All that I am, all that I ever was…

I am more than my mental health. I am more than my homelessness. I am more than any one aspect of me. I am Addy. And this is…


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Metaphorically speaking

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My counselor recently suggested that I should consider writing a blog post about all of the achievements I’ve made throughout the last twelve months, for in comparison to recent years the forward-movement I’ve made this year has been substantial.

Now, given that I take every suggestion my counselor and support workers make, I will be writing this post in a few weeks, most probably to celebrate the end of the year, but I wanted to write a little today about the part of me in which I have made the most headway over the last twelve months; my voice hearing experiences.

Twelve months ago I was still locked in the perpetual argument of do I talk about them or don’t I? Rarely were my voices mentioned on my blog and never by name or content. They were something that I believed I needed to hide in case people thought I was completely insane or beyond recovery. It has only been through my contact with the Hearing Voices Support Group, Intervoice and the work I’ve done with my support worker that I’ve found the confidence to publicly speak about my voices and my interactions with them.

In that time there has been a number of conversations about where my voices came from and what they may represent, for although they ascertain (and feel to me) that they are unique individuals, they communicate with me for a reason.

One of the theories behind voice hearing is that the voices one hears are metaphors for something. Whether it is a traumatic experience, emotional upheaval or something else entirely, it is only through identifying what these metaphors may be that we can hope to find the meaning behind the voices.

Take, as a first example, Vanessa. When she began talking to me in July 2007 I immediately recognized her as my abusive ex-girlfriend. She had the same voice, the same mannerisms and the same likes and dislikes. She even spoke to me in the same disrespectful, arrogant (and at times downright sociopathic) way. So, for as long as she’s been talking to me, I believed her existence to be simply as a result of the trauma the real-Vanessa’s abuse caused me.

But through undertaking the Maastricht Interview with my support worker, and several conversations with Emilia, a friend who works extensively in the Hearing Voices field, it was put forward that – in addition to being a response to trauma – Vanessa was also representative of my negative self-opinion.

She is the vocal component of my lack of self-esteem, non-existent self-confidence and general hatred of self. When I feel out of my depth, anxious or unsure if I should challenge myself, Vanessa pops up to ensure that I keep the status-quo; that I never do anything different because doing so may cause further pain and distress to my already overloaded soul.

In essence, she is in fact a protective element, only she tries to protect me through abuse rather than nurture because this is the only way she knows how.

Audrey is a similar story. When she began talking to me in October 2007, her voice – her persona – was a match to an (at the time) close and admired friend. For years she spoke to me in an abusive, derogatory manner that caused me tremendous pain and distress. She encouraged suicide and self-harm, demeaned me whenever she could and generally prevented me from making any positive change to my life.

So she too, could have been trying to protect me rather than simply abusing me.

But given Audrey was born out of the grief and guilt of a lost friendship, there may be more to her than meets the eye. Based on her personality, based on how she communicates, there is the possibility that she is representative of the type of friend I’ve always been drawn to; intelligent, cultured, dry sense of humour and a playfulness that balances the fine line between maturity and immaturity.

The problem with the metaphorical approach to voices becomes more difficult when it comes to my other primary voices, Meadhbh and Shay, for unlike Audrey and Vanessa, they are not people I’ve known, but completely born from my mind and life experience.

Until this year I had no theories as to where Meadhbh and Shay came from. I flirted with the idea that Meadhbh was representative of my sister, for she began talking to me at the time my sister’s mental illness was peaking and, as a result, I began losing her from my life. But Meadhbh’s age (late teens), country of origin (Scotland) and general personality were all as far removed from my sister as could be.

So where did she come from and what – if anything – is she representative of?

It was only after my support worker put forward a theory behind Shay that I began to formulate my own opinion of who Meadhbh is.

Shay, as I have mentioned in the past, is a bit of a bastard. The principal words that could be used to describe him – arrogant, dominant, misogynistic, sexist, a bit of a cock – are all words that I would never use to describe myself (whether other people would is something I can’t comment on!) so find it difficult to accept that there is any of Shay in me. But, my support worker theorized that he could be a representation of my deepest, darkest, most carnal masculine desires. In essence, he is the man I would be sans-inhibitions, sans-decency, sans-social acceptability. He is the darkness to my light, the yang to my yin, the alter-ego I ultimately become when I lose control (i.e. manic episodes) of my senses.

