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Airplanes and Mental Illness May 31, 2017

Posted by Crazy Mermaid in Anxiety, Delusions, Hearing Voices, mental illness, Stress, Uncategorized.
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Ever since my psychotic break back in 2008, my world has shrunk. Due to my reduced mental capacity either from the damage done to my brain from the break itself, or the side effects of the medication I take, I am no longer able to process information as quickly as I used to. Trying to think is sometimes like trying to punch a hole through a wet blanket with my fist. The end result is that situations that used to be routine, such as flying so, are no longer so.

Also, to compound the situation, when I get under stress, I hear voices. They sound like telepathy, coming from inside my head. They are genderless and speak in American English. I am well aware that they are a figment of my imagination, but that doesn’t mean I can control them. Far from it. They come on gradually as the stress builds and leave a few minutes after the stress is over. If I took enough medication to never hear them, I would be comatose. I choose instead to avoid stress as much as possible. Between the foggy thinking and stress avoidance, my world shrank considerably.

The dangers of travelling alone were confirmed a few years ago when I flew to Seattle from Phoenix. The trouble started as I approached the security line. At first the voices were just a whisper, telling me that they would find contraband in my luggage. The voices told me I would be arrested and jailed when they found it. I knew I had no contraband because I had packed my luggage myself. But that didn’t stop the voices. The closer I got to the xray machine, the louder the voices got. As the TSA agents began waving a metal detector around my body, the voices got so loud that I could barely concentrate on my surroundings. Within minutes of completing the security check, the voices disappeared, leaving me with a desire to avoid travelling by myself any more.

Five years later, my husband and I planned a trip to Europe for July 2016. To speed up the process of going through security, we obtained our TSA Pre Check clearance. At the airport in July, I was pleased that a reduction in scrutiny by TSA resulted in substantially reduced stress, which meant a huge reduction in hearing voices.

Recently, my husband had the opportunity to spend a few weeks in New Jersey. The timeframe included Memorial Day 2017. He asked me to join him for that long weekend, but because of the previous event, I declined.

But a subsequent discussion with my sister in law worked out the challenges at the Seattle end. Then my husband worked out all the challenges except one at the New Jersey end. The only challenge remaining was getting from the hotel to the airport for my return trip to Seattle. I decided to brave the unknown, fight through the mental fog and stress and go on the trip, pinning my hopes on Uber to return me to the airport in time to catch my flight.

Uber came through beautifully, and my TSA precheck allowed me once again to avoid hearing most of the voices. The adventure was a success, and I am looking forward to flying solo in the near future. My world is expanding.

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Multiple Personality Disorder and Psychosis May 14, 2015

