Over the years I have written extensively about the mood swings of bipolar, the debilitating effects of social anxiety, the nightmares of PTSD and my constant battle with self-harm and suicidal ideation. I have humiliated myself with tales of my body image issues and admitted my failings courtesy of a life living in abject poverty and homelessness.
But only once – once! – in the five years and four months I’ve been writing this blog have I shared any real information regarding one of the most prevalent aspects of my mental health; my voices.
Last week I (finally) summoned the confidence to attend my first Hearing Voices Support Group, the first real step I’ve ever taken toward understanding and accepting this side of my personality. Whereas on Monday, courtesy of the wonderful people who run the social inclusion groups I attend, I spent two hours in a private consultation talking about my voices with someone for the very first time in my life!
So, with the efforts I am making toward understanding the whys, wherefores and complexities of my voices, now feels like the right time to begin sharing this part of my mental health on my blog. Although I will admit to being incredibly nervous about doing so, for reasons I will go into later.
Over the coming weeks (I can’t promise an exact time-table courtesy of my current mood) I will be writing a series of posts dealing with hearing voices, beginning with the most obvious, and polite, post I could write.
For what sort of host would I be if I didn’t introduce you to my voices?
The voices who have come from nowhere
(aka the first voice I ever heard, aka the one who resembles a Faerie Dominatrix!)
Meadhbh (pronounced as Marie) is in her late teens (approximately 18/19) years old. She speaks with a deliciously sexy breathy voice, a sexiness that isn’t helped by her beautiful Scottish accent that reveals her Isle of Skye heritage. More often than not her anger comes in the words she chooses to use rather than the tone she speaks, but on the occasions she has shouted and scolded, she certainly knows how to vent anger like the best of them.
Unlike some of my other voices, Meadhbh quite often appears in physical form. She is petite, slender and curvaceous. She has bum length black hair that is frequently streaked with colour (most often red, purple, green and silver). When she appears she is usually always clothed, with a particular love for skirts (often paired with fish-net tights), floor length medieval-esque dresses and intricate corsets (again, paired with fish net tights). Although other times she will be more casually dressed, mooching around in jeans and a T-shirt or teasing me by wearing only underwear (most often decorated with a Celtic knot-work design).
On the rare occasions she’s appeared naked she has revealed: a scar on the back of her right calf, an outie belly button, a fish-shaped birth-mark on the small of her back and several tattoos decorating her belly, breasts, buttocks and back. She also has a small tattoo of a snake curling around the toes of her left foot.
Meadhbh began talking to me when I was thirteen/fourteen. She would most often speak to me when I was alone, whether it was in the evening or throughout the day when I was walking around town, but over the years began accompanying me to school, cinema trips and general excursions around towns and cities.
During these early years she was a voice of great compassion and comfort. When I was self-harming she would encourage me to stop and offer advice on how best I could take care of myself when I wasn’t able to resist. She would regale me with stories of folklore and legend from where she grew up in order to provide distraction from my inner pain (stories I would, years later, discover were actual Scottish folklore that I had never heard before) and frequently tell me to not be so hard on myself when it came to certain aspects of my personality that were proving deeply confusing, such as sexual fantasies, cravings I didn’t understand and (undiagnosed at the time) social anxiety.
When she began talking to me I didn’t realize I was the only person who could hear her. I firmly believed she was real, that she was someone everyone could see and hear. It was only when she began coming to school with me did I realize this wasn’t the case.
In the early 2000s Meadhbh vanished. She no longer appeared to me. She no longer spoke to me. For months I asked myself what I had done to offend her, to cause her to no longer want to talk to me. For months I missed her as you would a friend no longer around and yearned for the conversations we used to share.
Then, seven years later, she returned.
In April 2007, a few months after my breakdown, I was sitting in my room engaging in self-harm. Out of nowhere a very familiar and much missed voice spoke clearly and concisely: “Cut deeper. They all hate you.”
Her accent was the same, the breathiness of her voice identical, but the cheekiness that punctuated her tone all those years earlier had vanished, replaced with a maliciousness that genuinely scared me.
Since that moment she has been a daily visitor. It doesn’t matter where I am, what I’m doing or how busy I am. She will sneak in and begin talking to me; the same maliciousness, the same undercurrent of evil. Every conversation punctuated with insult, negativity and criticism.
