On Mental Health

Why, the phrase”I hear voices” is woefully inadequate in summing up the horrendous nature of mental illness (1)

I am lucky enough to have a friend who has the same diagnosis as me. (Lucky in the sense that it means that I have someone to share my experiences with, not because it gives me a really broad and diverse spectrum of people I can claim to be close to).

Anyway.. she has had the same kind of experiences that as I have had; not entirely the same, because no two peoples experience of mental illness will be identical, but similar enough that when I start ranting about crazy stuff, she can follow what I’m saying.

With her I can talk about absolutely anything. There is nobody else with whom I could be so candid and so in depth about my symptoms and my bad days, most people would be lost at the first “tic, voices, triggered, frustration, memory, tic” loop; most people would be left wondering what the flip I was banging on about.

Yesterday we were talking about the difficulties we have in describing our bad experiences to people who have no personal understanding of psychosis and schizophrenic symptoms. My friend is really having a bad time of it at the moment, and suffers daily; in fact she’s struggling most moments but she manages to hide it from the people around her.

One of her close friends asked her to describe what she was experiencing to her, so that she could better understand what it was that she was going through.

My friend said that she tried to explain the voices, the sense of dislocation from her own thoughts and the general weirdness and strength of the things which seemed to pass through her mind at whim, unconnected to her own will or outlook.

She said that after she’d explained her friend gave her a bit of a confused look and said, “well that doesn’t really sound so bad?”

My friend had to agree! She appreciated that simply saying, “ah there’s a voice in my head which tells me I’m useless and makes me feel bad, and my thoughts seem slightly disrupted or senseless,” doesn’t really present a good justification for feeling so terrible, and being affected as strongly as she is.

Saying to somebody, “there’s a voice in my head that makes me feel crappy,” is a woeful description of the reality of that experience.

We were discussing this, and the disconnect between the descriptive words and phrases we use to convey these experiences, and the actual experience of them. It is like calling having your legs cleaved off with a blunted handsaw “really painful”- it doesn’t quite sum up the reality!

For the reality is, that talking about hearing voices is just the tip of the iceberg with mental illness experiences.

I know that for me, when those voices come on badly; in such a way that I know they could likely snowball and perpetuate, it creates a sense of dread in the pit of my stomach, and the hairs on the back of my neck begin to stand up.

I will instinctively begin to tense up, because I know the force of what is to come. However, what makes this prelude all the more distressing is that I know that by tensing up, I’m only making the likelihood of having a bad time more likely.

It is like a self fulfilling prophesy in that I ultimately know that only I am creating the symptoms; the only way to prevent it from happening is to ignore it completely, to figuratively turn the other direction and focus over in and on something else.

It feels like you are trying to walk a razor thin line through your head; if you fall the wrong way or take a single wrong step you’ll fall into sensations of terror or rage so strong you won’t be able to contain them or process them on any level.

This is like mental zen- like trying to divide 3873 by 24 while someone is repeatedly punching you in the face.

It feels as though a sliver of fear is slinking into your mind through some back entrance you can’t see; which is really flipping scary when you can actually feel it starting to take hold and affect you.

But you have to focus above it; you know that you’re the only one who has the ability to stop it from happening again; despite the fact that every time you try you seem to fail, you have to keep trying. The alternative is unthinkable.

So, it is really the intensity of the feelings which accompany these voices which is the actual causes the distress, not the voices themselves. It is the intensity of the feelings and sensations which are triggered which is terrifying and debilitating.

What makes it more terrible is that all of this seems to happen beyond your conscious control. It seems to happen to you, rather than within your own sphere of “self-control”(a concept which becomes laughably porous once you’ve lived through psychosis a few times).

It feels like your own mind and body have some kind of will of their own. There is no sense of personal control Β over these experiences and sensations- which leads to a horrible sense of being trapped within your mind and your body- trapped within a system of feelings and associations which only seem to spiral out of all sense of reason and possibility.

This feeling of powerlessness brings a variety of other feelings with it. It is a horrible emotion to feel in any situation, but when it feels as though your own mind has flown completely out from under your own control, for absolutely no rational or apparent reason, the accompanying sensations I usually experience are helplessness, frustration and then rage.

For there always seems to be a sense of injustice about the whole experience, which really seems to drives the dagger home. I know that feeling this way is useless, as it is only a condition created in my mind by chemicals, but in the moment it feels like you’re being forced to suffer tremendously, for absolutely no good reason.

