Just before my last hospitalization for hypomanic bipolar disorder with psychotic features, I heard a voice inside my head telling me to kill myself. This was my first experience with auditory hallucinations. Everything about the voice - pitch, tone, intensity, volume- spoke of violence and aggression, like something from a horror movie. “He” was so persistent that I made superficial cuts on both my inner forearms with a shaving razor to make him shut up. Afterwards, he more quietly responded, “Brownie points for effort.”
Around this time, I had also seen shadowy man standing in my kitchen in front of the stove; a ghost ship sailing through my living room; a terrifying scarecrow in a burlap mask and dark clothing who was actually a pile of sheets and blankets on my bed but still somehow oozed with ill intent; and a glassy-looking, clear, three-dimensional raven flying through my windshield and settling atop my steering wheel while I was easing onto the freeway. As you can possibly guess from my taste in visual hallucinations, I’m a fan of horror films and Edgar Allan Poe.
Based on terrifying dreams and traumatic waking sensory experiences, a nurse practitioner, my therapist, and I had begun to believe I may have experienced childhood sexual abuse. A very strong masculine smell accompanied these waking nightmares, and I didn’t recognize it as bearing any similarity to any of the partners I’d had as an adult.
When the nightmares and visual delusions finally stopped, another auditory hallucination took over. Initially the new male voice was very comforting. We had extensive “conversations” in my mind, and I told him about all my fears and my known and suspected experiences with abusive behavior. My nurse practitioner had even suggested talking to the voices might help me process my trauma. There was an erotic or romantic tone to some of our conversations. Eventually he convinced me that he was actually our downstairs neighbor, and he even named himself.
We grew closer until a female voice popped up, yelling at me, telling me she was his girlfriend, and that I had no right to try to steal him away from her. She said the whole situation was my fault because he was drunk when we first started talking.
Now, they tease and insult me, calling me names, disrespecting my spiritual beliefs. I feel like I have invisible hands touching me throughout the day, attempting to arouse me against my will and verbally mocking me afterwards. Sometimes I feel fingernails drilling into my temples and trying to either pinch my mouth shut or poke into my mouth. Fingers cinch around my wrists and angles, squeezing painfully tight like metal handcuffs. The female voice who calls herself Lisa is the worst. She yells unintelligibly at times or just repeats everything I say aloud or every thought I have, hoping to irritate me. They attempt to control my feelings, thoughts, and actions every single day. And they didn’t want me to submit this article. So I did.
I realize both voices are delusions and that I haven’t done anything wrong. Sometimes knowing that doesn’t feel like enough, though. They’re still with me off and on from nearly the moment I wake up until I fall asleep. Around 9 PM or earlier, “Eric” and “Lisa” get louder and rather agitated, speaking so fast I can barely keep up and cannot easily pay attention to anything else. I take prescribed sleep medication and drink herbal teas to relax but still have trouble quieting my mind. Singing along with my favorite songs while driving seems to keep them at bay sometimes, but I can’t play loud music all night.
Today, however, I received some excellent advice- not to take the recovery process so seriously and to remember to just have fun. The social worker I spoke with also said I might find it easier to recover memories when I wasn’t actively working on it. Like when you can’t recall a word or someone’s name until you’re no longer trying. I’m going to try a new approach to feeling better by not actively focusing on “fixing” myself. I’ll take my medications and attend all my appointments, but I’ll also make time to paint, write a poem, or jot down my thoughts in my journal. I’m also going to the movies with my daughter tonight for the first time in several months.
The voices tell me repeatedly, “Just give up already!” That I won’t do, but I am willing to learn to live under less pressure and to be gentler and more patient with myself. Eventually the voices will disappear, and my mind will be my own again. Until then, it’s just white noise. My own voice is the one that really matters.