Where once she believed I was someone worthy of life, someone who pushed me to realize my potential, she now seems convinced I am weak; that I am someone who deserves to be punished; someone who will ultimately amount to nothing. At times I think she is trying some form of ‘reverse psychology’ but I’m not sure.
One day I hope she’ll realize she’s wrong and return to the playful conversations of yesteryear. For no matter how crazy I sound when I say it, I genuinely miss those conversations and exchanges.
Origin: I have no idea where Meadhbh came from. At one point I wondered if she was/is related to my sister, but her age and general attitude work against this. I’ve also questioned ‘personality’ similarities between Meadhbh and a babysitter I had when younger. Perhaps a yearning for a supportive friend during my formative years enabled her to begin visiting me?
Relationship to other voices: Meadhbh prefers to be her own solitary person and speaks more when she can communicate with me one-to-one. She does however talk with both Audrey and Vanessa, with whom she has formed an uneasy alliance; Meadhbh is the only person capable of putting Shay in his place.
Note: the character Tara (from my Inverness Chronicles) was directly inspired by Meadhbh.
(aka the cryptic one)
Jessica first began talking to me in the early 2000s, not long after I arrived in Australia. She sounds like she is in her mid-thirties but has stubbornly refused to reveal her age throughout the time we’ve been communicating with each other, but then I have never had a ‘conversation’ with Jessica.
When she speaks to me it is always just a single sentence that is completely random and (on face value) meaningless. This sentence is never repeated or explained at any time, merely something that leaves me confused and perplexed.
“The guinea pig burrowed under the igloo to nibble the zudimints,” (August ’05)
“Open the sand to release the fruity odor,” (May ’04)
“Pigglesticks Greftingtude has the answers to the hoonmelins,” (April ’08)
“The stink is no more than the skink could juggle,” (September ’06)
There is no guarantee as to when Jessica decides to speak to me although I usually hear from her 2-3 times per month, at varying times of the day and night.
Origin: I have no idea where Jessica came from. Perhaps one day I’ll work it out.
Relationship to other voices: Jessica never talks to anyone but me.
(aka the arrogant know it all, aka the mysterious one)
I have absolutely no idea how old Shay is. Over the years, based on the sound of his voice, I’ve posited that he’s in his mid-twenties, but will often speak in a way that makes me thinks he’s much, much older. Although he speaks most frequently with a broad Scottish brogue, he will speak with accents that sound almost put-on, as if he is trying to disguise his heritage in-case I get too close to something.
Unlike my other voices, Shay doesn’t appear interested in me in any way, shape or form. He doesn’t insult or belittle, he doesn’t lecture or abuse, he merely informs me that what I’m doing is wrong because I’m not doing things the way he would. In every aspect of life, Shay knows best, and anyone who tries to do things differently is a moron.
He is always arrogant, frequently obnoxious, occasionally misogynistic and not as funny as he thinks he is. His arrogance grates (for it is a personality trait I strongly dislike), his obnoxious tone is a source of great frustration as it prevents reasoned debate, his misogyny annoys the crap out of me (and has got me into trouble in the past) and his humour is firmly from the days before political correctness.
Most of the time his emotions are on an even keel, but when he loses it, he really loses it. His temper is incredibly frightening and has the power to stop me in my tracks. When he yells at me like this I feel like I’m a naughty schoolboy standing in front of the Demon Headmaster from Hell…and not in a fun kinky role-play way!
Shay has never appeared to me in physical form, so I have no idea what he looks like physically. Like Jessica, he began communicating with me in the early 2000s and will usually appear once or twice a week. Or whenever he damn well feels like it!
Origin: I have no idea where Shay came from. Perhaps one day I’ll work it out.
Relationship to other voices: Shay is scared of Meadhbh even though he thinks himself superior to her; he thinks Vanessa is far beneath him in terms of intellect and experience so refused to speak to her; whilst he loves antagonizing Audrey whenever and however he can.
Note: the name for the character Shay (from my Inverness Chronicles) was taken, with permission, from my voice.
