Are people who hear voices better equipped for the pandemic? Are we naturals at managing stress, conflict and pain? I assert that we are! And I firmly believe others can benefit from the tools we have learned to deal with all experiences, especially difficult ones, during the onset of hearing voices, or as the medical community calls it, “psychosis.” People who hear voices, can have an upper hand in managing isolation, stress and struggle because dealing with negative voices is not easy. Although, COVID19 has impacted the financial and social needs of all, for us voice-hearers (or people who hear voices; some of us hear multiple voices at one time,) our condition can be worse than having to get vaccinated, wear a mask, self-isolate or stay 6 feet away from others. Are these tasks as difficult as coping with our mental roller-coaster? Nah.
Why am I so confident of our COVID19 Superpowers, you ask? Because we are armed with tools we learned from the Hearing Voices Network (HVN,) and have fearlessly built a new relationship with our voices. Thanks to organizations like the USA HVN Association, we have learned to facilitate HVN groups and experience extraordinary recovery from peers from all ages, walks of life and parts of the world.
A few years ago, a handful of fellow voice-hearers, or people who hear voices, met at a Hearing Voices Network conference in Boston and began a private peer-to-peer Facebook group for people who hear voices, see things others do not see (“hallucinations”), visions, and who experience living in alternative realities.Today we have more than 1K members and sixty percent of them joined at the start of the pandemic in early 2020. We provide each other support and empathy globally, sometimes 24/7, by writing to each other in the group and generously contributing our best self-care tools. We also do this by offering two live tele-meetings a week, on Tuesdays and Thursdays, that can be accessed directly through the Facebook group.
It is important to note not everyone who hears voices has a mental illness. Not everyone has mean voices, and many of us actually find voices helpful and could not bear living without them. Although hearing voices is not common, 3 to 5% of the population hear voices that other people don’t. Hearing voices is a daily experience many have and in many cultures it is accepted without stigma. Just like the rest of humanity surviving this pandemic, our group’s peers are committed to being both healthy and hopeful, to continue to be warriors excelling at unforeseen stress and uncertainty.
Western medical professionals such as psychiatrists and therapists are trained to tell their patients not to engage with their voices or to communicate with them at all. They want us to deny our experience of hearing voices, seeing, smelling or feeling entities others cannot see, despite these experiences being very real to us and our daily reality. Instead, they learn and practice that the goal is to medicate the voices away. This method has not worked for many voice-hearers in our group, for they still hear voices despite medication. Yet others say their meds have helped with their symptoms, either by muting the voice, or completely “getting rid of them.” There is not an absolute way of working with voices because everyone’s biology is different and there is no right medication for anyone. In our group, we discuss our experience with meds openly without pressuring to take or not take psych drugs.
What can you do for someone who hears voices? All you can do is listen. Support the person by assuring them you believe their voices are very real to them, that you believe them when they may say their voices are an alien, a deceased loved one, or Oscar Wilde. Think of these voices as friends they may know in real life, but definitely check out resources and join a supportive community. You are invited to join our private Facebook group for the Loved Ones, Family & Community of People Who Hear Voices.
In conclusion, the COVID19 pandemic is a daily reminder of the need for more mental health resources because there are now so many new people suffering with depression, anxiety or grief. This epidemic has underscored the importance for us to not carry shame about getting mental health assistance if we need it. Tele-therapy and online support systems are helping us daily to feel better in our skins each day. And there is always hope for the path of people who hear voices may be hard, but we continue to thrive as parents, children, workers, students and members of the community.
Nancy, she/her, Florida