All of these feelings, sensations and experiences usually hit you within the space of about a minute- so it is bloody difficult to separate them out and rationally deal with each of them individually.

(Continued in part 2)


49 thoughts on “Why, the phrase”I hear voices” is woefully inadequate in summing up the horrendous nature of mental illness (1)

  1. Thank you for sharing this with people like myself. It’s in that sharing that we come to a greater understanding of mental illness. And consequently, a greater appreciation. Wishing you a wonderful weekend. Alex. ((Hugs))

    Liked by 2 people

  2. I know that feeling this way is useless, as it is only a condition created in my mind by chemicals

    All you have said in this piece is underlined by this one pathetic statement. It’s as if the psychologists are willingly impotent, that they really do want to tie their hands together and then have a blind tied about their eyes and ears. Talking about brain chemistry is like counting the number of seats in the lifeboats as the Titanic sinks – the chemistry for all its accuracy and predictability (ahem!) takes no account of that which is not predictable. Nor can it be predictable…

    I know your condition was brought on by the ‘loosening’ effect of cannabis, but you were loosable, if you get me. Some other ‘chemical’ would have unleashed this tendency within you. It wasn’t the cannabis at fault, it was something within you that was ready to wreak havoc.

    Apols if this sounds a little heartless. But I know you for someone who has had the guts to deal with this and through this process, come to understand it in a way that few professionals are able to.

    You describe a process that “spirals out of control”. This is a general process that isn’t limited to madness. It’s like planting a seed: give the seed the right conditions and it will grow. That is to say, it will spiral … literally, in the case of a plant … but it is limited by its physical ability to grow any faster than is natural to it. So here what we actually have is something that restrains the plant as well as makes it bigger.

    Your book – my own book – began as one single idea. A seed by any other name. Give that ‘seed’ a fertile mind and it can grow; the difficulties we all face in writing are those things that limit its growth to something reasonable, almost predictable.

    This is why you have to tread the razor’s edge: without anything to stop the ‘growth’ of your mental state, any ‘seed’ of an idea, no matter how tiny, can spark this explosion. In short, there is nothing to restrain the explosiveness of your feelings. Thus it is demanded of you to be on the utmost awareness at all times, just in case.

    The problem for our modern times is that people are unused to acting in the way you do. That is to say, self restraint through awareness. Add to this that all the restraints for ordinary people are outside them in the social structures they dare not interfere with, and you have the perfect time bomb.

    The other problem is that they are all just waiting for the right conditions to be tipped into the kind of maelstrom you know all too well. I described this in my post “Live Wires” which contains graphic imagery of the kind you will understand. Which describes people whose defences are so complete that only something strong enough to destroy their entire mind will get through…


    The clinical psychologists will be there, too, and there’s nothing they will be able to do about this because all they can imagine is the brain chemistry… and the reality will hit them like a steam hammer that is strong enough to break their iron-hard defences and crush the eggshell of their chemical thinking along with it.

    Your book is there for more people than just those who suffered madness. It’s there for those who will.

    But it’ll only be there for those who can think for themselves, think like you do, and become aware of the unseen dangers that exist within their own lives.

    Liked by 3 people

  3. Reblogged this on Ponderings and commented:
    I would like to draw your attention to an excellent article that expresses the realities of what mental illness feels like.

    My own blog deals with issues far more subtle; but any one of them could lead to a point where people are no longer able to handle their own lives. In this respect, I regard this young lady’s attempts at expressing the things she’s gone through as being some of the most important writings on the internet.

    The things she has suffered are things we – that is to say, the majority of people alive today – will suffer. And I mean suffer Because if we carry on in the casual and irresponsible way we are today, that is where it leads.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Ah thank you very much. I’ll probably release it in the next couple of days, just needs a few issues ironing out before I hit that publish button! Do you have any experience of mental illness yourself or with anyone you know? Thanks for getting in contact.

      Liked by 2 people

  4. Not for myself but I’m in a fairly new relationship with a woman with bi-polar disorder. She has been stable so far in the time we’ve been together so I’ve not witnessed a manic first hand. From what she has described her life has been quite an ordeal for many years.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I’m sure it has been. These diseases are severe and often malignant.. you learn to deal with them on your own, but often learning how to share that burden with another person can be disorientating. I so hope that everything works out for the two of you πŸ™‚ I know that for me, my life has become infinitely brighter since my wonderful boyfriend came into it, but it hasn’t always been easy. You need to be prepared for hard times.. but then again, every relationship has it’s challenges and struggles so…?! Take care!