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Talking with my two friends with multiple personality disorder (also known as Dissociative Identity Disorder or DID) led me to thinking about the similarities and differences between my psychotic episode and their disorder.
During my psychotic episode, people came into a little room in my head. They sat in a chair and looked through a pane of glass that acted as a window to my world. Looking through the glass, they saw what I saw. They weren’t able to read my mind or know what I was thinking. I conversed with them via esp. Sometimes there was only one person in the room and sometimes there were many. The scary part was that I couldn’t see who was in the room, so I never was sure whether I was alone. The only way I figured out that someone had been in the room when I thought I was alone was when someone said something to me that they only would have known about if they were in the room and I didn’t know they were there. Had they not “slipped up”, I would never have known they were in the room. The fact that they could be in the room without me knowing made me paranoid.
DID means that someone has multiple personalities. Each personality has their own name, own mannerisms, own likes and dislikes, and is an entire person. The person with DID shares their body with these other personalities. With one friend, she goes into a “room” when a particular personality takes over. She is aware of what is going on but powerless to stop anything. With the other person with DID, she disappears entirely and the other person takes over her body. She is not aware of what is going on with the personality that takes over. Each different personality is called an “alter”. One friend has six “alters”, the other nine. Each “alter” is a different age, but they don’t age with the person with DID. Once a six year old, always a six year old. Once a 70 year old, always a 70 year old. Both these women have some men “alters”. These “alters” reside in a room in their heads. One friend’s room is black, with beds for each of their “alters”, complete with nightstands and lamps. Each friend can “feel” the other “alters” even when they’re not taking over their bodies. All the “alters” ask permission to take over before actually taking over. In one friend, the asking for permission is a relatively new thing. Both of my friends are married to two special spouses, who tolerate and are supportive of the “alters.
In my psychotic state, I got comfortable having people inside my “room” all the time. After I got over my paranoia, I started to enjoy the company of the people in my head. They kept me amused and entertained all the time. There was never a dull moment.
As a young woman, my mom made me join a swim team. Every day we had to go to swim team practice. That consisted of jumping in the (usually cold) pool and staring at the bottom of the pool for hours on end, doing laps. Every day was the same.
When I became aware that I was a mermaid during my psychotic break, it became clear that one of my duties as a card-carrying mermaid was swimming. I swam several times a day for several hours at a time. But unlike my time as a swim team member, I wasn’t alone in my mind. There were always interesting people around telling me I was brilliant. I thought deeply about how to solve humanities’ problems, and discussed my lofty ideas with the likes of Oprah Winfrey, the Dalai Lama, and Bill and Melinda Gates. Together we solved the world’s problems as I swam laps for hours several times a day, every day.
With DID, there is a treatment involving “integrating” the various personalities into the DID person’s personality. The idea is that each “alter” sees their own counselor and resolves their issues. As this happens, there is no need for the “alter” to exist anymore, so that “alter” disappears. As each “alter” gets integrated and disappears, that alter in effect dies.
Both friends declined integration therapy. They are so used to having their “alters” in their lives that the thought of losing them terrifies them.
I can relate to how lonely their lives would be without their “alters”. When I began my medication in the mental hospital, at first I didn’t feel anything was changing. But as I kept on the medication regimen, all of the people in my room disappeared. I became lonely inside my head. The individual people who inhabited the room in my head turned into disembodied voices inside my head. They left a huge void in my life, and I missed them terribly at first. I had to stop swimming because it became exceedingly boring again when they were gone.
I can really appreciate how scary the thought of their “alters” going away must be. I only had my “people” for a few months, and I was very attached to them. I can’t imagine a lifetime of relationships ended like that. I understand perfectly why they decline treatment.

