I have bipolar disorder and along with this psychosis. This means I hear voices that aren’t really there. Sometimes the voices are comforting, and urge me on to try new things and motivate me. At other times they can be malicious and terrifying, criticising me and goading me to hurt myself. I talk about my experiences in the post Doubting Myself – Hearing Voices and in this post Hearing Voices During A Manic Episode I also describe how I was in denial for many years in this post ‘I thought the voices were normal.’ Realising I had Psychosis To learn more, check out MIND Their website is full of information about hearing voices and psychosis in general.
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 key. Put yourself in my shoes and think how you would like to be treated.
What do I do to help myself?
When I’m low and the voices are vicious and scaring me, what I try to do is rationalise it in my head. I think yes it’s scary, but I know what it is. The experience feels very real but it can’t do anything to me, the voices can’t hurt me. It’s like if someone was having a panic attack. They’re not going to die. In the same way I know nothing bad is going to happen to me.
Often I hear voices at home, when I’m alone. I will try and have a conversation with someone – I’ll call a friend and ask them to talk to me. Again it’s all about distraction. If no one is available I’ll do something creative. Painting, drawing and writing all help to ground me and distract from what I’m hearing.
Painting ‘Bear Repeat’ by Anne Wilson