I first heard voices when I was 31, a few months after my first cousin committed suicide on my watch. Born of grief and fueled by guilt, the voices got worse after my husband and I moved to New Haven in August 1983. Many of the early voices were familiar; some belonged to family members, and most were benign. One was actively kind. Especially because I was settling into a new city, I found the familiar voices rather comforting. The first unfamiliar voices were merely curious—they would ask questions like, “What is she doing now?” and I heard them only when other people were around. But as time passed I started hearing the strangers’ voices when I was by myself. By October they had started saying cruel, malicious—and untrue—things about me and I got scared.
By Halloween day I had become convinced I was being followed and spied upon, and smashed every lightbulb in the living room searching for hidden cameras. That night I went to see a psychiatrist. She, fearful I might be suicidal, forced me to commit myself to a psychiatric hospital. I signed out against medical advice 10 days later, but realized almost upon returning to New Haven that I needed help. I placed my name on the waiting list for a bed at Yale-New Haven Hospital and was admitted in December 1983. There I was diagnosed with schizophreniform disorder, placed on an antipsychotic medication, and given a lot of therapy. I was discharged after two months, found a job, and my husband and I began to settle into our new community. Over time, and under the supervision of a psychiatrist, I was able to wean myself from the medication and was largely voice-free for the next four years. I was doing so well that my husband and I decided to start a family, and our only son was born in 1986.
In 1989, soon after starting a new job, I again began hearing voices. I began seeing a psychiatrist again and went back on medication briefly. During that breakdown the voices and accompanying physical symptoms so terrorized me—I began grunting and was sometimes throttled by unknown, unseen forces—that I very nearly jumped from the fifteenth floor balcony of the office building where I worked. But I didn’t jump, because my son needed a mother, and because I would have hurt and dishonored my parents, sisters, husband, and son. As time passed, I began correcting the cruel voices when they got things wrong. Then, encouraged by the kind voices, I began laughing at all of the voices and quickly discovered that laughter was my most effective shield against terror. Eventually, because they no longer had power over me, the cruelest voices went away again. Regrettably, most of the kind ones went away as well. But that was good—because I was not tempted to dwell in the world of the voices.
In the summer of 2014 I was trained as an HVN support group facilitator. I learned during that training that many of the techniques I had used to regain control over my mind and my life—laughter, argument, negotiation, acceptance when appropriate, and an unwavering determination to live as fully as I could in the real world—are tried and true methods of the Hearing Voices movement. Knowing that I am not alone, and that what I have achieved is not rare, has been tremendously freeing. I now sincerely believe that there are literally millions of people in the world who hear voices and who, like me, are able to live successful, independent lives. My son is doing splendidly—living, working, and in graduate school in Chicago.
I began participating in the New Haven Hearing Voices support group in August 2014 and in December began co-facilitating a support group at Yale-New Haven Psychiatric Hospital. I am delighted to add my story and voice to those of others who have learned to live successfully with hearing voices, seeing visions, and experiencing other unusual phenomena.