I hear voices. I don’t say it often, but I do. There are voices and characters who I can see and hear that you can’t. It’s sometimes scary, sometimes comforting but it is always isolating and confusing. I’ve not properly met anyone who experiences hallucinations before. Not knowingly and certainly not for a sit-down chat about how on earth they survive this thing.
When I was referred to the local support group for voice hearers I was intensely nervous. Hovering in the hallway of a dingy community centre that smelt like a mixture of damp and table polish a man approached us. He was in his seventies and walked with a stick. “You’ve got the wrong place love. This is bingo.” Sure enough the main hall appeared to be filled with elderly folk dabbing bingo sheets. After a while of trying locked doors a woman appeared and ushered us into one of the rooms with an air of secrecy. There were models of ships on every side board and the room looked like we had accidentally stumbled onto the set of ‘Dad’s Army’. The woman’s name was *Rosa and she was a CPN. She told me in hushed tones that this week it seemed I was the only attendant of the support group. Trying to swiftly move on but jarring slightly she added: “Voices. What’s going on with those then?”. What a conversation starter.
The next week I was really hoping to meet a voice hearer but after half an hour of waiting it looked increasingly unlikely. After several phone calls to the team’s office it seemed that not even an organiser was going to turn up this week.
For the next two weeks it was just myself and not one, but two organisers. *Dana, was also a nurse with a degree in voice hearing (something that I didn’t know existed). She accompanied Rosa and seemed equally friendly. As they eagerly told me that there had been ‘as many as’ five people in the group in the past; I began to wonder if they experienced hallucinations and delusions themselves. Yet another week passed and in the absence of real life voice hearers they gave me names of ones to research like Eleanor Longden and Ron Coleman. They assured me that I wasn’t alone. This was really hard to believe given that I was the only member to turn up for the support group four weeks running. They encouraged me to go to an official Hearing Voices Network group in the next city to continue my search for real life people.
I was so nervous. This time I was almost guaranteed to meet a voice hearer in the flesh. Nervous anticipation had built up in my chest. This group was reportedly very well attended and had been for several years. I didn’t know what to expect. Do other voice hearers scream and shout like they do in films? As the car stopped outside I prayed there would be no screaming or wailing. When I took a seat in the circle of chairs facing the centre I realised the obvious: the people opposite me were just people and they hear voices. Like me.
The meeting started and I was FULL of questions to ask. “Does anyone else find that distraction technique can be really exhausting? Do other people’s voices get angry if you talk about coping strategies? Am I weird for not wanting to become compassionate with my hallucinations?”. Yes, yes and no.
It felt so good to meet real life people, some managing to work regular jobs and many having been in hospital like I have. Men and women, young and old. I learned that every week the group was facilitated by a rotation of psychologists and they followed rules to ensure the group was a safe place for all. I really enjoyed the group, though, as predicted, the residents of my head were angry that I went. They hate being spoken negatively about.
I hope I can go again, I just need to stop my head talking me out of it. As the lone member of my local support group I feel obliged to keep going. 1:1 care, let alone 2:1 care, is hard to come by in the NHS and as they are funded until December I may as well soak up the support. Plus if someone else does show up, at least I will be there!