Saturday, 13 July 2013

hearing voices


I am always hearing voices as a mental health activist and campaigner. Critical voices of people who aren't being heard elsewhere.  Voices of people close to me who are struggling with personal issues or difficult life circumstances.  Voices of psychiatric nurses in medical notes calling me a "difficult and demanding" mother.  Social workers in adult protection investigations, that I instigated in the first place when my son was secluded, restrained and forcibly treated, accusing me of "psychological harm".  

I hear my own voice being silenced when speaking out about human rights abuse in psychiatric settings.  Because people, mostly professionals, don't really want to hear about painful situations, negative experiences, bad practice and broken bones. They'd prefer we swallow the psychiatric drugs.  Be compliant.  Believe the evidence based treatment and SEMI (severe and enduring mental illness) label.  The two tier recovery agenda that means lifelong mental illness prognoses, psychiatric labelling and drugging, for some of us while others of us manage to escape by not believing a word of it.
my mum and me 1953

I remember my mother in the 1960's saying that, when she was in the local mental hospital after periodic nervous breakdowns and getting forced treatment, they kept asking her if she heard voices.  She said no she didn't.  But they gave her a schizophrenia label anyway.  It was a mystery to her I think.  Firstly, she didn't understand what they meant by the term 'hearing voices'.  When she was becoming "mentally unwell", it took the form of not sleeping, writing poetry, thinking about various things that she wouldn't usually bother about.  For example the block of flats we lived in was built on the grounds of an old cemetery.  So people's graves were under our feet.

My mother was extra sensitive at these times and pondered all the big questions of life.  Speaking and writing she didn't sleep.  When I was 15 or so, in 1967, she was in this state of mind and my father was very anxious about what to do.  He himself had been forcibly detained in the mental hospital only the once in 1963, following a period of stress due to work pressures.  He was a writer with the Daily Express in London, in the 50's and 60's, travelling back and forward from our home town of Perth in Scotland, sending his sci-fi scripts of Jeff Hawke by courier at other times.

Because my father knew what the mental hospital was like from personal experience he didn't want to send my mother there again.  He was torn, knowing that she would get more ECT and drugs against her will.  But there were no other options available then for people who were experiencing emotional crisis, mental distress or extra sensitivity to the world round about.  So he asked me what we should do.  I said that my mother would have to go to hospital because she wasn't well.  And so the decision was made.  

My family have all experienced altered states of mind or psychoses.  It's normal for us and we don't need to take recreational drugs to experience them.  So we've all been asked if we hear voices and we've all responded, no.  And got the schizophrenia labels anyway or schizoaffective disorder or, if we're lucky, bipolar disorder.  Although we don't hear voices we do have an inner monologue, our own voice in our minds, speaking to ourselves, debating, considering, making decisions, reflecting, laughing, creating, enjoying.  But when I was made to take the psychiatric drugs my own voice, the inner monologue, was silenced or quietened, depending on the amounts of drug given. 

Within about 48 hours of being forcibly injected with chlorpromazine, in 1978 and 1984, I came out of the psychosis, back down to earth with a bump.  Depressed and subdued, beginning to obey the regime of the psychiatric ward, I was given liquid largactyl (chlorpromazine) then pills when they were sure I wasn't going to tongue them.  In 2002 after the menopausal psychosis I was forcibly detained after voluntarily entering a psychiatric ward, took the risperidone under pressure, knowing that I had no other option.  I was discharged after a week, suitably chastened with my inner voice quietened.

But I don't like having a silent or dull inner voice, it depresses me and also means I can't remember how to do the usual tasks in life which depend on my decision making abilities, reflections, considerations.  It took a lot of the enjoyment out of my life.  My sense of humour had disappeared.  My singing voice had also been silenced for I often go about singing, it's what I do.  The psychiatrist at appointments would repeatedly ask me "Are you tearful?" and I would answer back "No, I'm flat", wishing that I could have a good cry or laugh.  He seemed to be fine about my being flat.  Well I wasn't fine about it and had to do something about it.  Which meant taking back control of my own mental health, tapering the drugs and recovering.  And so I did.

I'd like to see alternative ways of working with people who are in altered states of mind or psychoses, emotional crises or mental distress.  Call it what you will.  It can happen to anyone and is no respecter of persons.  I don't want to be forcibly injected or made to swallow psychiatric drugs if I don't want to.  Or to be locked up in psychiatric wards with other mad people.  It doesn't make me feel better.  Taking away my voice or silencing it is an oppressive action, to my mind.  My voice has served me well over the years, keeping me safe, informing my actions, helping me to be a good mother and responsible citizen.  It makes sense, I think, to work with people's voices and help them to find equilibrium and peace of mind.


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