Psychotic States of Mind March 13, 2015

Posted by Crazy Mermaid in Psychotic.
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Last night, I had an opportunity to talk with two people who were either in the middle of a psychotic break or had recently suffered a psychotic break. We had a lot in common.evil-king-clipart-1197085763320041168nicubunu_People_faces_devil.svg.med
The important concept to understand about a psychotic break is that the reality imposed by the break is as real to the person suffering from it as your reality is to you. If we think there’s someone hiding under our porch or standing outside our bedroom window, then someone is in fact doing that. That is our reality. And it’s scary stuff.
A psychotic break isn’t just limited to the brain thinking a psychotic thought. Our senses support that reality. In my psychotic state, all my senses supported my reality. Nothing was amiss. I smelled the perfume of someone (who wasn’t there and never had been there). I felt a (nonexistent) flap of skin between my toes that made my feet into fins. When I had my mask and snorkel on in the water, people surrounding me had green skin. I trusted my senses, since they had never failed me before. As they had throughout my entire life, my senses confirmed my reality.
Right before I was involuntarily committed, I came to the realization that as a mermaid, I was in extreme danger. Over the course of a month or so, I noticed that while I was swimming in the pool next to the wall, my body emitted a pink powder that built up on the sides and in the corner of the pool. The powder, which was warm to the touch and dissipated like flour in water, was actually a form of energy that could be harnessed to generate electricity. Right then, I knew I was in danger of being captured by some evil people and hooked up to a power plant. That thought was in the back of my mind as I returned to the swimming pool for the third time that day.
As I made my way to the pool from the parking lot, everyone I passed- men, women and even babies- were all zombies. Their white skin hung on their bodies, and they had black holes where their eyes were supposed to be. I was disturbed by what I saw, but not afraid enough to forgo swimming.
That was my reality, and no one could have persuaded me that the people I saw weren’t really zombies.
Last night, all three of us shared similar delusions. All of our delusions were real to us, and they were for the most part scary and negative delusions. If you think zombies are after you, you live in terror of being captured. If you think someone is waiting outside or under the porch to grab you, you live in terror of being captured by those people. If you think the mob is trying to kill you, then you fear for your life all the time.
Delusions feed on themselves, and we start to see patterns where none exist. We notice four red cars in five minutes while driving, and those red cars reinforce the fact that the mob is trying to kill us.They confirm our worst suspicions. Patterns confirming our delusion are everywhere. We see what our reality tells us.
We looked for solutions to our common problem: how to tell if we’re in a delusion. But the problem with looking for solutions is that when we’re in the middle of a delusion, that is our reality. We don’t have the presence of mind to wonder if our perceived reality is the truth. Of course it’s the truth! And anyone who tries to persuade us differently is an enemy.
The best way to solve the problem of being terrified of our delusions is to get assessed by a psychiatrist and go on medication to make the delusions go away. But this is difficult, since the delusions include not trusting anyone who tries to persuade us that our perceived reality isn’t real. It’s a catch 22.
The real trick is overcoming the lack of trust the person in the delusion has. They trust no one, especially anyone who challenges their reality.
Right now in Olympia, legislators are debating new legislation that would make it easier to get people suffering in a delusion help. The standard for involuntary commitment- which is what has to happen in the case of severe psychotic delusions- would be lower than it is now. You wouldn’t have to harm yourself or someone else in order to start treatment. You would have to be assessed as having a likelihood of harming yourself or others rather than having injured yourself or others. This legislation would improve the quality of life of someone in the middle of a severe psychotic episode because it would force them to start their medication, which would make the delusion fade enough to stay on their medication willingly. It’s a huge step forward in the treatment of mental illness.
With enough medication, my zombies disappeared. With enough medication, the mob stopped trying to kill my friend. And I trust that the people standing outside the bedroom window and under the porch will disappear for my other young friend, if only he can stay on his meds long enough. It takes weeks or sometimes even months for that medication to work, which is a long time if you’re suffering. Sometimes the delusions win the fight, and the person is stuck in their negative reality for life.
Hopefully, you get an idea of the power of these delusions. But there are solutions, if only people let those solutions happen, both on a State level and a personal level.
It’s important that we have conversations about mental illness and perceived reality. If someone’s quality of life improves because the delusions go away, that’s enormous progress.

Hearing Voices: A Comparison July 16, 2014

Posted by Crazy Mermaid in Delusions, Hearing Voices.
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If you think all people hear the same thing when they hear voices, think again.

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When I hear voices, they come from inside my head. If you can imagine what it would be like to have esp, you get an idea of what I hear. It’s like someone is sitting or standing next to me, talking to me mind to mind. The voice is gender-neutral , and loud enough to hear over the sound of other people talking. Sometimes it gets louder, as if it is shouting, but it never whispers. The voice makes observations of its surroundings, asks me to ask various people questions, comments on things people say, and is especially interested in what people are wearing.

Some people point out that they hear a voice too. They say the voice I hear is actually my subconscious. But they can’t understand what I mean when I say I have esp with the voice. And my esp didn’t start until I had my psychotic break. In fact it is a residual effect of that break.

I had a fascinating conversation with a young woman who was diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder fairly recently. We compared what it is like for each of us to hear voices.

In her case, she hears voices from the outside in. And they’re voices of people she knows. So imagine you’re looking out at a car in a parking lot. You can’t see through the windows of the car. Suddenly, you hear the voice of your friend coming from behind the car. You would swear that your friend is calling to you from behind the car. But when you approach the car, there is no one behind it. That’s what she means when she says she hears voices.

When I heard her story, it made me thankful that if I have to hear voices, I hear them the way I do. When I hear my voices, I have no illusions that they are real. She, on the other hand, never knows until she can physically see the location the voice is coming from.

