A Life Lived Vividly Series: ‘I Thought The Voices Were Normal’ Realising I Had Psychosis

A Life Lived Vividly

I suffer from bipolar disorder, well known for it’s symptoms of mania and depression. What many people don’t realise is that some sufferers also experience psychosis. These could include delusions, auditory, visual and tactile hallucinations. For me, I hear voices. This happens during periods of extreme moods, so when I’m manic or severely depressed. I may hear voices that are comforting or spur on my mania. Sometimes the voices are just a jumble. When I’m depressed, it becomes disturbing. Voices will scream and shout at me, or sneer vindictive threats. You can read my journal entry My Hearing Voices Journal

When I was younger, I thought having someone talk to me in my head was normal. Then, as I grew older, I knew something wasn’t right. I was denial for years. Something like this couldn’t;t happen to me. It just didn’t seem fair. It wasn’t until I stumbled upon an article that explained the symptoms that I began to truly accept this wasn’t right. I sat reading, with tears welling up as the realisation dawned on me; I was experiencing psychosis. I cried for a long time. The idea of telling anyone I had psychosis terrified me. What if they were afraid of me? What if they thought I was dangerous? My fear of being labelled as ‘mad’ or ‘insane’ stopped me from being honest with the people closest to me. I didn’t want to lose friends or have family treat me any differently.

Even as a sufferer my view of psychosis had been skewed by pop culture representations. You were a disturbed, dangerous individual that didn’t fit into society if you heard voices. It couldn’t be further from the truth in my case. I was just an ordinary woman; I was in a long term relationship, I worked, I went out with friends. Yet I felt stigmatised before I even reached out to anybody. I stayed silent for years, only telling my psychiatrist after a year of treatment.

I eventually opened up to my partner. It was an awkward conversation, with many pauses and silences as I struggled to explain myself. Although he initially found it difficult to understand, he was supportive and caring. He could see how upset I was becoming and how much of an internal ordeal I had been through keeping this bottled up inside. He knew all I needed from him was a hug and to hear him say ‘I love you.’ Later, I told my family and they excepted it with an ease I wasn’t expecting. I’ve begun to be open about my experiences on social media and the outpouring of support from friends has been incredible. I am truly lucky to have such open minded family and friends.

I know there and people out there who don’t understand some that are scared of psychosis. If these people opened themselves up and had a genuine discussion with someone like me they wouldn’t be afraid. Psychosis doesn’t equal dangerous . I’ve met people who believe it’s edgy and cool, or use it as a fashion statement. It’s none of those things and isn’t something you should ever wish on yourself. It is debilitating, bewildering and terribly frightening, but with support it can be tackled.

 

What Does ‘Recovery’ Mean?

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The word recovery means very different things to different people. The word is problematic and can ultimately be damaging. When people talk about recovery it marginalises those that can’t.

Some people use the word to describe the process and not an actual milestone. Some see it as having a positive outlook, that they see as a form of recovery. Others actually mean being in a stable place and free from mental illness. ‘Clinical recovery’ is a term many mental health professionals use to describe someone who no longer presents symptoms of their mental illness. I think many people think of this when we hear the word recovery and this is my main problem with it.

I prefer to say manage rather than recover.

Managing to me signals acceptance. That the person has come to the point where they’re no longer in denial. They’re now willing to find a way to manage the condition they’re faced with. This isn’t a phenomenon categorised just for mental illness, but for many physical health problems. Managing diabetes and other long term illnesses comes with similar challenges.

Ultimately it’s about building something new for myself. 

I can’t go back to who I was before. I don’t recognise that person. For a start, she was a young teenager and without mental illness and its impact I would be an entirely different person. Would I even want to be that person? I have no idea.

If you’re not seen as moving forward, you end up feeling like a failure. There is so much pressure to be better, to be able to work and socialise, to be a productive member of society. The impetus is put on recovery above helping those that it isn’t feasible for. It’s this unattainable goal that is set for us that so many with severe and enduring mental illness will fail at. Why isn’t there more support for those that need and want to manage a mental illness?  There’s this idea that we can recover if only we tried hard enough. For some of us it’s an impossibly high standard to measure up to.

