Saturday, April 18, 2009

I talk back to the voices in my head

The Guardian, 4th April 2009

Full story here

Dean Smith of Stockport and Hearing voices Network member.
I was working as a holiday rep in Brittany 15 years ago when I started hearing voices. I was in my mid-20s and thought it was my mates mucking about. I looked inside and outside the flat to see where they were. It felt really scary, because the voices were saying stuff like, "Right, you're having it" and, "We'll get you in the end."
Over the next four days, the voices taunted me more and more, and I became depressed and paranoid. I had a strong desire to be with my family - I had no money, but I got back to my mum and dad's house in Stockport by hitchhiking and dodging fares. The train journey was particularly harrowing: the voices convinced me everyone was talking about me.
My family were brilliant. My mum used to care for my auntie, who had mental health issues, so she had some insight, and my dad was very patient with me. My visits to the GP were less successful - I was put on antidepressants and, when they didn't work, antipsychotics. They didn't work either, and by now I was regularly hearing three, one laughing in a wicked kind of way, the other two using abusive and threatening language.
The voices got me down so much that I started self-harming. I wound up getting sectioned several times. I was put on heavy medication and encouraged to spend my days playing games with the other patients - anything to distract the voices. Each time, I'd come out being a fantastic Scrabble or blackjack player, but none the wiser about the voices.
Ten years ago, at 29, I was told I had paranoid schizophrenia. Friends - well, people I thought were friends - immediately associated the diagnosis with knife-wielding murderers. A lot of them stopped having anything to do with me. I realised I'd been given a label that comes with a huge stigma and a prescription of potent, but in my case useless, medication.
I remained keen to find out about innovative treatments, and finally, at a mental health seminar, I heard a speaker talk about an approach advocated by growing numbers of mental health professionals that involves people engaging with the voices inside their head. He was from the Hearing Voices Network and I agreed to visit him. He said I should be frank and uncompromising with the voices. If they told me to self-harm, I should just say no. "If anyone else told you to put your finger in the fire, you wouldn't, so why act on what they say?" he said. He added that if I wanted to know why they were there, I should ask them, and if I wanted them to go away, I should tell them. It was so simple, but it made so much sense.
I took his advice, questioning them, challenging them and even cutting them off if I didn't have time to talk to them. I'd say things like, "I'm watching TV now, I'll talk to you later" or "Why exactly do you think I deserve it when bad things happen to me? You can't answer that, can you?" Sometimes I'd do it in my head; other times out loud. I began to recognise the voices as representing the negative feelings I had about myself, and that alone helped me feel less frightened of them. It's not that they aren't real, but they ceased to have the power over me they did. I began to realise they couldn't carry out their threats.
Now they bother me a lot less and, when they do, I'm in control of the conversations. I'll still talk out loud to them if I feel like it, even if I'm on the bus or in the street. I get some funny looks, but I don't mind.
Recently another voice appeared, but this one is positive and happy, sounding like me as a young teenager. He's mischievous, but funny, and I quite enjoy chatting with him.
I'm off medication now and have been discharged from mental health services. I've got my own place and have a girlfriend, and I train nurses and mental health staff in helping others to engage with their voices. The fact that I can speak with genuine understanding means I usually have a captive audience. I also work with people who hear voices, getting them to understand the benefits of talking back.
I've learned that my voices themselves are not a problem. It's my relationship with them that's important. Facing them and working with them has changed my life and made me feel optimistic about it instead of scared.

In Touch With the Dead and With Life

New York Times, 16/04/2009

Full story here

“I’m afraid of mankind; I’m not afraid of dead folks,” confessed Concetta Bertoldi, a 55-year-old Jersey-born psychic and medium who makes a snappy living (check out the snow-white customized Audi and the devilish red Porsche Boxster in her garage) siphoning messages from the dead, whose observations don’t alarm her, to the living, whose behaviors often leave her cold.....

..... She told her parents the voices were terrifying her; her father told her that until she was ready to deal with the dead and the affirmations they wished to convey to those they had left behind, all she really needed to do was command them to, in the name of God, go away. So she did, and they obliged.

“At that stage of my life I wanted to date guys, not talk to dead guys,” she said. She barricaded her unusual ability (“I call it an ability, not a gift; gift sounds too pompous”) in a closet in her mind for more than a decade and, outwardly at least, led a normal life as a receptionist.....

.... Ms. Bertoldi came out about her tête-à-têtes with the dead a decade ago. When she told her husband she wanted to quit her day job and start using her ability “to help other people gain peace and comfort,” she said he was, at first, skeptical but not unsupportive. “Everybody has a right to believe whatever they want about mediums and psychics; I think of it like cable TV,” she said. “If you don’t like the program, don’t watch.”

CASL launches petition calling for the abolition of Schizophrenia Label

The Campaign for the Abolition of the Schizophrenia Label is petitioning the UK Prime Minister - calling for the abolition of the diagnosis of schizophrenia on the grounds that it is outdated, unscientific and stigmatising, presenting as a barrier to effective and appropriate care/support to the individuals diagnosed with this label. If you live in the UK or are a UK citizen click here to sign the petition.

There is also an International Petition calling for the abolition of the schizophrenia label, you can sign it here

Find more about the Campaign for the Abolition of the Schizophrenia Label visit their site here

See article by Marius Romme about why he thinks the SZ label should be abolished here

World Hearing Voices Congress

Book your place now

17th & 18th September 2009 to be held in in Maastricht, Holland.

Booking details and provisional programme now available here you can help publicise the congress by downloading and displaying our flyer here

For the first time we are bringing together experts by experience (voice hearers) – alongside a multidisciplinary group of workers - from the Netherlands, United Kingdom, Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Germany, Italy, Australia, New Zealand and the United States who together will present experiences, research findings and results from practice.

Our World Congress will provide evidence to support the growing recognition that it is essential for voice hearers to understanding their own experience -and - why it is important for voice hearers to accept their voices, as part of themselves, in order to learn to cope with them. Further, we will explore why it is essential for professionals to acknowledge the value of the experience in order to assist and support people who hear voices and/or experience psychosis.
Join us at our ground breaking congress and participate in the sharing of experiences, practice and research with over 70 presenters.

Reserve a place at the conference
To reserve a place at the conference, for information about the venue and about staying in Maastricht, email Gina Habets here.

We would also like to ask your help to raise funds for the Congress. All sponsors will be acknowledged in our promotional material and conference programmes. If you or your organisation would be willing to help by becoming a sponsor please see the sponsorship letter here