mfp NAMI musician

Jill Niebuhr has battled many demons, but she's in control of her life and her mental illness now and hoping to launch a music career. She's the featured speaker at an event Saturday for the Mankato chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness. Photo by Pat Christman

She used to hear voices. A lot of them.

And not just any voices.

Marshal Mathers (also known as rapper Eminem).

Sharon Stone.

Dr. Dre.

Donald Trump.

Paris Hilton.

She heard them clear, as if they were sitting in the same room. They complimented her. Encouraged her. But eventually they turned on her, their praise and encouragement exchanged with laughter and mockery.

Jill Niebuhr, 35, isn't exactly sure why the voices came to her. But she's pretty sure she knows what triggered it.

"My third year of college I was staying at the home of some friends," Niebuhr said. "My friends had left and I was alone, and a homeless guy broke in, raped me and beat me for eight hours."

She blacked out that night. And she kept blacking out. For days and weeks her life was a blur. (The attacker was caught, prosecuted and sentenced to 15 years in prison.)

"After that (the attack), I started hearing the voices."

She struggle for more than a decade with the voices. She tried getting help, tried different medications, she moved from that California college town back to where her family lives in southern Minnesota.

Now, she's taken control of her life and is pursuing her love for music. She's written and recorded a collection of hip-hop, Christian and instrumental music available at myspace.com/usingit. She's also the featured speaker at the National Alliance for Mental Illness event Saturday in Mankato.

"I didn't understand my illness," she said. "I thought my voices were real people following me. I didn't know what schizophrenia was."

Her journey to normal — or as close to normal as anyone can get — was a rough one that started in that friend's apartment in California in 1999.

Niebuhr doesn't like to talk about the night she was raped and beaten. But it only took a few months after the attack for her voices to arrive.

"I couldn't trust my own head, my own feelings. That was such a core shaker."

At one point, she quit taking her medication.

"I didn't think I needed it," she said. "Didn't know why I was taking it. To me the voices were people. I thought I was misdiagnosed."

She started getting psychological help in California. Because of what happened to her, she was eligible for, and received, about $20,000 to get treatment.

Her condition worsened. The voices grew more intense. She said she didn't feel safe any more. Her ex-boyfriend, she said, wanted to put her in the hospital.

"I was like, 'What are you talking about?'" she said. "My friends saw that I needed help but they couldn't help me."

Eventually she came back to Minnesota. A Wells native, she first lived at a halfway house in Austin and later moved to a similar place in St. Peter, where she lives now.

In 2012 she switched her medication. Soon thereafter, the voices stopped.

Now she's amping up for a music career.

Niebuhr said she's always loved music. And while she was in college she got her first taste of deejaying.

"I was majoring in political science, but I spent all my free time with music," she said.

She started making mix tapes, she said, and her friends were "eating it up." Soon she got to perform as a deejay at a few clubs in California.

Now she's proudly touting her latest music effort, a full-length album that started with songs she'd conceived long ago, reworked over the years and now finally finished.

"The process of making my album has been a long one. It really started with a completed album in which I was not satisfied with the sound," she said. "I have been recording songs in and out of the hospital since that time when I completed my first album in 2002."

While it may seen counterintuitive, Niebuhr said the voices weren't all bad.

"If I hadn't had the voices," she said, "I don't thing I'd be at this point in my life. I look at everything as a chance to grow. I've taken it and run with it. It was not good to have gone through it, but … it happened. So now run with it. Own it."

If you go What National Alliance on Mental Illness Mental Health Awareness Walk When Jill Niebuhr's talk is slated for 1 p.m. Saturday Where Grace Lutheran Church in Mankato. Walk begins at Grace Lutheran and finishes at Centenary United Methodist Church.

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