I’m not here to be an inspiration. I’m not someone that’s going to miraculously be better and totally stable for the rest of my life. It’s not realistic. I can’t pretend that everything is going to be ok. I can’t pretend to be in some form of recovery, because I’m not, and I don’t think I ever will be. I’m managing bipolar and psychosis and it will also be a part of who I am.  I don’t intend to recover from bipolar and psychosis, because it’s just not an option. This is an illness that I will have for life. It’s severe and chronic and I’ve had to accept that. It’s part of my life. I can be miserable and hate the fact, or I can learn about it, start to understand it and find ways to manage it.

 

A Life Lived Vividly Series – Psychotic Doesn’t Equal Dangerous

A Life Lived Vividly

Evil

Nasty

Freak

Bitch

Jealous

Dangerous

These are all words that people relate to psychosis. We all need to stop using it as a derogatory term. So often I hear people described as psychotic when they’re being cruel, or acting unpredictably. Recently I saw someone on twitter describing an ex as a ‘psychotic nazi.’ Politicians, especially a certain orange American one are constantly being described as psychotic. It’s lazy and ignorant to use a mental illness to negatively describe someone.

Psychosis is a mental health condition that makes you feel;

Scared

Confused

Vulnerable

Alone

I have psychosis. I hear things that aren’t really there. I’m a danger to myself when I hear voices. Those living with hallucinations and delusions are some of the most vulnerable in society. Feeling detached from reality and not being sure what you’re seeing or hearing is real can be terrifying.

Once I’d just turned the lights off and got into bed. Out of nowhere, I heard a voice, as if someone was speaking right into my ear. The voice whispered in a slow, assured tone,

“I see you.” I sat straight up in bed, my heart thudding in my chest. I couldn’t move, I felt paralysed with fear. I couldn’t sleep for the rest of the night. I couldn’t calm down and kept hearing that voice whisper in my ear. Even now when someone says that phrase I’m transported back to that night and I feel deeply uncomfortable.

People with psychosis are far more likely to hurt themselves than others. According to Time To Change   

‘Over a third of the public think people with a mental health problem are likely to be violent.’

Psychosis doesn’t make you a ‘psycho’. It doesn’t make you a freak. It doesn’t mean you’re scary. It doesn’t mean you’re dangerous.

How do you think it makes those feel that have psychosis to keep hearing the word used to describe murderers and violent criminals? Hearing it in tag lines for horror films and descriptions for Halloween costumes? It hurts. It makes a tiny piece of you feel that maybe you’re actually evil and dangerous, because you’ve heard it so many times.

I’m in a place now where I understand my condition, and I’m learning to manage it. It wasn’t always this way and for me and many others like me I was terrified of opening up about my experiences for years.

Too many people mix up the meaning of psychosis with other disorders. They use the term psychopath to describe those with psychosis. They aren’t the same thing. Psychosis means a person will hear, see or feel things that aren’t really there, or a combination of these. It doesn’t mean you’re going to go hurt anyone.

We’re ill not dangerous. We deserve compassion, understanding and to be listened to without judgement. Please think about the language you use and how harmful it can be. Your words can cause more harm than you realise. They could cause someone to remain silent and not look for help that they desperately need.

A Life Lived Vividly Series – The Voices Are My Friends; Mania And Psychosis

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Not everyone realizes that some sufferers of Bipolar Disorder also have psychotic symptoms. These could include delusions, auditory and visual hallucinations. For me, I hear voices. This happens during periods of extreme moods, so when I’m manic or severely depressed. 

During mania, the voices can be comforting. I have many ideas racing through my head during a manic phase, and the voices I hear add to the jumble. They give me ideas and fill me with confidence that then elevates my mood further. I often speak out loud to them and they reply very audibly, as if they were in the room with me. I remember instances when I’d been in my bedroom alone and I would run downstairs extremely excited, like I had just spoken to a friend on the telephone who I hadn’t seen for a while. I’ve had conversations with people where I’ve become distracted or ‘zoned out’ because there is a voice speaking to me. Sometimes I might make a joke that no one understands but myself and the voices, or laughed out loud for seemingly no reason. Over the years the voices have become my friends and I think I would miss them if they were gone. If my mood becomes very elevated I know they will be there and I look forward to hearing them.

