For some, hearing voices is the scariest thing they will ever experience, and they can’t deal with it; for others, they somehow get past the initial fright and learn to coexist with the strangers in their brain.
You can imagine that the group of people who learn to live with hallucinations is very small. And even if they do find a way to share their mind, it’s almost impossible to maintain a level of normalcy for very long.
I’ve known a lot of people in my life with schizophrenia, schizoaffective disorder, or neurological disorders that cause them to have hallucinations. Everyone’s case is different.
One or two spent most of their time either so medicated that couldn’t function or strapped to a bed screaming at the top of their lungs.
I knew a guy in the hospital who I only called “itchy,” because the only time I ever saw him he was covered in a rash. The only medication he could take that gave him any relief from the crippling hallucinations also had terrible side-effects. I would always ask him, “how are you doing?” He would smile and only say, “I’m itchy.” But, he had cotton-mouth so he pronounced it “ish-eee.”
I knew a girl named Stacey, who had terrible night terrors caused by her hallucinations. They drugged her, but she still woke up crying every night.
I’ve never met anyone who handled their hallucinations as well as me. Even when I was in the hospital, I asked them not to drug me so heavily because I couldn’t take care of myself. I preferred to deal with the voices on my own. Most of the time, the doctors ignored me, because when you are severely mentally ill, they don’t listen to the patient. They always think they know best. The result was I could hardly feed myself, and I often lost bladder control.
There is no dignity on the mental ward.
What it’s like
Most of us have a voice in our head. Some people have a running commentary going on. I know from asking that a lot of writers have a muse-like “person” that helps them to be creative.
Hearing voices is a lot like that for me. The difference is that when voices speak to me, it feels foreign. It’s not a part of you, but something completely different. Often, the voices are malignant- rarely are they friendly and helpful.
I hear a lot of different voices and whispers in my head. There are three I’ve come to know well, and they make up 90% of the activity. Because I’ve spent so much time listening to them, I’ve even assigned a likeness to them. I’ve stopped at naming them because I don’t want to give them that much power.
Call me crazy.
First, there’s a baby. I know, how scary can a freaking baby be? Okay, a baby that talks. How about that? He/she sounds exactly as you would think a baby would sound if it could talk. The baby comes out during my depressive periods.
Next, there is a woman. To me, she sounds like she should look like Angelina Jolie. She’s evil and ruthless. Everything she says is negative and hurtful. She is the hardest of the three to deal with, and when she speaks, I tend to withdraw in fear. Lately, I’ve been fighting back against her, but to her, it’s a game.
Even though I know these voices are not real and just my mind talking to me, it’s hard not to respond when she is speaking. She demands an audience. She is the one who tells me I’m a terrible writer, a lousy father, and a bad husband. She is the one who assures me I am worthless and weak. She is the one I am most afraid of.
The third is a grandmother, and she was the one who used to talk to me when I cut myself. You may think she would be the kind one, but she is terrible. She convinced me that mutilation was a good way to deal with my mental pain. She is the one who told me to take three handfuls of pills. She is the one who wants me to stay in bed under the covers, hiding in fear, because it’s better than facing what’s going on.
There are others — some better, some worse. Most of the time these days, they whisper in the background. When I have an episode, they scream at me. Their screams, combined with the abnormal amount of noise in my head, is deafening.
I should talk about the noise because it’s a symptom of my psychosis as well. I have a period in the day when my mind is quiet, but as the day wears on, the noise builds. Background noise echoes in my head, and one noise changes to two or three. Soon, it’s so loud I can’t stand it, and any other noises I hear are painful. I cringe when my dog barks. A motorcycle going by on the street will send me into a panic.
The worst part of the day is when I go to my daughter’s school during lunch. The kids are playing and screaming, and the noise is unbearable. Yesterday, I started to cry and had to leave. It was so much more than I could handle.
For you to understand what it’s really like, you also have to add depression, anxiety, and panic to the mix. Underneath everything is either overpowering worry or the bleakest darkness. It’s easy to see how it can all build up and finally turn to a full-blown panic attack.
How do I manage?
Sometimes I can’t manage. If I disappear for days at a time, you know I’m having trouble. Sometimes it’s so bad I can’t get out of bed. I have to stay in the cool, dark, quiet of my room.
Other times, the voices and noise are quieter. Medication helps. The only problem with my medication is it makes me sleepy. Much of the time, I only feel like laying on the bed and going to sleep.
But, I have to write, and I have things to take care of around the house. I have to tend to my daughter. I’m not just a father when it suits me — it’s a full-time responsibility, and I do what I have to do with a smile on my face because I love every minute.
My wife will be giving birth in about five weeks, so she needs as much of my help and support as possible. When the baby is born, I expect that my responsibilities will double.
I have no time to be sick — so what do I do when I am?
I do the best I can.
Yes, I know I can’t do everything, and I know my wife wishes I would do a lot more around here without her asking me. I know there are things I could do to make life more bearable for everyone, but I don’t always have the strength to manage it.
I don’t always get out of bed when I’m supposed to — sometimes I spend an extra hour trying to rid myself of the panic. I don’t always move as fast as I could — I take things at my own pace. Sometimes I nap instead of writing because I need to quiet my mind.
I have to be flexible, but I try to stay as balanced as possible.
Don’t feel sorry for us, please
I didn’t write this so you would feel sorry for me or anyone else with a mental illness. In fact, that’s the last thing I want. I want you to treat me like everyone else.
When I’m wrong, I expect you to challenge me. When you get upset, I expect you to complain to me. When you need advice, I want you to know that I am here for you.
I’m just like everyone else. The only difference is that I am wired differently. My brain chemicals react contrarily to each other. I see the world in a different way than you do.
If you want to do something, show people with mental health issues that you understand. We love empathy, not sympathy. It shouldn’t only be sufferers who are advocates. Everyone can and should be an advocate. It’s easy.
Inform yourself. Either you or someone you love is most likely going to have a mental health issue in your lifetime. Don’t wait until it’s too late. Know the signs. Know how best you can help. Learn how to ask for help when you need it.
Show empathy. When someone is suffering, ask them how they are. Ask them if there is anything you can do to help. We don’t want to inconvenience you. The last thing we want to do is be a burden. But if you can help, or even sit for a chat, please do.
Inform others. We all know how much ignorance there is in the world, especially on the internet. Do your best to help others understand how important it is that we have conversations about mental health. We need to talk about mental health care or the lack thereof. Suicide awareness is important. We need to push back at the government cutting programs for people in need. We need people on our side.
I feel a little nervous publishing this because there are things I discussed here that even my wife didn’t know (she does now). I didn’t write this to shock everyone and get views. I did it because I’m tired of hiding who I am. I’m tired of hoping that people don’t find out the truth about me. I’m tired of this issue being taboo.
I also want to speak for those who can’t. Most people with this illness can’t fight for themselves. We want people to know what it’s like to have hallucinations. We want to find others who are battling and connect with them.
We want to be normal, whatever that means.
We want you to understand that.