I’ve been told that I don’t hear voices because what I hear doesn’t follow the usual pattern yet other people with similar experiences are adamant that what we do hear are voices. My experiences are not unique and thankful attitudes are slowly changing. My voices are relatively new to me but, for the most part, they’re something I wouldn’t want to live without.
I was diagnosed in 1994 with Bipolar Disorder. When I started taking Lithium one of the more immediate effects was that it stopped the feeling that I had an un-tuned radio turned on inside my head. The quietness was unbelievable. I’d lived with it for so long I had no idea that it wasn’t normal or that it could be silenced. I had no idea back then that it would ever be termed as a voice; that as part of the reclamation of language the word “voice” would come to mean any noise in my head that couldn’t be explained away or that I would have this noise in common with so many other people.
Nothing dramatic happened until 2000. There had been times when I thought I heard someone mention my name but that happens to us all and is pretty meaningless in isolated incidents. In 2000 I had been living in my current address for less than a year. I had moved from my previous address because I was undergoing some pretty nasty taunting from my neighbours. I didn’t fit in to the area for a number of reasons – I was educated, I worked in a big company in a responsible position, I didn’t drink, I didn’t have the energy to socialize with them so I was a marked woman. Things started off in a small way as they always do. I’d come home to a pile of leaves on the doorstep. When I moved they were stealing my mail and reading it in front of me. My local authority landlord claimed they could do nothing and it wasn’t until an enlightened manager actually registered that I had a serious mental health problem and helped me to move did I feel less under threat. Within weeks of moving I had to give up my job because I couldn’t cope with it any longer. Apart from some sporadic temping it was the last time I worked.
It was late summer when I moved and by the time I’d got myself registered with a doctor, an emergency appointment with a consultant and other essential things it was early autumn before I began to sit down and just be me inside the flat. I remember sitting in the big and airy kitchen at my old and scarred pine table, sun streaming through the window, feeling the warmth of it on my neck and listening to the most wonderful classical music I have ever heard. The fact that I didn’t have any music playing at the time is beside the point. My mind was conjuring up the most amazing music. It was glorious. Quite naturally I didn’t mention it to anyone but whenever I was stressed the music played for me and soothed me.
Shortly after that I heard someone outside my flat door in the early hours of the morning telling someone it was where I lived. The voice was that of someone I knew and yet I was more than aware that they had no need to be outside my flat telling, presumably, a stranger where I lived. I was also very aware that they wouldn’t be outside at that time of the night. That has happened, in variations, many times since then. I’ve learned not to be scared of the incidents and to accept them as things my head conjures up.
What happens more often and is much more irritating is what happens when I’m stressed in the extreme. I hear the ringtones from my phone over and over again. If they were gentle ringtones then it would be neither here nor there but I’m a woman who loves punk and The Jam blaring round my head isn’t always what I need.
My experiences aren’t unique. Many people recount similar experiences on most mental health forums and the people who post there always describe themselves as hearing voices. Hearing voices isn’t always confined to people with serious mental health problems. I was asked to do some mental health training with some call centre staff at a local council. As I gave the ringtones example of how voices manifested themselves when I was ultra stressed one of the women looked up and said, “so that’s why I hear the door slam when I’m under pressure.” Which for me, proves in at least a small way, that most of the time hearing voices is nothing to fear and for some of us they are a welcome distraction at times.