But how does this metaphorical interpretation help me work out the mystery of Meadhbh?

Although I rarely admit it, for a large portion of my life I’ve believed that I was born the wrong gender and wish, in fact, that I was a woman. The way I think, the way I act, the way I feel and the way I fantasize are all far more feminine than they are masculine. I rarely have anything in common with other men and, for most of my life, I’ve connected more to women than I have men, mostly because I crave an emotional connection above everything else.

When Meadhbh began communicating with me when I was thirteen, it was at a time in my life when my was I born the wrong gender questioning was first beginning to plague my mind; so where Shay is who I would be if I were an alpha-alpha-male, Meadhbh could easily be a representation of who I would be if I were a woman? Not a representation of my female side, but the female version of Addy.

She certainly mirrors a lot of my likes (fantasy realms, video games, books, movies, camping, kinks), dislikes (listening to other people eat, impoliteness, coffee) and seems to be an almost dreamlike representation of who I would love to be: Scottish, beautiful, able to wear corsets without people looking at me funny and extroverted to the point of making friends with everyone on earth.

In fact, I can’t think of a woman I’d rather be more like than Meadhbh.

Obviously, like everything within the realm of my voice hearing experiences, these theories are all hypothetical and subject to change at any moment, but the more I think about them, the more I believe I am closer to understanding sides of me that have baffled and confused me for over twenty years of my life.

And that’s certainly multiple steps forward to where I was this time last year!


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World Hearing Voices Day: What it’s like to hear voices…

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Rainbow Ocean © *Thelma1 (Image chosen by Meadhbh)

“If over 280 million people hear voices…why don’t we talk about it more?”

Tomorrow is World Hearing Voices Day; a day to celebrate hearing voices as part of the diversity of human experience. It challenges the negative attitudes towards people who hear voices and the incorrect assumption that hearing voices, in itself, is a sign of illness.

In the past I have ‘come out’ via this blog that I’m a voice hearer. Back in February I introduced you to the five main people who make up my ‘menagerie’; Meadhbh (pronounced as Marie), Audrey, Vanessa, Shay and Jessica, as well as at numerous times shared my adventures within a Hearing Voices Support Group and several posts looking at the whys and wherefores of my various voices. But at no stage have I explored what it’s like to be a voice hearer.

So, in celebration of World Hearing Voices Day, I wanted to spend a little time beginning a conversation about what my voice hearing experience is like.

My voices are real people

The one thing people need to understand about my menagerie is that they feel like they are real people. They are not simply omnipresent noise, but individual beings that have their own emotional spectrum. Sometimes they are happy, sometimes they are sad, sometimes they are acting as if it’s their time of the month and sometimes they’re acting as if they’ve had red cordial streamlined into their blood stream.

Each of my people have their own likes, loathes, loves and hatreds. They are all passionate about different things and each has their own opinions of me, and of the things I’m doing/should be doing.

My people are as real to me as your friends and family are to you

The easiest way I can think of to describe what it’s like for me to hear my voices is to ask you to imagine yourselves talking to one of your family and friends. They’re sitting beside you, mindlessly chatting about things that have happened to them, things they want to happen, disasters that have befallen their lives or the hotness of their latest celebrity crush. Sometimes their voice will rise or fall depending on their levels of emotion; sometimes they’ll shout, scream or cry, other times they will become all coy and shyly quiet.

Now imagine you are sitting around the table with three or four of your friends and/or family members. Sometimes there will be people talking to each other and not to you, but you can still hear them whilst you’re carrying on a conversation with someone else. Voices will become a din, questions will fly and sounds will overlap so that you may not catch everything that is said.

This is what hearing my voices is like.

Sometimes there is just one carrying on a conversation with me. Other times, three or four will be talking to me at the same time or, more often than not, three or four will be talking to themselves and to me at the same time.

But unlike your family and friends, my people have no respect for what I’m doing when they’re talking to me. I might be undertaking a job interview, or using the lavatory, or trying to sleep, or trying to have a conversation with a support worker or psychiatrist. And there my voices will be, nattering away, offering their opinions and advising me what I should do with no regard to my feelings or current activity.