      Liked by 3 people

  5. Good work here. You’ve caught it. Or some of it. I am in the process of petitioning for disability b/c of Sz, and they require me to describe my debilitating condition… in 1000 characters or less. Ugh! Also, I have put out a couple of books about my experience w/ Sz. So I know first-hand how difficult it is to put words on what it’s like. You are meeting with real success. Really looking forward to part two. Reblogging this post on weeditty.wordpress.com thanks!

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Wow thanks a lot! Really appreciate your support.. and thanks for re-publishing. I will hopefully publish the second part tomorrow. I am also in the process of writing a book about my experiences- a self help book/memoir.. so the fact that you’ve had a couple of books published is very interesting to me. What are their titles, i’d love to have a read!

      Liked by 2 people

      1. The Boon by Eugene Uttley & Way Out by Arthur Thomas Morton are my books. Both available on Amazon. I’ve also got it set up so that you can get a free copy of Way Out if you tweet or facebook post about it. You can do that by clicking on the book’s cover on my blog sidebar. Nowhere in these books, however, did I capture the essence of the Sz experience in the moment as well as you are doing… Can you tell you have a new fan? πŸ™‚

        Liked by 2 people

      2. Aaah thank you πŸ™‚ does mean a lot. I’ll tweet about it to get a free copy, will do it tomorrow. I checked them both out though and they look great- the boon looks especially interesting. My book will be intended as a self help book.. I have 90,000 words already written, but they need a lot of tweaking and rearranging.. lots of book still to do πŸ™‚

        Liked by 1 person

      3. Thanks πŸ™‚ I am back to it tomorrow. Have had a week to focus more on the blog, tomorrow it’s back to the grind, back to the drawing board, back to the- well, you get what I mean πŸ˜‰ xx

        Liked by 1 person

    1. Alex has a remarkable handle on the condition. That speaks of a mind that is well able to deal with Schiz, nevertheless, she’d not be able to describe it without having been through it. Her honesty and integrity has taught me a very great deal.

      Liked by 3 people

      1. She and I are among those fortunate enough to have minimal cognitive impairment, it seems. To me, one of the things that means is that we speak for a lot of people who have lost their voices, so to say.

        Liked by 3 people

      2. Yes definitely. I had maximum cognitive affect for many years- I have a friend who says I went away “to live with the fairies” for about four years.. when I was experiencing constant and pervasive psychosis; which, I must add, was not an entirely negative experience. In fact a lot of it was massively positive, spiritual, inspiring and moving. Then I came out of that and had bouts of horrendous experiences which lasted for years. Those have faded now, and the lingering negative symptoms are niggling and horrendously annoying.. and will likely eventually fade out completely!! It’s been a long road, and I think it’s important to try and share that journey with others who are maybe still stuck somewhere along the way, looking for ways to move forward!…

        Liked by 1 person

      3. Absolutely. I spend a lot of time in a support chat for mental illness (mostly Sz), and opportunities do arise to encourage and just provide reality checks for those still in psychosis.

        Liked by 1 person

      4. From what I understand of the general conditions of madness, there are no real scales that one can apply. It’s more that those who are willing to work with themselves have the chance to overcome mountains, where those who don’t would find serious difficulties in stepping over a molehill.

        My own interest is in the subconscious, which is closely related to any mental imbalance. Should I meet someone who is even remotely interested in the subject – and owing to its nature, the subconscious affects us all – it is easy to tell if they are willing to work with themselves. The rare ones are, and whoever they might be, they become friends.

        Everybody else, be they teacher, psychiatrist, law lecturer or housewife, would find that molehill too steep to climb. They are lucky not to be mad; it would take but one trigger to send them across that unseen boundary into irretrievable madness.

        Liked by 2 people

      5. Hmm yes I do wonder.. the doctors think (or at least some of them) that people have a genetic predisposition to mental illness, the chances of developing it are much higher if someone in your family has had it. But I don’t think the stats are that conclusive.. and even then you often need some kind of stressful upheaval event to trigger it.. But I agree with what you’re saying to an extent; people are wound so tight, and with so many different kind of stresses and pressures in their lives and on their minds.. the potential is there in people who have previously had no inclination whatsoever.