When I’m severely depressed I have heard screaming and shouting in my head. It’s often incoherent with a few words and sentences scattered about and all of it incredibly loud. The loudness of it all makes it an extremely intense experience, like being at the cinema with the sound booming all around you. Sometimes if feels directed at me and at other times the shouting feels intrusive, like somebody is ranting and raving at nothing or no one in particular. The worst part of this is not knowing how long it will go on for, and knowing I can’t escape it. It often happens when I’m in bed and can’t sleep, but it has happened during the day too. I’m sat or lying in the dark when the screaming starts. The screaming is constant and then there is a voice shouting “Everyone hates you”, “You’re worthless”. It frightens me immensely. I’ve found myself covering my ears to escape the noise. I’ve curled into a ball and cried on the floor or in bed as the screaming continues. Very occasionally, I hear tapping. It usually happens when I’m extremely irritable, which can happen when I’m depressed or manic. 

When I was younger I thought having someone who talked to me in my head was normal. I know people have conversations out loud to think through a problem, but the difference is they know exactly what the next sentence is going to be. As I’ve got older I’ve realised that my experiences are not the same. Now I find it embarrassing and I don’t like discussing it with anyone.

I have been caught out a couple of times; I was on a train with my partner when I answered a question out loud. He said to me looking confused “Who are you talking to?” I remember turning red and saying “Oh sorry, I thought you asked me a question.” and left it at that. I also felt that if I told anyone about the screaming and shouting they would think I was disturbed and crazy. I’ve tried a few times to reach out to people but I can never seem to articulate exactly how it feels, or even to admit to the problem. I find writing and blogging to be therapeutic and it’s an easier way to explain how I feel. 

At the moment I am taking Lamotrigine a mood stabilizer, and Aripiprazole, an anti psychotic. They have helped balance my moods, giving me stability. It’s not perfect, and I still have manic and depressed phases where I sometimes hear voices. I’m learning more about how to deal with these episodes, such as trying to rationalise what is happening and ignoring it when I feel able to.

Managing Bipolar Disorder can be daunting at first, but there are many tools you can utilise:

  • Find support as soon as possible.  At appointments with your Doctor, try to be confident and assertive, to ensure you receive the support you need. This can be incredibly difficult when you’re ill, so take a family member or close friend with you who understands your illness. 
  • If you have psychotic symptoms, it’s important to be able to stabilize your moods. When stable, the symptoms should subside. 
  • Become an expert on your illness. The more you know, the more you will understand and find solutions to combat Bipolar. 
  • Find a Bipolar support group near you, or online. Hearing other people’s experiences and struggles, and how they have overcome them can be inspiring and informative. They are often a great resource to find advice. 

 

A Life Lived Vividly Series – I Can Do Anything! Delusional Thinking And Me

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I live with bipolar disorder, but also have symptoms of psychosis, which includes delusional thinking. I describe what delusions are in the post A Life Lived Vividly Series – What Is Psychosis?

When I’m manic I experience delusions. I think I can do anything. I have what’s called delusions of grandeur, where I believe I’m better than everyone else. I will think that I can do no wrong, that I’m always the smartest person in the room. Actually it’s more than that. I’ll truly believe that only I have all the answers, that I’m the smartest person that ever existed. This type of thinking causes me to react to people irrationally and often aggressively.

“How dare they think they’re better than me!” I will say to myself.

“How can they possibly question me when I have all the answers!”

“Everyone around me is ignorant and stupid. They should all listen to me.”

This isn’t arrogance, or an inflated ego. I don’t believe these things about myself most of the time. In fact, I’m pretty insecure. I’ve written an example of this type of thinking in the post A Story of Self Sabotage

What mania makes me is incredibly confident. Sometimes this confidence turns into delusion. I believe that everything I am creating is like gold dust, and must be seen and shared. I have written reams and reams of notes of ideas for a book, at the time believing them to be the best ideas I’ve ever had. When I look back on them at a later time all I see is scribbled nonsense, a stream of consciousness, misspelled and a jumble of words. It’s like the pages of these notebooks are a reflection of my manic mind. My mind is constantly darting from one idea to another, and never finishing my original point. My mind is distracted by the smallest spark of an idea, and every thought that comes to mind grips my attention. I show everyone what I’ve been working on, with a pride that verges on narcissism. 

