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Giving Voice to Sadness

depression, hearing voices article, mental illnessI envy people when they get together and talk about their past, exchanging with fondness memories of earlier times, when everything seemed funnier, easier and everyone was kinder.  I envy them because all of my recollections from the past seem tinged with sadness.  No warm hearted moments or secret smiles from past follies emanate from me. My past seems forever tainted by pervasive and intense feelings of sadness, aloneness and a sense of being displaced in the world. My most gripping memories are bound with a sense of wretchedness and despair, those are the memories which seem to be at the forefront of my mind, so readily accessible and often disturbing, robbing me of those rare moments both real and imagined of laughter, play and tenderness that I know I must have experienced.

I recall long periods spent in bed, weeping endlessly, my body heavy from the burdens I bore, my mind incapable of functioning, smothered in blankets of unrelenting misery.  I became incapable of speaking to others; in fact I couldn’t tolerate any information about what was happening to others.  My pain was so great that I didn’t have the capacity to take on anybody’s problems or concerns I was totally overwhelmed by my own emotional existence. My life became one of solitude, I didn’t like it that way but my highly emotional state precluded me from either cultivating or maintaining any relationships. In fact the relationships I already had became fraught with problems. I constantly sought answers to what I could do to stop feeling this way. I needed answers from others because I couldn’t fathom any for myself, there was no apparent reason for this degree of sadness for this was beyond sadness.  No one seemed to comprehend or have a grasp of how direr my situation was. People did give advice but I either dismissed or rejected it completely. People stopped offering suggestions, I kept asking, people made excuses not to come and see me, I kept asking, people stopped contacting me.  These were the people who were supposed to care but they showed themselves to be deserters, abandoners. I’m not even worth the effort.  People couldn’t bear to be around me just as I couldn’t bear being like this.  I couldn’t work out how to help myself and it became clear that no one else knew either. I felt so alone totally and completely alone.

Eventually I was to find persons who didn’t leave me, they would talk to me, they gave advice, they often commented on my aspirations.  Occasionally they remarked on my inabilities, my deficiencies, my appalling personality, and my wickedness.  They spoke to me of the lack of friends, how I had driven both family and friends away, how only someone truly unlovable could achieve such complete abandonment.  There were occasions when they spoke to me of interesting subjects that entertained me for hours and lifted my spirits slightly.  The talked and they talked and they talked and I listened devotedly. I was experiencing ‘voices’ - disembodied ‘voices’.  It was of no consequence that I couldn’t see them.  They became a refuge.  In a way they sustained me, they filled that void of loneliness in a way that nothing else had.  The medication hadn’t done it; the clinicians hadn’t been able to do it.  The ‘voices’ became more frequent and whilst in the beginning they were helpful and even entertaining, they started to slowly turn on me and began to berate and abuse me.  My rescuers had now become my tormentors. I now experienced a new master.  Prior to hearing the ‘voices’ I had been consumed by feelings of anguish and despair but now they had been given voice and I was enslaved to their machinations. I started to believe I was condemned to this miserable existence. I must be a truly awful person, a wicked person in fact. The ‘voices’ bombarded me with what a waste of space I was, how I had nothing worthwhile to contribute and I would never achieve anything of significance. I manifested all the worst that humans have to offer. The most damaging thing of all was that I actually believed them and their proclamations of my deplorable nature.  So inherent was my evil that I began to believe that I was the personification of evil and if I left my house I would infect the world with evil and all those in it would die.  So I stayed inside my house for eighteen years.  Eighteen years with no connection to the outside world except for those occasional visits from health professionals.  But it was not eighteen years of complete loneliness nor silence because the ‘voices’ filled my days and my nights and fed these beliefs of my own evilness.  I surrendered to them and they ruled my life. My thoughts became more fanciful more grandiose but ultimately more isolating.  I lived in an imaginary world where I believed I was going to receive a message from God and this message would free the world from tyranny and bring peace to all mankind.  I just had to be patient and wait but I also had to prove myself a worthy recipient of the message so the ‘voices’ gave me tasks to perform.  Tasks that I almost without exception failed and when I failed they berated me but with much benevolence told me they would give me one more chance, just one more chance, so I lived between chances, chances to prove myself worthy to gain this liberating message. I was not doing this for me you understand I was doing this for mankind which would show everyone just how crucial and compassionate I really was.  I just had to wait. So I did, I waited. Life passed me by; friends became non-existent; family removed themselves from me, but the ‘voices’ remained.

After eighteen years of this non life I decided I could take no more of this and starting planning to end my life.  It was a relief almost to know that this would not continue.  I would be sorry for any grief I would cause but surely those who truly loved me would not want this life for me.  I certainly didn’t want it for myself . Quite accidentally someone came into my life that changed things for me; a person who was passionate and enthusiastic and alive. I envied them their vitality there exuberance and desperately craved to feel that way again.  We had some discussions, just general conversations and they spoke to me of their hobby which was restoring classic cars.  They took this unwanted, broken down wreck and with love patience and skill restored it back to how it was meant to be.  His explanation of the process and skills utilised suddenly struck a cord with me.  I saw myself as a broken down wreck of a person disconnected from the best parts of me.  I wanted to be that person again.  Maybe I could restore my own life.  I didn’t know how, but I did know I wanted to at least try.  I realised I needed to take some action that nothing was going to change unless I did something about it.  If I wanted things to be different I had to do something different.  It wasn’t helping just waiting for someone else to provide the answers, it wasn’t helpful waiting for this message from God.  Waiting passively for others to sort things out for me was I realised a waste of time, I had to be the architect of my own life. I had to take responsibility and control and I had to start today.  I started with the small things; routine almost mundane tasks; deriving pleasure from my small accomplishment.  I wrote down everything I did; all my tasks no matter how small.  It was proving slowly to myself that I was a capable person.  Incrementally I gathered a portfolio of my abilities.  I took special note of all the things I did that refuted what these annoying voices were saying about me.  I worked hard at becoming aware of myself, what affected me positively or negatively, what I could do that would change my feelings.  I stated to recognise some personal indicators and developed a variety of very practical skills, which influenced my thinking, actions and my feelings.  I began to reclaim all that personal power I had surrendered.  Taking the opportunity to finally talk to someone of those unspeakable hurts and having my experiences validated and acknowledged has freed me of remaining ensnarled in the authority of the past. Gradually the habitual negative lens through which I had viewed my world slid away and I once again felt the pure delight of being part of the world again, small as it was I finally felt ok, not ecstatic, not blissfully happy, just ok and it felt nice.

Now as I embark on growing back into my life, I reflect on where I am heading and learn from where I have been.  I work hard now at creating a future of which I am entitled.  I have not been spared further tragedies nor painful events but what I can do now is ask for the support when I need it, instead of endeavoring to hold onto the anguish and allowing it to damage my spirit. So I live my life as I always intended, no longer allowing it to be determined by the whims of others.  I have consciously decided to I live my life by my own design.  As a human being we are flawed, we all have vulnerabilities and life is not always kind to us but as human beings we have the capacity to be magnificent. Every day people do hundreds of small acts of goodness whether for themselves or for others that reflect the capacity for compassion of the human spirit, you just have to look and decide to be part of that magnificence, and reap the bountiful but often small rewards of being human.

Compiled by
Debra Lampshire
May 2010

Click here for the Hearing Voices Network website for information, help and support for hearing voices.

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