She has difficulty telling what is real and what isn’t. When she hears someone talking to her, she doesn’t always make the distinction between what they are saying when they’re standing in front of her and what they say when she can’t see them. The memory of what they say stays with her, real or imagined. And the things they say are not always positive. So she gets the impression that people are saying things that aren’t nice , and that maybe they don’t really like her, because of what she hears them say when she can’t see them. She only hears people she knows. I on the other hand have never met the people whose voices I hear.
I am thankful that my voices are so benign. The things they say are actually rather boring to me. I don’t question whether they like me. It doesn’t matter to me. And in fact they don’t treat me poorly. And they don’t show up until I am under stress. In that we are alike. Hers show up under stress also.

Stress seems to be the common denominator between us, bringing on the phenomenon of hearing voices.

Unlike her, I build my life around avoiding stress, with one exception. I force myself to do NAMI’s In Our Own Voice presentations, because I believe my momentary discomfort (if you can even call it that) is worth the price of educating people and removing stigma associated with mental illness.

In her case, she doesn’t  go out of her way to avoid stress like I do. She used to teach school, but now subs for other teachers, a job that causes stress. Walking into a class full of middle school children with only a lesson plan written by their normal teacher, complete with notes about which kids are difficult, isn’t for the faint of heart. And yet she continues to expose herself to stress because she loves what she does. It’s worth the price of hearing voices to her to continue.

We are each coping with our mental illness in our own way.  I wish her every success.

Anatomy of a Psychotic Break: God and the Talking Tree April 4, 2014

Posted by Crazy Mermaid in Delusions.
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As I strolled down the lane, my trusty rat terrier, Randy, bounced ahead of me, ducking in and out of the low bushes, stopping here and there to deposit his watery mark.
Several weeks prior, God had revealed to me my Purpose In Life. I was The Chosen One, charged with the special duty that would unlock the secrets of the universe to the mass of humanity inhabiting out tiny planet.
Contemplating how I would fulfill my mission, I came to the realization that I had absolutely no idea how to accomplish my God-given task. Distractedly, I walked along the lane, looking at, but not really seeing, the scenery as I contemplated my undertaking. The majestic cedars and stately pine trees swayed slightly in the wind, but I didn’t really notice. I was too bent on looking from a sign from God. Everywhere I looked, I saw nothing to help me. How was I supposed to proceed?
Coming to a stop in front of a large tree at the end of the lane, I stared hard. A tree. A tree? A TREE! Why don’t I ask it for help?
Talking with a Tree wasn’t like talking to a human. It was much more intuitive. I didn’t hear the voices of trees like I heard peoples’ voices when we talked via ESP. This was on a much grander scale. Pure thought. Conveyed from his soul to mine.
As I started to “probe” his soul- for lack of a better word- I quickly realized that he- and I don’t know why I knew it was a “he”- knew more about everything than I did.
Me: Impossible! How can an inanimate object know more than I do?
Tree: By using all sources of information.
Me: But you can’t go anywhere. You can’t learn anything. That’s impossible.
Tree: Knowledge is everywhere. It’s all around us. Trees- and almost everything else for that matter- live- really LIVE- outside your three dimensions. Only humans- and many dogs- make exclusive use of only three. And you didn’t even pick the best three.
Me: What are you talking about?
Tree: Look beyond three dimensions. Open up your mind. Stretch. A Tree stretches to the sky. You stretch to the sky too.

I don’t know how, but I knew exactly what he meant. I stood there in front of that tree, stretching my consciousness out as far as I could. Reaching…reaching…reaching. As I reached out, the Tree’s energy flowed to me. Ancient history. Billions of years. Not in pictures, but in thought.
Tree: You…Understand?…
Me: I’m trying to.

