I suffer from psychosis. I have auditory hallucinations, so I hear voices, either when I’m manic or depressed. It took me a long time, over a decade in fact, to face up to this reality. I was in denial that I heard voices, and convinced myself it was something everyone experienced. Now, I’m open about my experiences. I’ll talk to family and friends about it, and I can even joke about some of the stranger sounds and voices I’ve heard. I have shared my story online countless times.
It’s not an easy subject to talk about. Even starting a conversation about it can seem unbearably daunting at times. It can feel jarring to suddenly start talking about it, as it can seem like such a alien topic for people who haven’t experienced it. I have to judge the atmosphere and the mood of the person I’m talking to. I shouldn’t have to, but that is the reality. If striking up a conversation about psychosis is badly timed it can shock and jolt a person and yes, unfortunately, distance them from you. Sometimes the reaction is simply silence. Sometimes I can see the fear of what to say next in a persons eyes. Sometimes they ignore what I’ve said and start on another topic; anything, just to ease the awkwardness they feel.
It’s all about really, truthfully communicating and educating others. If I can sense how uncomfortable someone is, I’ll ask them,
“What is it about psychosis that scares you?” Or,
“Why does this conversation make you feel uncomfortable?”
If I didn’t ask, and just let it slide and quickly moved the conversation on, I’d never know the answer. People need to understand that having psychosis doesn’t make you an insane, crazed killer. It doesn’t change you as a person. I’m still the same person as before anyone realised I heard voices. Most of the time confronting someone with these questions is positive. They know me, and want to hear me out. I’ll explain when it happens and what it means for me. For instance, once when I was manic I could hear voices coming from my phone. They were speaking loudly and animatedly, like they were at a party. Initially I thought somehow I had rung someone by accident, but looking at my phone, there was no call in place. It went on for hours whilst I tried to distract myself by watching tv. Every time I turned the volume up the voices matched it. I was already feeling irritable and this added to my frustration. I remember being beyond relieved when the voices finally stopped.
I’ll be completely honest here; it’s not a relatable subject. It can be a curiosity for others, or they can try and sympathise, but unless they have experienced it, they will never completely understand. The best I can do is to keep talking and sharing my experiences. I want to try and normalise it as a subject, so people no longer feel afraid to talk about it. I know that not as many people will read this than if it was a post about depression or anxiety, but that’s ok. Like I’ve said, it’s just not as relatable. People don’t have a frame of reference for it.
So how can you help me and others like me when we are hearing voices?
It might seem daunting, but there are simple things you can do to help someone when they’re struggling with voices. Sometimes all I need is for someone to just to sit and be with me. If I don’t know you I’m not expecting you to have a full on conversation with me. I just need someone there so I’m not feeling alone. When you hear voices you feel out of touch with reality. It is an intense and genuinely scary experience. You’re not always sure what’s real and what isn’t. It creates a surge of fear and anxiety. So to counter this having someone sit with me helps to ground me. It’s a really simple act that can make a huge difference. Helping someone doesn’t have to be complicated. You don’t need to fix them or make the voices stop.
If I said to you I’m struggling with hearing voices, don’t visibly panic. If you’re panicking, it will make me panic, and I’m already struggling with the anxiety of what is going on in my head. I’ve told people before when I’ve been hearing voices, and I can almost see the gears going into overdrive in their head. Like I’ve already said, you don’t need all the answers. If you’re worrying about what you can do; ask. It’s far more helpful for someone to ask me what they can do – rather than sitting panicking and stressing out.
What can you say to help?
Talk to me about anything. Talk to me about the surroundings. Tell me your life story. Tell me how your day is going. Tell me what you’re up to tonight. Anything. It can be as mundane or as interesting as you’d like. It can be the first thing that pops into your head. Treat me normally, and if you know me treat me as you usually would. I want to be distracted from the voices. Distraction is what I need. Put yourself in my shoes and think how you would like to be treated.
Educating others is key. The stigma attached to psychosis left me paralysed with fear and terrified for over a decade before I sought out help and support. I’m not afraid anymore and will continue to spread awareness.
Useful websites and helplines:
- Mind, open Monday to Friday, 9am-6pm on 0300 123 3393
- Samaritans offers a listening service which is open 24 hours a day, on 116 123 (UK and ROI - this number is FREE to call and will not appear on your phone bill.)
- The Mix is a free support service for people under 25. Call 0808 808 4994 or email: email@example.com