        Liked by 1 person

      6. Alex, “the chances of developing it are much higher if someone in your family has had it” There are a lot of other reasons too; too many professionals rely on evidence and things that can be concocted from evidence that seem plausible.

        What is really needed here are people who will think for themselves, reason out the processes for themselves. That’s when they can truly help.

        Liked by 1 person

      7. Yes.. because that is what it is all about.. redeveloping and strengthening your reasoning faculties, and the parts of your head which combats fear and superstition with rational, sensible measured argument. This is the way to combat the bad experiences, reason the power away from it!!

        Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi.. thank you so much for re-blogging! Means so much. There is a part two coming- I’ll probably publish it tomorrow as I am too tired to concentrate right now. But thank you for your support.. tomorrow, when I am more awake and can actually make out the words I’m typing on the computer screen I will check out your blog also! Thanks for your support!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. My pleasure. People like you help put flesh and bone to the struggle of mental illness. And while I do not understand every plight and challenge humanity faces, we can all work and advocate together cultivating compassion and understanding πŸ™‚

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Thank you, and yes- we all share our own experiences and our own versions of the world.. and from that we can all broaden our perspective and our understanding πŸ™‚ This is so important, and wordpress is so great for this!

        Liked by 1 person

  6. You have the most beautiful style of writing that I have come across. You managed to convey everything so simply that it made me shiver. I just know the surface-idea of what schizophrenia is supposed to be and this really helps to give some clarity to the situation that drags so many people down. I hope that your book and with it, you too go up and above and get all the success you deserve. I hope that you continue writing and helping those you need to feel like they aren’t alone. You are amazing and I am glad that I have come across you blog.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you so much! What compliments! πŸ™‚ That is what I hope to do; bring clarity and a sense of understanding to these strange and sometimes baffling illness’s. There is so much misunderstanding and misinformation out there, it’s important for people who have personal experience to come forward and describe what they’ve been through. Thank you so much for your support πŸ™‚

      Liked by 2 people

  7. Alex, this is absolutely stunning work — your metaphors, your cadance, your descriptive turns of phrase — all of it. This is the most cogent explanation of the difficulties I have ever come across.

    It’s after 5AM here and I simply *must* go to bed, so I will have to come back to read it again to catch all of it — my brain is too fuzzy right now. But I had to leave a comment now, simply to say BRAVO!
    (Madelyn Griffith-Haynie – ADDandSoMuchMORE dot com)
    ADD Coach Training Field founder; ADD Coaching co-founder
    “It takes a village to educate a world!”

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much for your kind words πŸ™‚ It really means a lot. There is a part two coming soon, probably in the morning. I was going to edit it and publish it tonight but am too tired to concentrate!! I know that ‘fuzzy brain’ feeling as well! I also love this quote- I am in the process of writing a book on my experiences with schizophrenia- a self help book, because I firmly believe that to truely understand this condition we must have more accounts from people who have had it. Moreover, I’ve been lucky enough to be able to work to recovery, and a lot of people aren’t. So I hope to be able to help.. So your encouragement literally means the world πŸ™‚ xx

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Well THAT was a 12-hour nap! Turns out I have caught a bit of a cold, I believe, and my body has always put me down for the count while it heals. It’s now after 5 PM and I’ve only just awakened. I probably won’t be up for long after I respond to the comments left while I was sleeping either! Emergen-C here I come!!

        I found the quote both true and amusing – and I smiled wryly as I read it. I wasn’t sure if the double meaning was intended, so I didn’t mention it –especially since a comment might seem to undercut the value of your work, which would be a real shame.

        Your book would be valuable to anyone who can hold it together to be able to read, because recovery is so difficult and people who can’t understand can’t help nearly as much from the outside as you can from the inside — even the experts. But you are such a marvelous writer that their loved ones will probably end up reading for that reason alone, when they might have simply skimmed a less well-written book.

        Hopefully, helping professionals will want the inside look as well. Don’t set your heart on that one, however, I have been stunned by how many I’ve tripped across in my work for the past 25 years who dismiss “inside info” as *merely* anecdotal.

        I was actually requested by a doc on a professional chat list to STOP sharing my experience or techniques for that very reason. When nobody stood up against him, I left the list rather than stuff a sock in my mouth or mount a defense in *that* environment. It would not be the first time my heart would be broken by a doctor or therapist, unfortunately.

