During the pandemic we have all learnt that things that we have taken for granted, those game nights round a friends house or a nice meal in a restaurant with someone we love, should not be. We should cherish the time we can spend with people, and be happy that there are others out there that look forward to our company.
For me long periods of isolation have been the norm for the majority of my adult life, but this has not always been my choice. I have a condition called schizoaffective disorder. This is a type of schizophrenia that comes with a mood disorder. In other words, in my case,I experience enough symptoms to meet the criteria for schizophrenia and bipolar 1.
“Coming out” to people about this results in questions, pity, concern, or worst of all, fear. It is argued in Blossom’s article that those who hear voices have mentally dealt with the pandemic better than those who do not. For us, the subset of voice hearers which require medical attention can present significant psychological distress, everything is a crisis all the time. We are used to seeing the world end before our eyes, thinking that horrible things will happen to our loved ones, whispered into our ear sometimes by what can only be called pure malice.
Not all voices cause distress and I have three distinct groups I categorize my voices in: good, neutral and bad. The majority of my voices are neutral, and act in the same way you might carpool. We all want to go to the same destination, and have similar values, but one or two may disagree on the route, and there is that one that insists we stop for the restroom every 5 miles.
The good really are something I can only explain as caring and calm. They are non judgemental and have an unconditional platonic love for me. The bad are the ones most of the public are more familiar with, the stereotypical voices that cause pain and anguish. To summarise, I feel my voices fit into groups, with the majority of them being neutral, much like people are in real life.
The main difference between me and other people is this happens in one body. I want to make clear that schizophrenia is different to Dissociative Identity Disorder, previously known as Multiple Personality Disorder, as schizophrenics do not “switch.” We can be in states where the voices are highly suggestible, and we can have episodes of low to none lucidity, but we are the one driving at any given time.
For me, like many, lockdown caused social isolation overnight. I was doing well, in my 2nd year of a computer science degree, and even though I was 30, it looked like I was finally within grasp of “a normal life”. My main coping strategy at the time was surrounding myself with other people, challenging myself to keep up or do better academically. When people are alone they tend to think more, as your mind is not preoccupied with the conversation at hand. I had never learnt to be with my voices and experience them for what they were, part of me, and the poor psychological state I was in became obvious. There were deep seated parts of my past that still haunted me, and the voices would play on them, make demands or build upon them. So I argue my temporary suspension of education was a result of unresolved issues made worse by voices rather than the voices themselves.
Now, with a lot of therapy and hard work, my past no longer is something to cause such a high level of distress, and in doing so the voices themselves have become less distressed. I do not blame them for the way they spoke or acted, as we are all irrational when we are hurting, and I feel I am not only becoming healthier for them, but with each day I can look at myself and say. “I’m worth it. We are worth it.”
Naomi, they/them, UK