The energy surged through to my brain. Billions of thoughts, all simultaneous, pushing themselves into my consciousness.
Tree: I can help you…with your task from God. I am helping already.
I broke the connection. I had to pull away from all that energy. It was frying my brain.
Me: Too much.
Tree: Try again.
I stretched my mind, plugging into the Tree’s soul once again. This time I knew what to expect. I was ready for it, having fastened a kind of defense mechanism into my brain. Kind of like a circuit breaker.
Tree: Better?…Let’s try again…
My finger had been plugged into a light socket- or at least that’s what I thought at first. I saw the past. The present. And a little glimmer of the future. All at once. The term “mind-blowing” came to mind.
Tree: You think in pictures. Here’s a picture of your soul. A shiny white light, cross-shaped, appeared in my mind. This time no picture. Better, yes?
And then, the picture was gone, replaced by an explosion of energy. I knew I had to unplug again. Before I lost my mind.Image

Psych Ward Male Night Nurses January 22, 2014

Posted by Crazy Mermaid in Mental Hospital, Mental Illness and Medication.
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The Psych Ward was in reality a maximum security prison. Nobody left of their own accord.  Every 20 minutes, the nursing staff made their rounds to track down every patient. Whether we were in the shower, asleep or whatever, they always knew where we were.  As we slept, the night nurse came into our dark bedroom with a flashlight and shined it on our face and chest to make sure we were still breathing. If we were in the bathroom, they stood outside the bathroom door calling our name.  If we didn’t open the door to tell them we were there, they assumed that we were either trying to hide,  trying to kill ourselves, or already dead.  So they opened the door and hunted us down. There was no such thing as patient privacy.

A 10 foot barbed wire fence (with razor wire at the very top) surrounded the entire building, including the tiny courtyard attached to the building.  We weren’t allowed outside except for supervised group smoke breaks inside that tiny little courtyard. There was no such thing as structured exercise- or even unstructured exercise. If it happened at all, it happened at 8 pm, provided we could talk a staff member into walking us down the hall and out the steel double doors to a gym. Most days, the nursing staff was too short-staffed for that, but occasionally we got the chance to actually stretch our limbs out and break a sweat.

The hospital was always short-staffed, and the hardest shifts to fill were the night shifts. Nobody wanted to be a nurse on a psych ward at night. Most nights the only people they could get to handle the night shift were male nurses.  So usually there were two male nurses on the night shift overseeing about 25 patients. Sometimes only one male nurse was on the night shift.  Night nurses had unlimited and unsupervised access to all of those drugged up people (everyone was given sleeping meds) lying in their dark bedrooms .  Were there cameras?  In a few rooms.  But not all.

Night nurses were  required to walk into those dark bedrooms and shine a flashlight on the patient’s  face and chest every 20 minutes to make sure we were still alive, so they had every right to be in a patient’s dark bedroom alone. Under those circumstances, it would be child’s play for an unscrupulous  person to take advantage of a patient lying alone in her dark bedroom- a patient who was so full of sedatives  that she  wouldn’t wake up under almost any circumstance.  Even a patient sharing the bedroom with another patient could be a target, since both were heavily medicated. Added to that was the fact that the general reputation of a psychotic patient was that they were unreliable and their memories untrustworthy, and the psych ward was a virtual hunting ground for an unethical night nurse.

The morning following a night with one male night nurse on staff, I  thought I might have been violated by a male nurse. But I couldn’t make my mind up.   Was it my imagination?   I just didn’t know. I admitted to myself that I had been heavily sedated. Even then, I was in a fog. Was it real? Or wasn’t it?

Realizing that I had to let the people in charge know about my suspicions, I complained to the head nurse on duty.   I explained to her what I thought happened and that I couldn’t be sure, since I was sedated during the night. But certain things pointed in that direction.

Although she brushed off my complaint,  I watched as she returned to the nursing station.  A look of shock flash across her face as she read my chart. She immediately sought out the male night nurse on duty, and I overheard her berating him. The head nurse was obviously shaken up by what happened, but nothing further was communicated with me.  I was, after all, just a psychotic mental patient, obviously delusional and unreliable.

The Case for Insanity November 21, 2013

Posted by Crazy Mermaid in Delusions, Hallucinations, Hearing Voices, mental illness.
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The case for insanity is compelling

In early February 2008, at the beginning of my traipse into a world of make-believe, I had ESP.  How cool is that? I talked with people in my head.  Powerful people.   Bill and Melinda Gates. The Dalai Lama. Oprah Winfrey.  My (then) bosses. All of these people and more were at my beck and call.