        My skin eventually thickened, and I take on that attitude on my blog from time to time – not always in the most “charge-neutral” fashion, ether. ADD/EFDers tend to love
        “Top Ten Stupid Comments from ADD-Docs” — pros think it’s rude.

        I’m not sure how *I* could be of any help, but please know that I’m willing and eager to see your book on the shelves. I can certainly read it and give you a quote and/or endorsement, and feature a Guest Post when you’re ready to market.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Hi, wow, thanks a lot for this reply. I am in good company as I usually have to work to reign in my comments so I’m not writing dissertations to people in my replies. This is great! I published the second part of my post on “why saying “I hear voices,” last night, so I hope you can let me know what you think. It gets fairly intense, but then again, so does the disease so I guess it’s ok. “Your book would be valuable to anyone who can hold it together to be able to read” This is something that has been troubling me slightly since I started writing. The people I wish to write this book for, likely wouldn’t be able to sit down and read anyway.. so I need to factor that into my planning. I do hope that family members and friends would be able to get something from it as well. I have had a mix of good and bad doctors, but I know what you mean about a lot of them not caring too much about the actual experience of the condition, rather than just what they read in their psych textbooks. Thanks so much for offers of help with the book- read/quote/endorsement would be amazing when the time comes. I just gotta get there first! Thanks again, and I really hope your cold gets better! xx

        Liked by 2 people

      3. I’m chatty – so my comments are usually longer than most. I *prefer* longer comments, personally, so I “do unto others” so to speak.

        Just write the book. The edit phase will give you plenty of time to “plan” how to appeal to various audiences.

        One tip: LOTS of white space. Brains that are struggling tend to have difficulty with long strings of unbroken text. If it “looks” hard to read, they won’t even try. Break the rules on what constitutes a paragraph in favor of ease of readability.

        Liked by 1 person

      4. Thanks a lot. And no, I’m exactly the same. I have another friend who is likewise and my boyfriend jokes that we could publish our notes as dissertations.. he is much more concise. This is good advice, and I will keep it in mind as I am planning- and I like the phrase “break the rules in favour of ease of readibility! I think that will be my new catchphrase πŸ™‚

        Liked by 1 person

      5. Rule breaking for a purpose has pretty much been a my motto since I first began writing and learned the darned things.

        lol re: dissertation! I relate totally. I find it takes less time to explain thoroughly to begin with, rather than handle the back and forth of questions. So many people won’t ask; they just go away confused.

        But then, I’ve never been a fan of “brief.” God didn’t send us down with a lifetime word limit, so there is no need to conserve. πŸ™‚

        Bookmarked your articles, btw, but my brain fuzz turned out to be a harbinger of a cold — and I am still recovering. LOTs of sleeping, so I’m way behind.

        Liked by 1 person

      6. Lol- it’s an awesome motto. And no, I’ve never been a fan of brief either.. I always joke to my boyfriend that if it can be said in 100 words, I will say it in 1000. It’s a throw back to being an english lit student I guess, and so having an innate ability to waffle πŸ™‚ Thanks so much- I’ve just published the third part of the “voices” series, and am actually pretty pleased with it. Thanks so much for reading. I’ve been really focusing on producing articles atm, but hopefully this weekend will get some time to devote to other peoples blog- so will check yours out in a meaningful way. Hope you feel better soon and your cold passes- keep in touch! xx

        Liked by 1 person

      7. My body has always taken me out of the game whenever illness of any sort strikes. I know I’m getting better when I’m awake more hours than I’m sleeping — THEN I’m hungry and grouchy! (not just yet, but soon, I’m thinking).

        Fortunately, I write ahead and queue, scattering post dates around by Series when possible, so the blog posts go out even when my brain’s not working well enough to write them. I’m not sure how cogent my comments are, however. πŸ™‚


      8. I have been stunned by how many I’ve tripped across in my work for the past 25 years who dismiss β€œinside info” as *merely* anecdotal.

        You and me both, albeit that my interest in psychology is not professional. Actually, given the nature of professional organizations, it is something to be thankful for, given that such people are inclined to dismiss “anecdotal” evidence.

        Do you understand the psychological process that leads a person to dismiss someone’s genuine experience? In other words, do you understand the psychological implications of fear?

        Liked by 1 person

      9. Alex, when you say, “I usually have to work to reign in my comments so I’m not writing dissertations to people in my replies.”

        Then take the quotation from the comment that has inspired your essay and write a new blog post instead! πŸ˜‰


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