Other times when I’m manic, the delusions I encounter put me in danger. A recurring belief is that I can stop traffic. I believe that if I step into a road, every car, bus and lorry will immediately stop and I can walk safely across. I also think that even if this power  becomes faulty in some way, I will not be hurt. I don’t believe there is some greater power watching over me, but instead that I’m so important that I have become invincible. I live in Reading, a busy town with it’s fair share of traffic, so you can imagine the danger I have put myself through. I’ve had many near misses as I’ve walked along busy roads and have stepped out with no fear and no thought for the repercussions. I’ve been run over twice, and had a near miss with a double decker bus. On both occasions of being knocked over, I was extremely lucky not to be seriously hurt and came away with just a few cuts and bruises. Unfortunately, not being hurt on both occasions fuelled my belief that I was invincible.

Everyone experiences delusions in a different way, and no two experiences are the same.  I have learnt to recognise when I’m beginning to show signs of mania, that I’ve written about in the post The Warning Signs of a Manic Episode

Even though I can recognise what’s happening, I’m not always able to stop it and I still have episodes of mania that can lead to me experiencing delusions. Luckily I have a supportive husband and family that can keep a close eye on me and stop me from putting myself in dangerous situations.

Any questions about delusions or want to share your own experience? Then comment below!

A Life Lived Vividly Series; What Is Psychosis?

A Life Lived Vividly

Welcome to the start of a new series of posts on Stumbling Mind, dedicated to psychosis. I’ll be sharing the lived experiences of others, discussing delusions and what they mean and describing some of the more surreal occurrences I’ve had when hearing voices.

In this post, I’ll start at the beginning; what is psychosis?

Psychosis happens amongst people with the mental illnesses schizophrenia, schizoaffective disorder, post partum psychosis, and sometimes those with bipolar disorder and severe depression. Psychosis is experienced in two different ways; hallucinations and delusions.

Hallucinations are when a person hears, sees, smells, tastes or feels something that isn’t really there. It’s a sensory experience that happens without any outside stimuli. The world around them is perceived differently to everyone else, with others not being able to see, hear, or feel what they can. The whole experience feels very real to the person experiencing it. One of the most common hallucinations is hearing sounds and voices.

Those with psychosis often lose touch with reality and suffer delusions. Delusions are when you believe wild theories and beliefs that often have no evidence based in fact. People may have what’s called ‘delusions of grandeur’ where they may feel like the most important person in the world. They may believe they have powers or intelligence above and beyond anyone else.

Paranoia can also be a part of delusions. The individual feels threatened by an outside source that wants to hurt or control them in some way.

People can suffer from one or both experiences. Psychosis can be frightening, bewildering and surreal. It can be incredibly isolating and can make people feel distrustful and nervous. However, it isn’t always negative and some people find it to be a positive, life affirming experience. The one thing to take from this is that each individual has their own unique experience.

Psychosis ranges from being a one off experience, to something people encounter regularly. For me, I experience short episodes of psychosis when I’m either in a manic or depressive bipolar episode. You can read more about my experiences in this journal entry

Over the course of the ‘Life Lived Vividly’ Series, I will try and cover as much of the above as I can and in more detail. I want to shine a light on this often misunderstood condition in a sensitive way and to create a safe place for discussion. You can already find several posts about this on Stumbling Mind in the Psychosis section of the blog. Anything else you’d like me to touch on during the series? Then please let me know in the comments!

My Hearing Voices Journal Entry 2

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Yesterday I had a an episode of psychosis. It came in the form of auditory hallucinations, as it does with me. I’ve journaled my experiences before in the post My Hearing Voices Journal and felt as I sat in bed last night trying to sleep, but too anxious to do so, it was time to journal my feelings once again. It started as I finished my shift at work. I could hear a murmuring coming from all around me. These are my initial thoughts on the experience.

Hearing murmurs is something I experience often with psychosis. It’s frustrating more than anything. It’s like sitting in a busy restaurant or bar. As I’m a people watcher and yes, very nosy, I like to listen to snippets of people’s conversations. I find it fascinating listening to how people interact with one another. These murmurs are like not quite catching the conversation of the people at the table next to you. even with your best efforts to strain to hear what is being said. All you can hear is a low murmur.

It’s a constant background noise, like the hiss of an untuned radio, but I can’t turn it off or find another station. I’m stuck with the same incessant, nonsense sounds. The noise/murmuring follows me; it doesn’t dissipate if I move. That’s how I know it isn’t real,  that it isn’t coming from an outside source, but from inside my own mind. Trying to ‘turn off’ the noise makes me feel like I’m losing my mind. I’ll try to convince myself it isn’t a hallucination, pacing back and forth with more and more urgency looking for the source of the sounds. I begin to talk to myself, to firstly come up with a logical conclusion and secondly to calm down. It doesn’t work and I can feel the frustration rising. Why is this happening to me? Is it too much to ask for to just be normal, whatever that is. The noise after an hour or so, disappears, without my noticing. I’d grown accustomed to it and over the years during an episode I’ve learnt to carry on as normal when I’m out in public as much as I can.

