I am very happy to have been invited to write on the Mad in America blog as one of the international correspondents and I will begin my first two blogs by introducing myself. But first a few words.
I am a voice hearer and I’m proud to be part of a powerful and growing community which rejects the labels given to us by psychiatry and see instead our voices as meaningful, significant and related to our life stories. I will start by introducing me and my voices and next week I will describe my recovery process as a psychiatric survivor. The whole piece, called, The Voices of Me can be found in the book Living with Voices 50 Stories Of Recovery by Marius Romme et al, a wonderful book of hope if I say so myself; and as an artistic recreation, available as a CD.
The voices of me
It was asked of me and I subsequently felt inspired to contribute to an anthology about me and my voices, two things which are so separate and yet so together. How did I survive them and yet how could I not? I needed them as much as they needed me and together we created me, a fragmented child who became a fragmented adult who finally became whole, became me, became Olga.
I heard my first voice as a very young child, perhaps around four or five, I don’t recall. I do remember however the first time I heard him. I was sitting playing alone inside our house and he called my name very loudly. He had a deep voice which almost had an echo to it and it seemed to come from above and around. I didn’t recognize the voice and was immediately curious as to who this strange person was calling my name and started to search for him in the house. I searched everywhere and every time he called my name I would shout back “yes I am here!” or something to that effect. I didn’t find him, and I became increasingly frustrated and distraught and in the end I became very angry at his ability to hide himself so well that he was impossible to find.
Over the next period of time he kept appearing as just a voice and very quickly I accepted that he was invisible, that he was good and that he was there to help me. I also soon realized that he had the ability to, in my then small world, predict happenings and situations which I could then avoid or cope with, with his help. As time passed he became my comforter and my guide in this labyrinth of emotional turmoil which was my home and came to play a big role in surviving those early years of my life. I called him God.
My second voice who has perhaps always been there is a small child, a little girl, my little girl. Always with her back to me always alone, so very, very alone. Dressed mostly in red she never talks only screams and even then not that often. Raising her head she can scream out loud – the agonizing pain of utter abandonment – yet she never has and never will be heard. Sometimes she lets out a few shuddering sobs. Otherwise she sits there cross-legged; her back to me huddled over some secret activity which only she knows. I know she is a part of me, a secret part and I do so want to unlock that secret, yet I don’t know how to reach her, she sits there so close I can almost touch her, yet she is so far away I might as well be on another planet, where a lifetime of travel will not bring me closer. She is my enigma, the big question in the tapestry of my life, my why, why… this?
My third and fourth voice came later, much later; they came when I threw out God, why did I throw out God? I threw out God and they came in, sneaking in like thieves in the night stealing my soul, filling my world with blackness and hatred. A seeping black pool of hatred and destruction causing me to burn my tongue and cut my arms, only that again was later much later. They were my failures, my guilt, the living proof of how spectacularly I had failed. Never good, always bad, a constant reminder of my dirt, the dirty little girl who became the dirty filthy me. Slowly or perhaps it was in reality quite quickly, they poisoned me, black tendrils stretching out moving in going deeper and deeper and then… they were stopped. They were stopped by the very thing they themselves were, failure. By being my failings, they themselves were ultimately doomed, doomed to fail in their mission, a complete poisoning of all of me. For somehow a fragment or fragments of me remained intact, were immune to their poison, remained clean, serene, strong and powerful and wouldn’t let their poison in.
They have been my constant companions always there but not always present. Sometimes they are filling my head taking over my tongue saying words I do not recognize. Recognition in the sense that that is not me, it is a stranger borrowing my mouth my tongue saying terrible things which hurt cutting like a knife into the soft part of me. Or worse, spreading out, hurting those whom I hold so dear which in turn hurts me again and again as the pain reverberates and comes back to me like waves. Other times their blackness is far, far away, covered by layers of calmness, strength, love and happiness trapping them so their black tendrils cannot escape. On those occasions they have no control, they are themselves controlled by me, a united me and their power is reduced to nothing. So how is it possible that they can still sometimes spew out black tendrils? I like to think they are an echo, sometimes a loud echo but just that, an echo, nothing more. Yet I know they are my past impinging on my present, distorting and trying to poison, always poison.
Then there’s the joker, he’s a late comer, arriving long after all the others have been here for what seems like an eternity. He’s actually quite wise in his funny sort of way and he is also the finisher, the ender of poison. I know when he comes, summarizing the whole episode in his joking jokes sort of way, that he is the bringer of peace and I welcome him. I know also that for the outside world, he is the most scary. He makes me laugh and the outside world interprets, they don’t understand and hearing my laughter their interpretation moves in, “she is insane,” they say, “lock her away”.
I like his jokes. By joking he disperses the black tendrils, making them dissolve, withdraw and neutralizes their poison. His ironic but oh so true jokes go straight to the center drawing little blood in his precise interpretation of reality, my reality. And when I understand his message, because I don’t always, he has used few words where I would probably have had to write a whole chapter to see that light. More often than not, he makes me see the absurdity of this whole episode, how completely small and insignificant it is when measured within the perspective of the rich tapestry that is my life. That episode he highlights was but a speck which for a short while was allowed to fill and opened the door to the black tendrils of poison. He shuts that door.
Finally… almost, we have the mumblers, the murmurers, never saying anything clearly always just outside the clarity of words. They are a group of an indeterminate size sometimes huge and threatening other times far away like storm clouds gathering at the edge of the horizon. They are the warners, warning of dark times approaching. Their approach can be at times so subtle that suddenly they are there like a flash storm catching you unaware, other times their murmuring is like a far distant thunderstorm rumbling getting ever closer, warning of the impending storm.
Their mumblings are confusing, their message unclear but always they are there at times of weariness or mental exhaustion, confusing me, distorting the meaning and the words of the external world. Others voices start to include dark and sinister messages and motives, hidden motives, making those people shadowy and threatening just like those storm clouds gathering. Words of kindness twist and become cruel and harsh, echoing the past where things were never as they seemed. Why should others be kind now, when I am big, strong and oh so grown up, yet cruel, using and abusing me when I was a little girl? Shouldn’t it be the other way round, shouldn’t it be not at all – do you see now? How they can confuse?
Last, but really the beginning, God came back, only now he is not God at least not in name. He is the good one, the good voice and with his return everything changed, the balance of power, the balance of control. With him I began the journey of union, uniting the fragments joining each piece of me, to me, to finally become whole, become me, become Olga.
Next week I will come with my recovery journey titled My Voice, The Voice Of Me.