We ask doctors what we’re supposed to do about them, how we’re supposed to manage them, how we can make them go away and often the doctors don’t have a very good answer not because they aren’t book-smart (because they’ve certainly proven time and time again they are VERY book-smart) but because they have no idea what they’re dealing with. That’s the truth.
Medication works for some of us—makes them fainter, or less intrusive at the least. But rarely will you hear someone comment their voices have gone away completely.
Couple that with fleeting thoughts that seem to come from that one area of your mind you never open the doors to, and your ability to focus is reduced to the attention span of a goldfish, literally.
What are some other ways we can deal with this?
I hear that Support Groups can be helpful. You meet people who you can form (perhaps) life-long friendships with, people who understand where you are and meet you there rather than try and pull you where they are. I’ve personally never got much from group therapy or support groups. I find it difficult to be truly open with people, even after a year of acquaintanceship, and so I stray from this option.
But if it sounds like something which may be good for you, I suggest looking into your local NAMI chapter (if you’re in the United States). I would also suggest searching for alternative groups and using other language besides “mental illness” or “disorder” in your search engine. By doing that, I found a list of wellness groups 45 minutes from me with names like “Support group for those with voices and visions”. These kind of groups offer the same type of peer support, but through a different lens.
It can be transformative to engage with people who have different perspectives. Through them, you learn more about your beliefs and form a more solid understand of yourself. I find this to be pertinent in getting grounded because we lose part of our identity when falling through a crisis. We have people telling us what to do, when to do it, how do it it, how to get healthy, why we are aren’t healthy, and kind of become the property of those around us and the terror in our head.
We want to reclaim some of who we are. Sometimes that means discovering ourselves for the first time. Sometimes that means reinventing who we once were. In either scenario, solidifying your beliefs, your passions, and remembering what it feels like to be respected and give respect are all things which help us build ourselves outside of others expectations.
Explore the Unknown!
This is probably a less sought-after option because it doesn’t involve immediate relief. If anything, you’ll be in more pain for a while.
What I mean by explore the unknown is actually listen to the voices. Don’t abide by them or agree with them (all the time) or allow yourself to be convinced of something you know for a fact isn’t true. That sounds a lot easier and more practical than it actually is. But it’s worked in many ways for me.
Stop yelling back. What does yelling usually do? Make them louder, right? Your voices aren’t some shy kids on the playground who you can bully. Most of the time, they won’t submit. And maybe they don’t need to submit. Maybe they’re there to teach patience and understanding and resiliency. Maybe they’re there to teach you life lessons your parents couldn’t. Or maybe they’re just there to be assholes. I think most people you know could fall into one or all of these categories. The point is, you’ll never really know the correct category (for both people and voices) if you don’t listen.
I explained in my previous post, How Philosophy Helped Me Process Psychosis, that I lived under the impression that my voices were demons from a hell I didn’t believe in, here to prevent me from serving my one true purpose. I didn’t just snap out of this one day from medication or extra sleep or hospitalization. It took a couple years of exploring and pain and horror for me to come to any coherent realization.
Seeing how others dealt with their voices was helpful, which is why I recommended support groups at the beginning of this post. In giving myself a chance to hear others, I also gave myself a chance to hear myself. I heard that I was wanted dead. I heard that I was doomed. I also heard I was the light of the earth and I was protected. I got a lot of mixed messages.
What does listening to these messages do, besides cause you more distress?
Well, what does listening to your friend do when they’re stressed out? Sometimes, if you’re attentive and listening closely, it escalates their pain and they scream or cry and they get it all out. Then they’re quiet, they’re thankful, and they might even ask how you’re doing. This leads me into my next tip:
Start a Dialogue!
Let’s be clear here: when I say listen to them, I don’t mean ignore them. Let them vent, yes. Let them vent the commands, the violence, the sadness, the happiness, the grandiosity, whatever their M.O is, and then ask a question or two. Make a reflection. If they are telling you to kill yourself, ask them why. If they respond with an answer that sounds reasonable to you in the moment, something like “no one loves you” or “they all hate you,” consider a compassionate response like “you’re in pain; I am too. Can we figure this out together? I don’t really want to die.”
What I kept hearing over and over again was the importance of showing yourself compassion. It’s no different than what people with depression or anxiety are told: be kind to yourself.
And if you don’t believe your voices are apart of you, if you believe they are outside of yourself as I believed, remember that we’re all an extension of the universe, and that’s not some mystical hippie stuff, that’s science. We’re all made of the same material, within the same cosmos. We are all each other. Be kind to the earth because earth is an extension of you. Be kind to your children because your children are an extension of you. Be kind to your voices because your voices are an extension of you.
No therapist or friend has (hopefully) ever supported you by screaming back at you and swearing to end you, even if you yelled first or insulted them, or threatened them. And so don’t support yourself that way. Support yourself with compassion and patience and kindness, and remember that you are sharing a space with these things, these voices. You’re all in this body together. This brings up the final tip:
Create A Space for Them!
This is better illustrated with a quick story.
Last night a wave of confusion hit me. My thoughts circled around my impending death and nothing I read made sense. I could barely respond to text messages. I knew something was upsetting my system, and a familiar voice told me to go for a drive. So I did, for two hours.
I headed to some cliffs. I realized I was fighting a lot, fighting the confusion, fighting the voices telling me this drive would be my last, fighting the belief that they’d trigger a heart attack if I parked by the cliffs, and fighting the fact that none of my fighting reaped any benefits. And so I checked out.
I gave them some space. I stopped arguing with the thoughts. I also stopped being fearful of them, and I stopped feeding them with attention. I dissociated and only remember a few snippets of my drive. I did reach the cliffs, but didn’t park partly because of fear and partly because I didn’t want to sit near other cars.
While weaving down some roads I didn’t know very well, I realized my body felt a little lighter I wasn’t as stressed, and some of the thoughts of death had gone away because I’d faced my fear. One of my more familiar voices told me, “See? We know what’s best for you.”
Did they know what was best for me? I didn’t think so. I disagreed and asked why, then, do you keep telling me I’m going to die? Why do you keep feeding my anxiety? His answer?
“Pain is necessary.”
We all know that pain is unavoidable in life, but this struck me so deeply because of all the duality I mentioned in my previous post, that they were here to both lift me up and pull me down and that’s what makes them no better than me, no better than any human. That’s what makes us able to relate. That very duality is what makes us able to share this body and live with each other.
This took a few years of confusion and talking and different types of therapy and 8 years on and (finally) off medication. This took a lot of anger and frustration and fear and maybe some risks. But it’s possible.
And in The End…
There is no textbook on how to deal with your voices. There is no doctor or therapist or friend or family member or self-help stranger or medication or amazingly insightful philosophical blog that can tell you what the right path is. The hardship and pain and joy is in finding that yourself.
You do have to live with yourself for the rest of your life. Might as well figure out a way to do so peacefully.
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