As we approach world hearing voices day 2013 Karen and I are in Canada. We have just enjoyed running a preconference workshop for about 100 people in Winnipeg. I am sitting in my room before breakfast writing this piece and as I sit I am thinking back twenty-three years ago; I am in a psych unit in Manchester and I have a new support worker called Lindsay. By then I had been a psych patient for almost ten years and was fast approaching spending the rest of my life in the system. My support worker had convinced me to go to a new group that was starting in Manchester called a hearing voices group.
Going to that group changed my life. As someone who had been tormented for years by negative voices, being part of the group gave me the hope to go forward. It allowed me to see my experience as something real, and therefore something that could be understood.
Sitting here now twenty-something years later I can see the beginnings of our movement. We would be sitting in an office in Manchester making phone calls on our one telephone – that was coin operated. I can hear Mickey Devalda shouting ”has anybody got some money for the phone? I’m talking to a voice hearer in distress and we’re running out of credit.” His wife Sharon would also be in the office putting information packs together and getting them ready to post. Now I hear John Williams’ voice cracking some one-line joke that would get us all laughing even though sometimes it wasn’t so funny. John just had that effect on us. I can feel Terrence McLaughlin beside me even now; his ever-reassuring presence one of the great stabilizing influences of the movement in those days. In would walk Paul Baker, the one who always answered a question with a question and in answering his question we became a team. Then sitting in the corner was Julie Downs, a woman who was there for us through every crisis we had as individuals. She made us face ourselves and as a consequence was a real mother for the UK movement.
Though it might seem quaint and romantic now, there was nothing quaint and romantic then. Mickey and John both died of sudden heart failure. Real cause of death; neuroleptic medication. Hannalore – one of the founders of the German voices movement – died of sudden heart failure. Real cause of death; neuroleptic medication. For myself I got away with it by having a heart bypass. Real cause of surgery; neuroleptic medication. I have watched with sadness many people die over the last twenty years of sudden heart failure. The cost of this movement should never be based on finances, but based on honoring the memory of those who have gone before us, who have led by example and have died working for our freedom.
Now some twenty years on there are groups all over the world. Networks in twenty-seven countries and new networks springing up all over the world. The hearing voices network is here to stay; a new leadership is emerging that is allowing us oldies to step back, and to them I say “go for it.” Go and create our future but please don’t forget our history. John, Mickey, Terrence, and Hannalore created their time. Learn from it and go forward to create yours. As for me, well, I will continue to do my own thing in the future.
So enjoy your journeys — I intend to enjoy mine.