Then there was my job situation.  In my fantasy world, my (real) boss, via ESP, directed me to quit my (real) job.  So I did. Then, via ESP, he begged for my return, promising me more money and better control over my job.  In the meantime, Bill and Melinda Gates offered me a job at The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.  For twice the money.

And yet money had no real value.  I had access to Bill and Melinda Gates’ money.  I had a friend who was a time traveler who could make it so that I had money whenever I wanted it.  Because money meant nothing, I wrote a (NSF) check for  a beautiful, gold, brand new Lexus Convertible car.  Bill and Melinda Gates were going to reimburse me for the purchase as part of my new employment package. I bought a new wardrobe for my new job.

I owned $2 million in jewelry, including a 3 carat yellow diamond in a platinum setting, and an abalone bracelet that had once been owned by my (Mermaid) grandmother.

I talked with trees, dogs, and cats.

Last but not least, I was a genuine Mermaid.  Fish talked to me (literally). I had fins for feet. I had a beautiful tail.

I was beautiful.  I was energetic.  I was wealthy.

Now tell me that mental illness is terrible.

Halloween: Damage Control October 28, 2013

Posted by Crazy Mermaid in Insanity, mental illness.
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Halloween’s coming around, and with it comes the worn-out old stories about the mentally ill.  The slasher movies and the guts and gore of the horror-filled inspirational costumes- all coming to a theater near you.

Norman Bates in Psycho, a 1960 horror movie, was inspired by Wisconsin serial killer Ed Gein.  The insane Leatherface from Texas Chainsaw Massacre, a 1974 horror movie, and Buffalo Bill in Silence of the Lambs were both inspired by the same serial killer, a man whose “guilty but insane” conviction landed him in a mental  hospital.  In The Shining, Jack Nicholson gave a good impersonation of a psychotic man.  Dr. Jekyl was clearly insane when he became Mr. Hyde in the 1931 classic Dr. Jekyl and Mr. Hyde.   Then there’s the classic: Halloween, about a young insane murderer who escapes from his Sanitarium (mental hospital) after being locked up for 15 years- ever since he was 6. Over and over the mentally ill are exploited for the benefit of the media.  In fact, out of the top 50 best horror movies of all time, over half involve mental illness. Mental illness is, after all, scary.

Unfortunately for those of us who are mentally ill, the media makes no distinction between delusional people in the middle of a psychotic episode,  insane murderers, schizophrenics, and what I like to call garden-variety mentally ill people (bipolar, depressed, OCD, etc). We’re all, in their collective minds, the same as Ed Gein, the Wisconsin serial killer who inspired both Psycho and Texas Chainsaw Massacre. There’s nothing scarier, after all, than a mentally ill person.  Especially a psychotic one.   It’s no wonder that nobody wants to be identified as mentally ill. Who, after all, wants to be Ed Gein?

Lock up the Mentally Ill to Prevent Mass Murders September 19, 2013

Posted by Crazy Mermaid in Committment Hearing, Delusions.
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A young woman on Anderson Cooper 360 last night called Aaron Alexis “a crazy schizophrenic” and stopped just short of saying he should have been locked up.  Let’s take a close look at this idea, because it’s going to rear its ugly head.

First of all, Alexis was never diagnosed with a mental illness. So how do we find people like him and lock them up so they don’t kill people?  Let’s lock up anyone we suspect of having a mental illness. That would do the trick.

How do we find those people?

Let’s make the police find them for us.  Any time someone calls the police about someone acting bizarrely, let’s have the police assess that bizarrely acting person.  After all, the police interviewed Alexis when he called them to report someone was “sending microwaves through the wall”.  Anyone who makes bizarre statements like that should be locked up.

What about people who are acting bizarrely because they’re drunk?  Let’s not count those people.

