While desperately searching for people my age who hear voices I stumbled across Hearing the Voice. Hearing the Voice is a large interdisciplinary study of voice-hearing, led by a team of researchers at Durham University.
It just happened that in browsing the site I found that they had been running workshops to create artwork for an exhibition called “Hearing Voices: suffering, inspiration, and the everyday” at Durham University. They were wanting to create two cases for the exhibition- one of young people’s experiences of voice hearing and vision seeing and another of what young people would like others to know about these experiences. All of this portrayed through the artwork of young voice hearers themselves.
So to Leeds I went. The two co-ordinators were lovely, they were Mary Robson (a creative facilitator) and Rai Waddington (who has experience of voice hearing). The atmosphere at the workshops was light and it was wonderful to connect with other young people who had had similar experiences to me. It was these workshops that built further my belief that arts can be transformative for people with mental health problems, and I believe it fiercely to this day. Watching how myself and the other young people opened up, laughed and joked about such deep and dark subjects while our hands were busy working made me realise what a relief art can bring.
In November 2016 ‘Hearing Voices: Suffering, Inspiration and the Everyday’ came to life at Palace Green, Durham University. The exhibition was bright and vibrant with tons of information on voice hearing, with artwork and videos. There was even a simulation where through the use of 3D sound, you could hear mutterings as if they were in your own head. I wish I could carry the simulation with me to show people how hard hearing voices can be at times! The underlying message of the exhibition was that voice hearing is a human experience to be expected, a quirk of human consciousness and, quite often, a perfectly valid response to trauma.
I contributed the below pieces to the exhibition. The first ‘Inside her Mind’ is a representation of how inside our heads all sorts of mayhem can be going on and others may never realise. It also represents how I feel at times hearing voices, there is so much in your head that it feels like it will explode. The second and third pieces are representative of trauma that caused my own voice hearing. The first is based on hope, including the Groucho Marx quote: “Blessed are the cracked, for they let in the light”. The final piece is more personal representing my connection to my voices.
So what was the best bit? For me it must have been seeing the work of young people like myself who struggle so greatly at times alongside original manuscripts of Virginia Woolf and Julian of Norwich who experienced the same. I felt pride to have my work next to creatives like Woolf and Beckett in the first exhibition of its kind on voice hearing. Overwhelming pride for the project and all it encompasses for people who hear voices. Maybe, just maybe, alongside the horrific pain the experience of hearing voices can cause, there is a vibrance, passion and creative flare that can be harnessed for healing or simply getting by.
The exhibition was displayed on the 5th of November 2016 to the the 26th of February 2017 at Palace Green Library, Durham University. A smaller version of the exhibition including mine and the other young people’s artwork has been displayed at the 2017 World Hearing Voices Congress, Boston, USA (16-18 August 2017), 2018 World Hearing Voices Congress, The Hague, Netherlands (12-14 September 2018) and the 2018 Edinburgh International Book Festival (18-20 August 2018).