Now it’s gone I feel on edge. I know I’ll feel this way for the next few days. What if a more sinister voice presents itself? What if it happens when I’m alone and there’s no one to comfort me and help me through it?

I’ve gone to bed, but I can’t sleep. I feel too emotional to sleep. I could burst into tears at any moment. I can feel my heart beating in my chest. Sharp pains streak across my chest, which suggests the beginning of a panic attack. All of this because I heard some murmuring. Psychosis fucks with your head in so many ways. It’s not just the actual experience, but the anxiety and the real fear that follows. I feel tense and uneasy like something or someone unknown is watching me, ready to shout and attack. I don’t like the dark. I was never afraid of the dark when I was younger, in fact I was a pretty fearless child. When you begin to hear auditory hallucinations, especially when you hear that first voice come out of nowhere in pitch darkness it is unbelievably terrifying. The fear I feel, the total vulnerability leaves me in a state of shock. Now I’m afraid of the dark. What if, just if, that voice is real this time. That there really is someone in my room whispering in my ear “I see you.” I will hear voices from what feels like all around me and for all I know they are very real. Surrounded by a wall of voices it’s easy to start to imagine what they look like. Eyes open, they start to adjust to the low light and play tricks on me. That shadow in the corner starts to form into the shape of a person, towering over where I lay.

All of this is circling my mind, so how could I possibly sleep? I know what I need to do. I need to get up out of bed and out into the light.

As I’ve made clear before in the post I’ll Keep Talking About Psychosis Whether It’s Relatable Or Not I won’t stop writing about my experiences of auditory hallucinations. It’s cathartic and journalling my experiences helps me make sense of them. If you know someone who is struggling with hearing voices, my post How to Help Someone When They’re Hearing Voices could be helpful. There’s also plenty of information out there, and I personally found MIND’s website to be full of helpful information.

I Gave Up Alcohol For My Mental Health

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My last psychiatry appointment was a tough one – I was told with certainty that I should, no, needed to give up alcohol. My response was a hopeful one, surely half a bottle of wine on a Saturday night was alright? The answer was a definitive no, even that amount of alcohol was far too much. We agreed that I should go sober, and I agreed reticently. I left feeling dejected, grumpy and silently cursing my psychiatrist. Although I felt fed up, I had known before my appointment that this change needed to happen.

Why go sober? 

My psychiatrist explained that alcohol reduces the effectiveness of many medications. Alcohol is a depressant, and pretty much cancels out the work my mental health medication does. In other words, I might as well not bother taking my medication every time I drink. If I have three days in a row of drinking, then that’s three days without medication. For me that can cause the beginning of withdrawal symptoms, that feel like having the flu. Or, more seriously, it can cause a bipolar episode of severe depression or mania.

The mental and physical effects

After a heavy weekend, or a number of days in a row of a ‘few’ drinks in the evening to help me unwind and relax I start feeling the negative effects of alcohol. I’ve noticed a correlation between heavy drinking and heart palpitations, that often leads to a full blown panic attack. Panic attacks are a debilitating and exhausting experience, and I’ll feel drained for days afterwards. Another experience I’ve had after drinking is psychosis. Earlier this year I drank heavily over my birthday weekend and at the end of it began to hear voices. I wrote about the experience in this post, My Hearing Voices Journal Alcohol free, I wouldn’t have gone through these experiences, and would have stayed mentally well and stable.

How I did it

I literally just stopped! Seriously though, it’s been tough, especially on nights out and at family celebrations. I’ve been drinking since I was fourteen, so to just suddenly go completely sober was a massive challenge. I was open about it with everyone, and my partner, family and friends have all been extremely supportive. I reached out to the twitter community and was given heaps of advice and tips on non alcoholic drinks so I wouldn’t feel like I was missing out on nights out. Soda and lime cordial has been my saviour when I’m out at a bar, along with flavoured sparkling water when I’m having a night in. It’s taken a terrific amount of self determination and will power, but I knew it was something I had to do for my mental health.