Can you imagine how confusing (and frustrating) such a constant stream of voices could become?

My voices are a layer of support people often forget about

And can you imagine how beautifully supportive such a constant stream of voices could be for someone who is so isolated and alone?

Over the last several years I’ve not had the same level of support that most people take for granted. I haven’t had best friends, acquaintances, partners, girlfriends or random human beings to speak to about all that’s been happening in my life.

Virtually all of the chaotic crises I’ve experienced have been dealt with on my own with little to no advice offered by people who love and care about me. Likewise, I’ve had no-one to share the beautiful and happy times I’ve experienced; except my menagerie, who have been with me through it all.

Granted, for a large portion of the last seven years my people have been deeply abusive and critical of both myself and my actions. To them, I was doing nothing right. To them, for a large portion of the last seven years, I should have just toddled off and ended my pointless life.

However, since I began to explore the Hearing Voices Movement approach, there has been a distinct change in the time I’ve spent with some of my people. Certainly, Vanessa and Shay have been as frustrating and abusive as usual, but Meadhbh and Audrey have become much valued confidants and ‘friends’ in my ongoing journey.

At various points they have made me laugh when I’ve felt sad, supported me through difficult anniversaries by taking my mind off events and helped inspire me when I’ve felt most lost.

I wouldn’t go so far as to say I would dead without the support these people have given me this year, but I certainly wouldn’t have been able to deal with my recent relapse as effectively had they not been so supportive and friendly.

Something that I know I’m deeply thankful for.

I have no idea what the future holds for me and my voices. However, I do know that Meadhbh and Audrey are both deeply excited to be celebrating our first World Hearing Voices Day together. To them, it’s the equivalent of Mother’s day; a day where we can celebrate their existence and all they’ve done.

So to celebrate, we are helping run a BBQ that my Hearing Voices Support Group is running in our local town and have a couple of themed posts coming that they would like to share with you all.

So wherever you are and whatever you may be doing tomorrow, remember that over 280 million people hear voices…so maybe it’s about time we all started talking about it a bit more! :)

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~ For more information on World Hearing Voices Day, visit Intervoice: the International Hearing Voices Network  ~


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A modern approach to hearing voices

Rarely will you find a well researched, well written article on mental health in Australia, let alone one that focuses on hearing voices, so when an article on this topic appeared on The Conversation a couple of months ago I’ll admit to approaching it with apprehension and dread.

What clichés would they trot out? Would the word compassion be as foreign to the writer as it is to most who write on this topic? How angry would I become from reading it? And more importantly, how angry would my voices become?

To my surprise, I needn’t have worried, for it was one of the rare occasions when mental health (and hearing voices) was reported with empathy, compassion and understanding.

It even received a thumbs up from two of my people, which is almost the greatest accolade you can receive! :p

Beyond madness: a modern approach to hearing voices

livingwithvoicesFour years ago, a woman came to speak to my third year psychology class at the University of Auckland. Her story completely changed the way I thought about voice-hearing. Like most people, I associated “hearing things” with being very unwell psychologically; with madness. Yet here was an articulate, hilarious and confident woman – a mental health educator – who was very much in touch with reality.

The first voice she heard was a supportive, maternal voice which didn’t cause her any distress. Later, she heard a group of demonic-like voices who threatened to harm her or those she cared about. She was diagnosed with schizophrenia and institutionalised for many years.

Her turning point came when she asked her voices to show her some of their power by doing the dishes. When they didn’t, their hold over her started to loosen. Slowly, she learnt how to deal with her voices, built relationships with others and finally gained employment helping other voice-hearers. Hers is one of the stories of recovery recorded in Living with voices: 50 stories of recovery.

What struck me most about her story was how easy it was to draw an analogy between her voices and internal “self-talk”. Immediately, the experience of voice-hearing seemed less foreign and incomprehensible and more akin to what most people experience. This “inner-speech” theory is in fact the most well-known neuropsychological theory about what causes voices.

Apart from making voice-hearing seem less foreign, her story challenged several assumptions I held. First, it seemed that she was able to live a functional, productive and meaningful life while still hearing voices. Second, a diagnosis of schizophrenia is thought to carry with it a very poor prognosis, with little hope of recovery.

