Credit: Andrea Bauer

A first-person account from off the beaten track,
as told to Anne Ford.

“The hearing-voices experience is different for different people. For some people, it sounds like the radio or TV is talking to them. Some describe it as telepathy, receiving messages that aren’t sounds. Others say it’s exactly like hearing somebody speaking in the same room as you.

“It might be a name being repeated, or a single phrase. It might be, like, ‘You’re a slut.’ Or it might be advisory, like ‘Don’t go there.’ There’s a high percentage of people who hear voices and are completely nondistressed by them. Their voices tend to say things like ‘You’re looking really good today’ or ‘Great job.’

“The Hearing Voices movement is about treating the experience of voices as real. A lot of mainstream psychiatric therapies try to eliminate the voices, and the focus in our movement is on engaging with the voices and exploring the meaning of them.

“There’s a sizable minority of people who don’t respond to antipsychotic drugs and an equal minority who respond well, and the majority of people are somewhere in between. Some people would rather learn to deal with the symptoms on their own. In the short term, maybe they’ll try something like listening to headphones. In the longer term, they might try to figure out the message the voice is trying to convey. The rate of voice hearers who have experienced childhood abuse is very high. It may be that they’re hearing the voice of their abuser, and that engaging with that voice can help it dissipate.

“I was diagnosed with schizophrenia seven or eight years ago. I did hear voices, but other aspects of my experience were more distressing. For example, physical objects seemed to develop their own agency. It was as if chairs were alive, beds were alive, bricks in a building had their own intentionality.

“My mother has had very severe chronic psychosis since I was a kid. I had always been afraid of developing psychosis myself, so immediately I sought help. I was extremely lucky compared to most people I know. My symptoms have gotten significantly better. When I was first diagnosed, I was pretty nonfunctional, and now I’m about to finish a PhD.

“Medications were not that much help. Over time, I’ve developed ways of coping. I have an enormous amount going on, and for me, that’s healthy. It keeps me concentrated on those things, so I’m not able to think about how people have been replaced by look-alikes and all those other things I got caught up in. I just don’t have time.

Some of it is just learning to ignore things. Sometimes to me, when people talk, their lip movements become dissociated from their voices, so it’s like watching a badly dubbed film. That used to be unnerving. Now, instead of trying to come up with theories about why that’s going on, like maybe the person’s not controlling their own voice, I just tell myself, ‘That’s what people look like now. I talk to them anyway.'”