Where should they go to be locked up?  Let’s build more mental hospital beds to house them all. How many beds will they need?  Well, if you count the number of people who want to commit suicide, there probably needs to be four times as many hospital beds as there are now.  Or don’t we want to count those people?  After all, they just want to take their own life- not anyone else’s.   Except for those people who do things like get in bad car accidents, managing to accidentally take the life of others with them.  So we should definitely count the suicidal in our sweeping net.

Should we let the police be the ones to make the official determination, or should we bring in someone trained to handle such a task, like the Designated Mental Health Professional?  That clinician determines whether someone is a danger to themselves or others, the current standard for involuntary commitment.  And that’s what we’re talking about: involuntarily committing anyone who exhibits bizarre behavior. We don’t really need a DHMP because the police already performed that function when they took the police report.

Violating people’s civil rights (which is, when you get down to it, what involuntary commitment is) will become commonplace. I don’t want to live in such a world.

Hearing Voices Network August 7, 2013

Posted by Crazy Mermaid in Hallucinations, mental illness.
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What Are Voices & Visions?

When we talk about voices and visions, we simply mean someone is hearing, seeing or sensing something that others around them aren’t. These experiences can include all five senses, hearing, sight, smell, taste and touch. These experiences can occur in one sense at a time (hearing a voice, for example, or smelling something), but they can also happen in combination.

For some, these experiences can be comforting. For example, someone who is lonely may really value a voice that becomes a trusted confidant. A person who has recently lost someone they care about may benefit from talking to them at the end of the day, or smelling their perfume/aftershave. Others find these experiences to be a source of inspiration. Authors, for example, sometimes talk about how the characters can come to life and write the story for them. However, for some people these voices and visions can be extremely distressing – criticising, threatening or causing confusion.

How Common Is It?

Statistics vary, but it’s generally accepted that between 3 and 10% of the population hear voices that other people don’t. If you include one off experiences (like hearing someone call your name when you’re out shopping, or feeling your phone vibrate in your pocket) this figure goes up to 75%. So, having at least one experience of hearing or seeing something that others around you don’t is incredibly common. Those that have never had this experience are in the minority.

A number of famous and important people (past and present) have experience of hearing or seeing things that other people don’t. Without these people, the world would be a very different place. This list of famous people who have talked or written about hearing voices includes: Gandhi, Socrates, Joan of Arc, Freud, Anthony Hopkins, Philip K Dick, John Frusciante, Carlos Santana, Robert Schumann, John Forbes Nash, Zoe Wannamaker and Charles Dickens.

What’s It Like?

We’re all unique, so it’s unsurprising that voices and visions can be equally individual in terms of their identity, content, interpretation and impact. The following gives a brief overview. If you don’t recognise your experience here, that doesn’t mean you’re ‘weird’ or ‘unusual’.

Voices

Some people hear voices talking when no-one is around. These could be like the voices of people they know, or complete strangers. They might hear many voices, or just one. Voices can shout, whisper, be clear or muffled. They can speak in sentences or say single words. These voices can be male, female, genderless, old or young. Sometimes they have names, but not always. Voices can speak constantly (24/7), but they can also utter occasional words or phrases. People can hear other types of sounds too, including knocking, rustling, crying, screaming or music.

Some voices can be positive – providing the support and encouragement someone needs to get through the day. Other voices can be confusing, perhaps echoing thoughts or repeating strange phrases. Some voices can be very frightening, saying things that are critical, threatening or commanding. Voices can claim to have great power and knowledge, which can sometimes leave the voice-hearer feeling scared and powerless. Some voices can leave a person feeling very vulnerable and exposed (e.g. hearing a crowd of people jeering at you, or discussing intimate details of your life).

Visions

Some people see things that others don’t. These visions can be very clear and realistic, but they can also include fuzzy shapes, shadows and beams of light. Some people see the voices that they hear, others see insects or spiders. For some, the visions are very complex (like entering into another world). For others, the visions sit alongside their everyday world (an added box, person or animal for example). Sometimes, it can seem as if people or objects are changing shape. Their faces may turn to stone, they may be surrounded by a coloured aura or, for example, their eyes may change colour. As with voices, these visions can be reassuring, funny, frightening or distracting.