So, is her experience unique? It seems not. There is evidence of long-term recovery for around half of people distressed by their voices, enabling them to live meaningful lives and function to a degree considered normal by most people.

Continue reading ‘Beyond madness: a modern approach to hearing voices’

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Working with Voices: Dreams

Previously, in my series completing the Working with Voices: Victim to Victor workbook…
~ Introduction
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“Far away there in the sunshine are my highest aspirations. I may not reach them, but I can look up and see their beauty, believe in them, and try to follow where they lead.”
~ Louisa May Alcott ~

My life goals…

“Close your eyes and think about what you want to achieve by working though this workbook. Spend at least thirty minutes simply thinking about where you want to be in your life.”

Several weeks ago, during the second week of my Hearing Voices Support Group, we completed this very same exercise. During that group we had considerably less than thirty minutes to think about where we would like to be in life, but I wrote the following dreams:

◊ To feel more connected to myself both physically and mentally
◊ To no longer be afraid of being homeless again
◊ To be able to talk to people without intense anxiety (making me look like a twat!)
◊ To acknowledge my achievements instead of constantly berating them
◊ To feel happiness again
◊ To see my writing published again
◊ Increase my confidence
◊ To no longer be isolated and alone
◊ To have a better relationship with my voices
◊ To love and be loved in return (cheers, Moulin Rouge!)
◊ To believe in myself
◊ To have a pet turtle (whom I shall name Magnus)
◊ To have a family
◊ To no longer be traumatized by abuse
◊ To be able to share my thoughts without fear of judgment, ridicule and humiliation

Now that I have had more time to contemplate, I would like to add the following to that list:

◊ To better manage my insomnia and sleeping patterns
◊ To build a stronger and more varied set of coping skills
◊ To become a functioning and contributing member of society
◊ To find a head space where I am not controlled by fear, negative thought or anxiety

If, in the future, I think of any further dreams I will add them to the above list alongside a notation of when it was added.

My goals for 2013…

“Then ask what would be realistic to achieve in one years’ time.”

Earlier this year I wrote a blog post in which I shared thirteen of my goals for 2013. As it fits neatly into this section of the workbook I have rewritten the thirteen goals, along with any updates of my progress (if there has been any).

1. Cross item one from the 101 things I want to do before I die list
Having narrowly missed out on this a few weeks ago (cheers poverty and anxiety!) this may (and I stress MAY) happen on July 13th…if all goes to plan! :p
2. Return to the Kings Domain so I can scream ‘Fuck you homelessness, I beat your ass!”
As item (1) involves travelling to Melbourne, this may (and I stress MAY) happen on July 14th…if all goes to plan! :p
3. Continue going to the Hearing Voices Support Group on a weekly basis
So far I’ve missed only one group this year and am actually looking forward (!) to attending on Friday after the break for Easter last week! :)
4. Keep working toward obtaining ongoing mental health support
I still haven’t found the courage to see a psychiatrist but I haven’t ruled it out, yet. I will also be doing more therapy focussed groups next term.
5. Start writing my novel(s) again
6. Smile more
7. Stop procrastinating about writing and sending emails
8. Expand my social networking presence
9. Go on a holiday
10. Make at least one new friend (in real-life)
11. See at least 6 films in the cinema
Still only seen the one. So now I have to see five films in eight months. Not looking good! :/
12. Write at least one blog post in every month of the year
January…check, February…check, March…check, April…check! Yep, all going well so far!
13. To stop being so hard on myself all the time and begin believing how seriously freaking awesome I am!
No change yet.

And as I am no longer constrained by the limitations of a Thursday Thirteen post, I would like to add:

14. To exchange a ‘hug’
Because it’s been far (FAR) too long since I was last hugged!

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As it’s been so long since I hugged anyone I realised some research was necessary if I stand any chance of achieving this goal. I’m not sure if I’m capable of a “flying hug” just yet…perhaps that will be something to work toward in 2014! :p

~ Next ~
Nightmares


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Working with Voices: Victim to Victor

Over the last several weeks I’ve been mentioning a Hearing Voices book that I’ve been working through. This book is called Working with Voices: Victim to Victor (by Ron Coleman and Mike Smith) and its goal is to help a voice hearer better understand the relationships they have with their voices. By examining a voice hearer’s history, including the power and influence their voices have on their life, a voice hearer can develop new coping skills, foster better relationships and use this knowledge to work towards a brighter, safer, future.

