On the first of this month, I was discharged from Lancaster General Hospital’s psychiatric unit. I was there for two weeks. It was my twelfth psychiatric hospital stay. Like many people who suffer from long-term mental illness, especially those with chronic suicidal ideation, I am tired. Tired of hospitals, tired of medications, tired of therapists, tired of groups, tired of relapses, and tired of hurting.
This hospitalization was prompted by a drastic increase in the frequency and volume of the voices that I hear in my head. I have had this blog since May of 2013, but despite the voices being a constant part of my life, I have often strayed away from talking about them here. I guess it’s about time.
I first heard them when I was 12 and in sixth grade. I don’t remember much from that time because of the frequent dissociation that clouds a lot of my childhood, but I remember thinking that I was possessed. Many of my friends were devout Christians and my mother worked at a church, so I had quite an extensive religious knowledge and very little education on mental illness. The combination of those two factors led me to immediately believe that the man’s voice I heard was the voice of the devil. I heard it as clearly as I hear the music playing from my computer right now. At first, it was a singular word in moments of stress: kill. Since I had developed self-destructive tendencies early in life, I usually interpreted the voice as instructing me to kill myself. However, for a brief period of time, my thoughts turned homicidal before a suicide attempt that I thought would protect my friends and family from my uncontrollable mind.
As a particularly stressful year passed, one voice chanting kill turned into four voices saying a wide variety of things, all negative. I identified one of the voices as being my father’s, who emotionally and sexually abused me for over ten years. His voice almost always said things that I had heard him say before, while the other voices, which were both male and female, littered my head with insults and instructions to hurt, starve, and kill myself. When my mom found out about my self-harm, she took me to a psychiatrist. After a few questions about my mood, he asked me if I heard or saw anything unusual. I told him that I heard voices telling me to do bad things, which was the first time that I had revealed the voices to anyone. He immediately diagnosed me with Major Depressive Disorder with psychotic features and prescribed me Prozac and the atypical anti-psychotic Seroquel. The appointment in total lasted less than 15 minutes.
Fast forward seven years. The voices have continued to multiply, to the point where each time I hear one, it sounds a little different from the last (with the exception of my father’s). They still tell me to hurt and kill myself, but have evolved to give step-by-step instructions on how to do so, formulating hundreds of self-harm and suicide plans. They get particularly loud at meal times, often urging me not to eat or to throw up what I do eat. They have also recently taken to commentating on what people are “thinking” about me during conversations (things like “They think you sound stupid” or “they’re looking at your stomach”). Psychiatrists have continuously prescribed me different combinations of antidepressants, anti-psychotics, and anti-anxiety medications in attempts to quell the mental health symptoms that I face daily, with the voices usually being at the top of the priority list. People often give me the same advice, the most common being something along the lines of “Tell them to fuck off.” I cannot tell you how many times I’ve gotten that from friends, staff members at hospitals, and even therapists. If only it were that easy.
During my most recent hospitalization, my psychiatrist took me off of any anti-psychotics, agreeing that the voices are unresponsive to medication and are most likely caused by Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder in the hopes that they will settle down with the right trauma therapy. For now, that means that I have to wait until I am stable enough to engage in trauma treatment, which proves as a hard task with the voices still at large. I am usually able to function despite the voices without engaging in self-damaging behaviors, although I do slip up from time to time.
From that first time I met with a psychiatrist until now, I have learned time and time again that the voices are extreme and often startle people when I talk about them. Despite my frequent hospitalizations and group therapy experiences, I have met only a handful of people that also admit to hearing voices, many of whom are shocked at my openness about them. It’s easy to feel isolated and judged with psychiatric symptoms that provoke words like “psychotic”, but I think that’s all the more reason to talk about it.