Does a rose know its own beauty? A bird its own song? Does a river feel its cool stream of water roving on?
Do the mountains know their own height, as they stand proud and tall? When I look in the mirror, do I see myself at all?
Around the sixth grade I casually mentioned to my best friend’s mom that I sometimes heard voices. “You know, hearing voices is a sign of insanity,” she said. I felt so ashamed in that moment. I decided that “insane” was something I didn’t want to be. So, for twenty years I kept my mouth shut about it, until recently.
Over a month ago I had a bad depressive episode . It was really bad: I had thoughts of self-harm, I had thoughts of not wanting to live. But, when I described this episode to my therapist, there was something that I noticed about it that I finally put words to: it wasn’t me that didn’t want to live, I heard a voice telling me not to live. She stopped me for a minute, “had I always heard this voice during other times I felt suicidal?” “Yes,” I said, “every time.” “Is there an image that you associate with this voice?” “Yes,” I said, “a dark, looming sort of figure.” It was then that I realized this was not good.
She asked me more questions, “are there other voices that you hear?” After a brief pause to think, I responded with a “yes” so matter-of-fact I could have responded the same if she asked me if I brushed my teeth. I described the critical voice that I hear, the anxious voice, the voice of rage. I described how every time they surface, it feels out-of-body, like they’re controlling my brain instead of me.
She then proceeded to give me words of what I think were reassurance…something about “there’s nothing to be scared or ashamed of,” but I don’t know exactly what she said because, at that moment, I could feel myself dissociating from the room. I could hear one of the voices in my head speak more loudly than anything my therapist was saying. “Get yourself out of here,” it said, “she’s asking too many questions. You’re not safe here.”
She stopped talking and asked me how I was feeling and I told her about the voice I had just heard. She reassured me she was safe. She walked me through a couple of grounding exercises. Slowly, I became more present in the room and the voice went away. It was time for us to wrap up our session and she gave me more reassuring words. We came up with a safety plan in case that bad voice came back. But, I couldn’t help feeling uneasy. I couldn’t help feeling “insane”.
Throughout the rest of the day, and the next day, I felt everything and I felt nothing. Sadness, shame, anger, despair, shock…with a smattering of numbness. I googled Dissociative Identity Disorder. I wondered what this meant for my life; what another diagnosis added to the list of illnesses I already live with says about me. I couldn’t come up with any answers. I started to feel depressed. The bad voice returned to my head and I followed my safety plan. I told my boyfriend everything (everything I felt too ashamed to tell him the day before). I cried as we walked the dog, and I asked him to stay home with me instead of going to his book club meeting. He said yes and hugged me and let me cry some more. “I’m sorry I’m getting in the way of your life,” I said. “But you’re part of my life,” he said.
We ordered pizza and I worked on the grounding exercises my therapist had taught me. I picked up a knitting project to work on, and my boyfriend sat by my side. We watched “Last Week Tonight” and, slowly, the bad voice went away. I knew it wasn’t gone forever but, at least, it was gone for now.
In the past month the voices have come and gone. There have been very dark times (at my worst) when they speak more loudly than my rational thoughts. With my therapist's help, I've been learning how to tell them to back off and leave me be. And, for the most part, it's been working. And, thanks to the medications I'm on, the voices have been getting quieter and quieter.
I don't know what the voices mean. My therapist and psychiatrist don't seem to know exactly either. No clear diagnosis has been given. We just know that, sometimes, I dissociate. And, sometimes, I hear voices inside of my head that tell me to do bad things or cause me to worry. Right now it's a big question mark, but one that has been getting better. If I'm getting better, maybe a diagnosis is irrelevant or unnecessary. Maybe this is just another part of me that I need to manage carefully. And, maybe, that's okay.