Smells

Some people smell things that remind them of their past. This could be something nice, like a loved one’s perfume/aftershave or a favourite food.

Sometimes people smell things that remind them of a particularly traumatic experience. For example, someone who survived a house fire may smell smoke when they feel anxious. Someone who was hurt by someone wearing a particular scent may, sometimes, smell this when there is no-one there to account for it. This can be extremely frightening, especially if they don’t recognise that this sensory experience comes from the past.

For others, the smell isn’t linked to a particular memory or traumatic event. For example, some people smell gas, burning or rotting food. These smells can feel very real and leave them fearing for their safety.

Taste

It can be difficult for someone to know that they’re tasting something that others can’t – unless they get someone else to try it too. This can make taste experiences particularly difficult to deal with. Some people get a strong bitter taste in their food or drink and, understandably, start to worry that there is something wrong with it. This can lead people to worry that they are being poisoned, or that someone is tampering with their food. Others have taste sensations when they are not eating. This might be when they are hearing a voice, watching a TV programme or thinking about something. These taste sensations can be pleasant (e.g. chocolate or a favourite food), but they can also be unnerving or unpleasant (e.g. something bitter or metallic).

Feeling (touch)

Some people can feel things on their skin when there doesn’t seem to be anything there. They might feel something crawling over their skin, tickling them or pushing them. Sometimes people feel something underneath their skin, and this can lead them to feel really worried about what is happening to their body.

Understandably these experiences can be very confusing and frightening. It’s not as simple as this, though. For others, these experiences can be reassuring. Someone who feels lonely and hears a reassuring voice may feel comforted if they feel a hand on their shoulder. They might interpret it as a sign that the voice is trying to support them.

Why Do People Hear Voices

There are lots of different theories and ideas to explain why people hear voices or see visions. These include:

  • A special gift or sensitivity
  • Trauma or adverse life experiences
  • Dissociation
  • Spiritual experiences
  • Biochemical (e.g. excess dopamine)
  • Paranormal experiences
  • Emotional distress
  • Physical health problems
  • Cognitive error (misattribution of ‘internal speech’)
  • Individual difference

The truth is that we do not know why people hear voices or see visions. As the experience is so diverse, it’s likely that there are a number of different explanations. Whilst this can be frustrating for those who feel confused and would like a simple answer or some certainty, it means that the most important explanation is the one that the voice-hearer themselves finds useful. It is important not to impose your own belief on someone else’s experience – this is fundamental to the Hearing Voices Network approach. Rather than providing a dogmatic view of voice-hearing, we recognise and celebrate a festival of explanations.

Whatever someone believes about their experiences, the most important thing is to find ways of dealing with that belief and finding some sense of power, control and hope within it.

Is Recovery Possible?

At the Hearing Voices Network we use the word recovery to mean ‘living the life you choose, not the life others choose for you’ (whether those others are family, friends, workers or voices). Many people who hear voices simply don’t need to recover – they are already living lives that they love. The voices might enhance their wellbeing, or their experiences may simply not detract from it.

For those who have particularly overwhelming experiences that lead them into the mental health services, recovery can feel like a distant dream. The good news is that people can, and do, find ways to deal with (and recover from) distressing voices. Perhaps more importantly, people can also recover from the situations that can make voices and visions so hard to deal with. Many people who recover continue to hear voices. Sometimes these voices change during the recovery process (being an ally, rather than an attacker). Other times these voices become quieter, less intrusive or even disappear altogether. Others find that the voices stay the same, but that they are no longer ruled by them. They feel stronger and more able to choose whether to listen to the voices or not.

We have witnessed many amazing journeys of recovery in the Hearing Voices Network. These journeys are, by their very nature, very individual. However, these journeys have led us to believe that no matter how overwhelmed or distressed the person is by their experiences (or whatever labels they have collected throughout their time in the mental health system) – recovery IS possible.

(Reprinted from Hearing Voices Network- http://www.hearing-voices.org)