The night of “The Voice” or Why I Don’t Trust Therapists Anymore

“Even in the wizarding world, hearing voices isn’t a good sign.”  Hermione Granger, speaking to Harry Potter.

HermioneI hear voices.  As in “I’m hearing the voices” type voices.  And no, I do not admit this very often.  Why?  Hermione said it beautifully.   Even people who know I’m mentally ill will give me “The Look” <tm> when I mention hearing voices.  You know, the nod, smile and don’t make any sudden movements look?  That look.

The specific psychiatric term for hearing voices is “auditory hallucinations”.  In other words, you register a physical sensation that isn’t actually there.  There’s two main types.  If you experience physiological hallucinations, sometimes called “sane” hallucinations, you may not suffer from any other mental health issues.  It’s thought that 1 in 25 will “hear voices” at some point in their life.

I suffer from experience pathological hallucinations.  In the past, conventional wisdom associated pathological hallucinations with a severe mental illness – usually schizophrenia.   With time the diagnosis has gradually extended to include such disorders as bipolar.

Auditory hallucinations usually mainfest in one of three ways.  The first is very dangerous.  Called a “command hallucination“, this is a very clear, distinct voice that offers a specific direction.  The command can be very simple, such as “stand up” or “sit down”.  However, they can also be threatening, such as “kill your boss” or “burn the house”.  Sometimes the threat becomes personal.  “Stab that guy, or I’ll stab you.”

Then there is “Exploding Head Syndrome“.  For example, I’ll hear a gunshot, or a rocket taking off, or sometimes impacting. It’s not distinct.  Let’s say there’s a tv on in the next room.  There’s a cartoon on and it features rockets and a gun.  That’s pretty much what it sounds like.  I can hear it, but it’s not alarming.

Generally, I hear crowd noise – the sound of a large crowd at a distance.  Imagine that you’re approaching a large room full of people, but you’re not quite there yet.  You’ll have a subconscious awareness of the sound of many voices, but none are distinct.

In addition to the “crowd noise” I can hear people speaking.  They don’t talk to me, or about me.  They’re just having a conversation, and none of them are in English.  There are two women who speak Japanese.  Maybe they’re out shopping.  I have no idea – I don’t speak Japanese.  I also hear two men talking.  These are older gentlemen, and they speak Russian.  My mental image is of two guys in a park playing chess, but again as I don’t speak Russian I couldn’t tell you what (if anything) they’re really saying.  They seem friendly, and they’ve been with me as long as I’ve been aware of “me”.

The study of voices has come a long way since I was diagnosed.  In 2001 there was only one reason to hear voices – severe mental illness.  A very dangerous kind.  But recently, the “Hearing Voices Movement” has taken off.  They reflect the new understanding of mental illness – while illness of this kind can be dangerous and harmful, there may also be aspects that are beneficial.

This is a very welcome trend!  No illness should be treated in absolute terms.  Here’s why.

It was a normal night, I was in bed, asleep.  Then, around 1 am or so, I was startled awake by a voice.  At first I thought someone had turned on the television, or the radio, or an alarm had gone off.  But then I heard it again.  This was the only time I ever heard a Command voice.  It was male, but strangely flat and devoid of emotion.  It said one single phrase.

“Children are a nuisance, and you should be rid of them.”

Um, what?

My therapist had just started a 24 hour “hotline”, which he encouraged his patients to use.  I talked it over with my current partner.  We reasoned that I might need to increase one of my medications, and I should ask sooner rather than later.  So I called.  We spoke for a while, then she asked me to call my current partner to the phone.  That was weird, but I handed it over.  They spoke for a time, then she frowned and covered the handset.  “Hey,” she whispered, “I think she called the police!”

I couldn’t believe it.  Not even 10 minutes later, two cops walked in.  They asked what was going on, and if any children were in the house.  I said no, there were no kids anywhere around us – the community was mostly of retirees.

“But you’re planning to get rid of them?” the cop insisted.  I had to admit, that was what the voice said, but I had no plans to act on it.   At all.  None.  No children lived with us.  None of my friends had kids.  None of my relatives had kids.  See?  NO kids.

handsAfter 45 minutes they explained that I needed to come with them to the hospital.  We’d sort it all out there.  Which was how, at 3 am, in front of a few curious neighbors, I was led out of my home in handcuffs and placed in the back of a police car.

They took me to the hospital ER.  They took my purse and my clothes.  It was around 4 when we arrived.  I didn’t see a doctor until 8am.  I was not given any food, I was only allowed to drink water in the presence of a guard.  I was not allowed to move even when I explained I had ruptured disks in my back and I needed to walk every so often.