How I’m feeling now

Two months later and I feel fantastic! I’m clear headed, have more energy and haven’t had any palpitations or panic attacks. I’ve been stable and haven’t experienced psychosis or any depressive or manic episodes. I feel physically healthier and I’ve lost weight. I know my medications are working as they should be now, and that’s given me the impetus to stay sober.

I may have left my psychiatric appointment with a feeling of dread and wondering how the hell I was going to go sober, but I’m so glad I stuck with my decision.

My Hearing Voices Journal

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Last week I had an episode of psychosis, where I suffered from auditory hallucinations, or hearing sounds and voices. To help me through it, I journalled the experience in a notebook. Some parts are written during the episode, and some are written directly afterwards. It helped me make sense of what I was hearing and to ground me in reality and to help me deal with the shock when it had stopped.

“I think I’ve found the worst combination ever of physical and mental illness. Migraine, room spinning and doubting my sanity as I hear voices whilst sat in bed. I’m feeling very vulnerable and scared. I’ve felt physically ill all day today. We went out for a meal with friends but had to cut it short because I thought I was going to pass out or fall over from being so dizzy. This week has been an emotional rollercoaster with my moods all over the place. I’ve been ecstatically happy and hyperactive, busy working away on new projects. In a startling contrast I’ve felt hopeless, useless and deeply lost.

Now I’m home, and sat in bed. The noises have started. I can hear creaking. It sounds like it’s coming from the bed, but I’m not moving. It won’t stop. I’ve turned on my laptop and found the easiest, light hearted programme I can find, Friends. It reminds me of my childhood, before the voices started. I remember when it was first aired on a Friday night and I was allowed to stay up and watch it. If I can focus on this maybe the voices will leave me alone.

It isn’t working. Now the creaking has turned into banging on the bedroom window. The banging is urgent, fast and incredibly loud as if a fist is pounding on the window. The blinds are closed and I’m paranoid now that the banging is real and someone is playing a joke on me. Should I get up and check? I really should. I’ve been to open the blinds and there was nothing there. It’s windy outside, and all I could see were the bushes and trees swaying. The unpredictable and forcible wind today is mirroring my state of mind. The banging is making me really uncomfortable. I’ll turn the volume up on the laptop to try and drown out the noise. It’s not working, Fuck. What is my mind trying to tell me? How can I rationalise this or tell it to stop?

It’s suddenly stopped, thank fuck for that. I can breathe again. The cat has leapt up on the bed and has curled up next to me. It’s like she knows something is wrong. Stroking her and listening to her gentle purr is calming me down. I’ve just realised it’s getting dark outside and I’m sitting in the bedroom with no lights on. But I don’t want to get up because right now sitting here I’m not hearing anything scary or confusing. I don’t want to jinx it.

Now it’s dark and I’m still sitting in the bedroom, still too afraid to get up and turn the lights on. I can hear footsteps coming into the room, it must be my husband. I hear the bed creak as he sits down on it next to me. He says to me “Do you want any carrots? I think we need some more carrots for next week.” I’m confused. Why is he talking about carrots? I respond, “Yeah ok, I’ll put carrots on the shopping list next week.” I hear him get up and walk out the room. I’m not sure if that conversation was real. It was weird and random and now I feel really muddled and confused. I’ve turned the light on now so I could write this down.

Oh yay, hear comes the shouting. I close my eyes and try and focus my mind. All I can hear is “Fuck! Fuck!” “Get the fuck out!” Can’t take this anymore. I’m getting up. I realise I’m trembling and I feel as if I’ve been shaken roughly by someone much stronger than me. I sit down next to my husband on the sofa. I ask him, “Did you come in the bedroom earlier?” He replies “No, I’ve been in here the whole time, why?” I can’t be bothered to explain what’s been happening. I’m still feeling overwhelmed by voices. I’m asking him about his game. He’s playing Elite. I love how passionate he is about this game and the idea of space travel. I make myself listen to him intently, and the shouting starts to fade.

The problem with hearing voices is the paranoia afterwards. Is that banging from outside or in my head? Is that whispering in the background of the tv show I’m watching or in my mind? Unknown noises set my teeth on edge. I’m jumpy, full of panic with the fear it will start again.

At least I’m talking about it.”

How to Help Someone When They’re Hearing Voices

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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.

Don’t panic.

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