by Dr. Fullmer’s English 276R Heavy Metal class. UVU student Will Sears was the big attention grabber for the audience.

“I was 21 years old and ready to go on a mission,” Sears said. “I was 6 weeks into the MTC when I had a psychotic breakdown. I started hallucinating visually, losing weight, unable to sleep — I was in a really bad place.”

“I’ve been diagnosed with schizophrenia and schizoaffective,” Sears said. Further explaining that schizoaffective is kind of schizophrenia and major depression combined. As Sears courageously exposed the past 12 years of his everyday life experiences and struggles, the audience — intrigued and some able to relate — engaged with Sears through questions of curiosity and support.

“What would happen every night, about 3:00 a.m. these demons and spirits or whatever would come through the floor, come at me and almost attack me,” Sears said. “I thought okay, [the MTC] is a religious place maybe this is a religious experience.”

After four days of hallucinating, the spirits got so close that Sears ran out of the room. He was immediately medicated and sent home by the MTC psychiatrist for the sudden onsets of psychosis.

The required medications cost thousands of dollars and Sears had to use his student loans to buy medications instead of using it for books and tuition. According to Sears, the thing that people don’t understand is that medication can help and it does a good job, but it’s not a cure-all by any means.

When Sears was first diagnosed, there were not the patient assistant programs that are available now. But, “being on the meds is the only way I make it through the day and the only way I can make it through school,” Sears acknowledged.

“With the schizophrenia and schizoaffective, I do have daily voices,” Sears said.

He explained that the daily voices are usually two to three males talking, doing whatever they do “and it’s just irritating,” but when he hears female voices, “that means I’m going into a psychotic episode — those are the ones that tell me to walk in front of a bus; you’re a loser. Just shoot yourself.”

When the female voices come in, Sears will hospitalize himself, “because those are dangerous.”

Sears struggles daily with hearing voices and it’s hard to relate to others. However, after three to four years working with a therapist to learn how to interact with people again, after what he calls his “suicide/hospital years” — which took place after his return from the LDS mission and split from now ex-wife — Sears has been able to come back to school.

“The Heavy Metal class has been awesome,” Sears said. “The one thing that I do to deal with the voices is I listen to hard core heavy music. I can drown them out.”

Now, at age 33, Sears is going to school for social work, hoping to do patient advocacy in long term hospitals, like state hospitals, and work in that field.

“These 12 years have been figuring out the meds, figuring out psychology,” Sears said.

With a lot of research on schizoaffective and schizophrenia, Sears seeks information “just to understand what’s going on in my brain. I keep myself extremely educated on it,” Sears said. “Most of the time it’s been pretty hellish.”