Hearing Voices (the exhibition and supporting website) and Hearing the Voice (the interdisciplinary research project which produced the exhibition in collaboration with Palace Green Library) charts the phenomena of voice hearing. The Hearing Voices supporting website (and also at the exhibition) are a detailed and empowering take on an archaic mystery that left me feeling like there’s more to schizophrenia than pills.
Although diagnosed with a psychotic illness, schizo-affective today, I rarely hear voices. I have done in the past, though, but they have always felt a world away from the psychiatric wards on which I’ve spent a little time. For me, the voices I’ve heard have been shared by my mother and have always felt otherworldly, spiritual, like a dream. The idea that these voices are more than just disturbing thoughts for the few is explored in full both at the exhibition at Durham University and on the online portal at hearingvoicesdu.org.
A series of 10-15 minute podcasts, which have a feel of Radio 4 about them, explore voice hearing in every plausible context apart from the gutter press headline-grabbing crime stories in the local paper. Tracing all voices from God speaking to Adam & Eve, to literary greats developing their characters with the added auditory for which novelists are often renowned. All is blended into the study’s plot channelled through predominately academic narrators, with stories from people of the International Voices Movement hemmed into the rich tapestry for good measure.
Many people can find the voices they hear distressing but the spiritual aspect of the study is especially fascinating for me and it’s been helpful locating unusual experiences (less the voices and more the tactile hallucinations) in a holistic context. For instance, I keep a dream journal to help with making the next day’s decisions and for inspiration. I’ve also used the Tarot cards to try and bring new perspectives on tricky problems. And I regularly use Buddhist meditation and Traditional Chinese Medicines for relaxation.
A paper published in Schizophrenia Bulletin this month, looked at the voice hearing experiences of non-help-seeking voice hearers and diagnosed patients with auditory hallucinations. It says that those with negative voices are more prone to a negative reaction or stigma from others and concludes that much can be learned from those hearing voices who don’t have the diagnosis.
[Image courtesy of Rai Waddingham on twitter]
A shift in others’ perspectives on what voice hearing means would be a welcome one. Freelance trainer, consultant, writer, public speaker and trustee for the National Hearing Voices Network, Rai Waddingham, is involved in the Durham exhibition, too. She’s Vice Chair of ISPS UK, Chair of Intervoice and an Executive Committee member of the International Society for Psychological and Social Approaches to Psychosis. From 2007 – 2015 she managed Mind in Camden’s London Hearing Voices & Distressing Beliefs Projects (including Voice Collective youth project and the London Hearing Voices Prisons Project). She also happens to hear voices. Rai, however, today rejects her psychiatric label and considers herself a ‘survivor’. It’s always great to see co-production in action and for this project she facilitated workshops for young voice hearers.
“No one understands if you try to explain … so you just put up with it” Workshop participant
While this online study and exhibition fully acknowledge how terrifying voice hearing and hallucinations can be, it also looks at the lesser-known and more welcomed attributes to the phenomena. Most of the podcast material is mannered, but this is undoubtedly the correct sane and measured response the voice hearer deserves. I don’t want to be afraid of voices or hallucinations, delusional or otherwise. I might have preferred Radio 5 to Radio 4, but what refreshingly different, distinctive and thorough study this is.
- Hearing Voices: suffering, inspiration and the everyday is on show at Durham University’s Palace Green Library until 26 February 2017. Details of the associated events programme are available at www.hearingvoicesdu.org, and information on Durham University’s interdisciplinary voice-hearing research can be found at www.hearingthevoice.org.