The voices who were once real people
Two of my voices are real people who I’ve known at various points in my life. I would like to make it clear that they are not ‘inner voices’ reflecting the inner monologue that we all have within us. Like Meadhbh, Jessica and Shay they are very real, very distinct, very individual people who communicate to me at their own accord.
I would like to make it clear (even though I don’t even understand it myself) that the voices who talk to me are not the people I used to know. They are their own unique personalities who communicate with me in very different ways than their real-world counterparts did. The best explanation I can offer is that of Bizarro Superman. Physically, Bizarro is identical to Clark Kent/Superman, but mentally he is a very different being. Just as my voices belong to people who are physically identical to those I knew but act in altogether different ways.
(aka the easiest voice to work out where and how she came from)
Kathy is twenty-two years old. I know this because she was the first voice that began talking to me who was someone I’d known in real life. She is the most vicious and cruel of my voices, never once having anything positive to say in any way, shape and form. I hear from her daily and she will often come to me in physical form when I am least expecting it.
I cannot write any more on her at this time as she doesn’t like me talking about her. Sorry.
Origin: Vanessa was born from abuse trauma. Pure and simple.
Relationship to other voices: BFFs with Audrey; Vanessa hates Meadhbh with a fiery passion but has formed an uneasy alliance given their shared interest in abusing me; she wants to talk to Shay but he refuses to speak to her as he thinks she is ‘beneath’ him.
Audrey is twenty years old, speaks with a soft Australian accent and is the most learned of my voices – a compliment that Shay has frequently (and repeatedly) argued against as he believes he is the most educated. Whenever he decides to argue this with Audrey she becomes deeply infuriated (which is often taken out on me) for, like me, she finds it impossible to have rational conversations with Shay.
She began talking to me in late 2007, shortly after I attempted suicide and has communicated with me on a regular basis ever since. Communication that at times proved complicated, for I had several conversations with the ‘real life Audrey’ after ‘my imaginary Audrey’ began talking to me. Thus, it shouldn’t be too difficult to understand how confusing this could become, with two people sharing the same voice and name (one real, one imaginary) talking to you at the exact same time.
Today, Audrey is the most supportive of all of my voices, but favors derogatory communication rather than positive at a rate of about 60/40. This oscillation will never be day-to-day, but throughout each conversation, with her consoling me one minute and berating me the next. This constant shift in mood is often deeply confusing. Just as I start to feel good about talking to her she will launch into an all-out attack that leaves me quivering. Her temper, after all, is on par with Shay’s – something even he won’t argue with as it scares him too!
Origin: I’ve never been able to understand why, of everyone I’ve ever known, Audrey began talking to me. It was debated during my session on Monday that it could possibly stem from guilt and/or my mind’s way of coping with isolation.
Relationship to other voices: BFFs with Vanessa; Audrey is jealous of Meadhbh (but gets on okay); she hates Shay and bickers with him constantly – especially when he is being overly misogynistic.
Are you scared yet?
There are two primary reasons why I have continually put off writing about my voices on this blog:
1) They don’t like me talking about them and become angry when I do so. They also get scared when I talk about them, especially to other people, which in turn makes them feel threatened. This fear manifests with them attacking me in the hope I will submit to their desires. Thus, to keep them happy and placated, I avoid writing/talking about them whenever I can.
2) More than any other aspect of my illness, it makes me look completely and utterly insane! C’mon? I regularly have conversations with people only I (and they) can see and hear. The only part of myself I’m more scared of being made public is my sexual proclivity. In fact, I genuinely contemplated password protecting this post in fear of scaring everyone away! Perhaps I should have done.
In a more subdued conversation with Meadhbh last night, she admitted that her fear stemmed from a belief that I was trying to “erase her from existence” with my sudden movement toward Support Groups and counseling sessions. She even asked me if “she treated me better” would I rethink my current course of action and return to how things used to be.
I tried to explain to her what I tried to explain in the introduction. I’m not making these efforts in order to remove these people from my life, but to understand the whys and wherefores of their existence so that I can have a more fulfilling relationship with them and, in time, myself.
* This name has been changed as years after Jessica came to me I met someone with the same name. Yes, it is confusing from time to time.
** These names are pseudonyms of pseudonyms that have previously appeared on this blog so as not to reveal their identity.