When the staff psychologist arrived I told her what had happened, and I was sure that finally, with a qualified professional present, someone would see reason.  After I told her my story I waited for another 2 hours.  When she returned she informed me that I would be taken from the ER and transported to a secure facility.  I was being placed on a 72-hour involuntary hold.

I went ballistic.   I was so mad I’m pretty sure I was turning colors.  I demanded to see my own doctor, who was on staff at the hospital.  But he wasn’t scheduled to be there until the following day.  And that was that.

GROUP-THERAPY-SMALLAt the facility, in a group therapy sessions of 30 patients, the doctor asked me why I was there.  I told him “I don’t know”.  He looked at his clip board and said, in front of everyone, “It says here you attacked a child.”

From that point forward it didn’t matter what I said or did.  Every patient heard I had attacked a kid, and I was given a wide berth.  If I lost my temper again it would get even worse.  So I gritted my teeth and just stopped talking.   I stopped moving.  I sat still and waited.

My doctor arrived the next day, 36 hours after I heard The Voice.  I told him what had happened and demanded to be released or explain why not to a judge.  This is not something a patient on a 3 day hold can say.   I was released within 2 hours.

My bewildered parents came to pick me up.   I had no idea how to explain any of it.  I’m still at a loss.

The mentally ill are the most stigmatized members of our society.  Within this group, those who hear voices are even more isolated, as it’s one of the least understood symptoms.  But I’m pleased to discover that through the efforts of groups such as the Hearing Voices Movement, attitudes are slowly changing.

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Interesting times

I’ve had what you might call a moment of clarity. And it’s really annoying, because I’d still love to hang this guy from the highest yardarm. BUT…

One of my worst memories of my initial diagnosis was when all the side effects of the psych drugs started to manifest. The drugs didn’t seem to do much except put me in a coma that I was supposed to be very gracious about. When I told good old doc that I now needed adult diapers that I was suddenly far too large to wear, he told me “I don’t think they make a pill for that”. No. Seriously.

But the one thing he told me that I never forgot, and certainly never forgave, was this. I was trying to make him understand why I kept flushing my meds, about how horrible the side effects were. And he told me that if I was alive in a year to bitch about it, I’d be considered a success.

It’s taken me nine years to get perspective on that comment. And don’t get me wrong, I still think it was probably the most inappropriate thing to say possible. But the comment itself, now considered… hum.

Back then I had no reason to live. I didn’t care from one day to the next. It didn’t matter. Nothing, in fact, mattered. And I couldn’t imagine a time when anything would.

But now? Hum. If one were to look at that comment now, one might suggest the doctor was pro choice. And it took an entirely different story to give me this idea. I was watching about the mother and the 13 year old son who were going to Mexico rather than endire chemo. Kid will die without it. Kid will live with it. It’s that simple. There’s a court order for him to go through it if he’s ever found. And here’s me saying – yes. It’s the right thing to do. Even if he hates it (and who doesn’t hate chemo?) Give him the option to kill himself later, if he so chooses. But right now do the chemo and get him to the point where it’s his choice to live or die. Don’t let the cancer make the decision for him.

And I thought… fuck. I’m a total hypocrite.

Isn’t that what yahoo doc did? Again, he didn’t have to say that to me. Because words are weapons to the mentally ill, and that hurt. And also lets be clear – he didn’t treat my illness. I actually have something he doesn’t believe exists. Aren’t menfolk just wonderful that way? But… by keeping the symptoms at bay 9 years, he (and my support network – never forget them)allowed me to get to the point where I could make an informed decision. To be, or not to be. Let the choice be MINE, not the Beast’s.

No. He shouldn’t have said it. But I understand. I hope.

And now it’s kind of cool. The world is cheerfully ripping itself to shreads. Certainly this is a facinating time for anyone to live through. I really feel like we’re all witnessing the fall of Rome all over again. Tonight I saw a commercial for “Buy local produce! It’s better for the environment than importing it!” And I think the economy will enforce this happily green statement.

I mean, let’s face it. This warped concept of imports, exports and “Most favored nation” is falling about our ears. But I remember eating exotic fruits from far away places and imagining what it must be like to pick them off the trees there. I LIKE exotic fruits from far away places! It’s a good memory. Future generations may not have such memories – I’m hoping we’ll be both wise and lucky enough to revert back to a self sustaining village type concept by the time it’s all over.

One way or the other, it’s a really facinating time to be alive. As the movie says, the only crime these days is to be bored. Doc and my support network gave me a 9 year reprieve so that I could awake in a land that is anything but boring. And I’m incredibly lucky. Insanity is an absolute killer, and it certainly should have killed me. So it seems Doc was pro choice, and along with my family fought to put the choices back in my hand.

He was still a bastard for saying that. But I understand.