I suffer from auditory hallucinations, so, hearing voices and sounds that aren’t really there, since my teenage years. Although I’ve lived with them for many years, (I’m now thirty two), it’s only been in the past of couple of years that I’ve truly accepted I have psychosis. I lived in denial. Not understanding the true nature of what I was hearing, and later not wanting to believe the truth, I hid away from the glaringly obvious.
Everyone has conversations with themselves, right? Well, yes they do. We’ve all talked to ourselves whilst searching for our keys in the morning, or rehearsed what we’re going to say on a first date or at an interview. But have you ever had a voice talk to you, out of nowhere, loudly and clearly? A voice that is distinct from your own internal monologue, a voice that is unpredictable and spontaneous? I have, and so have many living with psychosis.
I have bipolar, and experience auditory hallucinations when I’m manic or severely depressed. I’ve heard a variety of sounds, from tapping to imaginary cats. When I’m manic, the voices I hear are fun, smart, and witty. They instil an unparalleled confidence and a hyperactivity in me I can find nowhere else. A couple of the voices I’ve heard so frequently over the years, they are almost like my friends and I miss them when I no longer hear them. When mania turns to irritability and anger, as it so often does, I hear sounds that annoy and frustrate me. For instance, I’ve heard voices that sound like they are coming from my phone. It sounds like the muffled sounds of a party and I can’t make out what’s being said. No matter what I do, I won’t be able to drown out the noises, with it lasting for hours.
When I’m depressed the voices morph into something much more sinister. A frequent experience is hearing screaming and shouting uncomfortably loud in my ear. Sometimes they only make noises, that sound contorted by fear and anger. Other times they are shouting and screaming at me to hurt myself, to kill myself, and tell me I’m worthless and pathetic. At the time it feels neverending, and there is a real fear that it won’t ever stop. The experience leaves me feeling terrified and anxiety ridden. I won’t want to be left alone and it’s led to me having panic attacks.
As a teenager, I thought these voices were normal and everyone had the same or similar experiences. It wasn’t until my twenties, when the voices and sounds became more intrusive, that I started realising that something wasn’t quite right. On a whim, I decided to look up the symptoms of psychosis; and it was all there on the computer screen laid out in front of me, my experiences summed up in a few paragraphs. I remember bursting into tears, thinking, “Why has this happened to me?!”
I was terrified now that it all had a name. I believed people would think I was insane, that they would think I was dangerous, and that I would cause them harm. According to Time To Change, in the UK, “Over a third of the public think people with a mental health problem are likely to be violent – in fact people with severe mental illnesses are more likely to be victims, rather than perpetrators, of violent crime.” Only 1 percent of violent crimes in the UK were believed to be perpetrated by someone with a mental illness in the past year, according to the British Crime Survey. Despite this, I was still scared to tell anyone and I remained silent for years, not even telling my partner or close family.
When I eventually told the people closest to me, I was given only love and support. I’m very lucky to have received such acceptance. I now take antipsychotic medication, but I still occasionally hear sounds and voices that aren’t really there. This year, on my birthday weekend, I had a particularly terrifying episode that left me physically shaking and in a state of shock. The screaming and shouting I had heard felt so real it felt that if I turned my head I would see the people behind the voices standing right next to my face.
Even though I felt incredibly vulnerable, for some reason I couldn’t bring myself to tell my husband what I had just experienced. There is still a slither of doubt within me that he won’t understand, and it will push us apart. I need to deal with that and a major part of that is being open and sharing my experiences.