Although relatively short in length, the various exercises throughout the book can be quite confronting for a voice hearer. As such, it is recommended that you complete the workbook with the support of understanding individuals. In my life, this means you! ;)

So, over the coming weeks, I’ll be sharing each of the exercises so that you – and I – can build a better understanding of my life and people. This way, if I have some form of meltdown brought on by one or more of my responses, you guys can either giggle smugly or offer words of support (whatever you feel like doing at the time!) :p

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Foreword

The book begins with a foreword from Professor Marius Romme and Sandra Escher, who are credited as creating the Hearing Voices Movement in 1987. This movement regards itself as being a post-psychiatric organisation,positioning itself outside of the mental health world in recognition that voices, in their view, are an aspect of human differentness, rather than a mental health problem and that, as with homosexuality (also regarded by psychiatry in historical times as an illness), one of the main issues is about human rights. As with homosexuality, members of the movement intend to change the way society perceives the experience, and psychiatry’s attitude will follow.

This book is for voice hearers and the people they select to support them. It will enable people who have difficulties to cope with their voices and to discover different sides to their voices. Following a systematic approach it will unfold their relationship with the voices and by doing so will stimulate them to acquire more effective ways of coping. Most important in this process, and well stimulated in this workbook, is to take ownership of the experience from writing one’s own life history in relation to ones voices.

In social fields and in medial care hearing voices is seen as the consequence of mental illness. Voices are felt only to be very negative, and must be controlled by professionals. Voices are hardly ever interpreted as the messengers of the person’s life history.

This book however helps  a person to overcome three handicaps:

1) The idea that hearing voices is the consequence of an existing illness within the person, most likely being schizophrenia, an illness of unknown origin.
2) The idea that schizophrenia is a diagnosis of an illness not related in an understandable manner with the life history of that person.
3) The idea that the person as the consequence of the illness concept is powerless against the voices, that the voices are not owned by the person, whilst in fact the voices are a persons own experience understandable from the personal trauma’s or overpowering problems with life.

~from the foreward to ‘Working with Voices: Victim to Victor’

Ground Rules

At the beginning of the book is a series of ground rules. As I will be sharing each exercise with you, I feel it pertinent to make you aware of these rules.

  1. Voices are real, pointless arguments about whom they are real for are, by definition, pointless!
  2. Voices in themselves may not be the problem rather relationships with them, the power they have and their influence in a persons’ life may be the problem.
  3. This book belongs to the voice hearer, it should be a record of their experience, their coping and their plans for the future.
  4. It is all right for new coping strategies to be slow to work.
  5. Many people try different ways of dealing with voices. It is better to try to partially succeed than to never to try at all. You are in charge as long as you try. You are no longer the victim you are now the victor.
  6. Take your time, there are no prizes for finishing quickly.

The Process

The following is the process that the book works through.

  • Identifying your experiences
    Identifying your experiences in your own words and as you see them.
  • Exploring your experiences
    Looking in-depth at your experiences and looking beyond yourself to others and their reactions.
  • Understanding your experiences
    This is for you, and with your permission a chosen person, to begin to understand and to put into context your experiences.
  • Moving on
    This phase is about accepting if you want to, and making choices about how you want to cope and live with your voices. It is also about developing strategies for you to take control in your life and for some getting back your life as you want it.
  • What do you want from this workbook?
    Having dreams and objectives at the beginning of the process gives us a much greater incentive to move forward.
  • Creating your future
    Where you want to be in your life, how you will get there, what you need to get their, who you need to help you get there and what the pitfalls on your journey might be.

As I share more of the exercises – beginning with goals, moving through my voices life history and ending with planning for the future – this process (and the ideals behind the Hearing Voices Movement) will become more apparent. If you have any questions about my voices and experiences, either now or as we proceed, don’t be afraid to ask. If I can answer them, I shall. If I can’t, then perhaps one of my people will! ;)

~ Next time: Dreams ~