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Hearing Voices

It can be very hard to get through to people that bipolar is a serious disability. In fact bipolar can make someone totally unable to function and it can kill.

I don’t tell a lot of people I’m bipolar, but when I do I often mention that I hear voices, which I did when my antipsychotics weren’t working. Voices are one of those symptoms that are easy for people to latch onto as belonging to a bona fide mental illness. Otherwise people usually respond to a description of bipolar with “oh everybody does that!” (oh how I wish I could tell people the whole truth!).

I would never make the mistake of equating my symptoms with those of someone suffering from schizophrenia. I do not know how my experiences with voices compare with that. Here, however is what it’s like for me.

Around the time I was 16 I began to hear a roomful of people whenever the real world was quiet. It was especially noticeable at night when I had insomnia and everything was quiet. There were dozens of conversations going on and I couldn’t quite make out any of them.

I never thought anything odd about hearing these voices and I never told anybody about them (except my pdoc, years later).

When I was in my 20s god would occasionally talk to me. He used a special language where one word meant several paragraphs, so I only ever heard a few words (maybe two). One time I when I was driving to Montréal god told me to look for hidden messages in license plates.

Just last fall my anti-psychotic med stopped working and for the first time I heard voices calling my name. It was very inconvenient because I never knew if someone really wanted me or if it was a hallucination. I even hallucinated the voices of my dogs.

I’ve never been bothered or frightened by these voices. When I hear them it seems perfectly natural. The same is true for the visual hallucinations. Sometimes I see people who aren’t there (just for a second or two). Other times I see what look like black scarves floating in the air. Some other members of my family think they see ghosts, and that really bothers them, but I’ve never been distressed by my hallucinations.

As I said, I can’t tell people most of the non-trivial symptoms of bipolar to make them understand that it is a serious, life threatening illness. Telling them I hear voices is a relatively harmless symptom (for me, at least) that nevertheless helps them understand the serious nature of the disease and that it is not simply something “everyone does”.

By the way, if you’re wondering what it is I can’t tell people, if you’re bipolar, you know there are things that you just don’t want to share with people. If you’re not bipolar, look at the previous post about there being times (without my meds) when I’m essentially a psychopath. The only reason I can share that fact is because I’m basically anonymous in this blog. I don’t want people who actually know me to know that this is what could be going on inside my head. Likewise, before I had meds I used to hurt myself in awful ways. I don’t want people who know me to know that either.

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Categories: bipolar, symptoms
  1. June 13, 2011 at 1:23 pm

    Thanks for sharing this. I have definitely felt, on and off of medications, some scary symptoms that have caused me to expose my own stigmas (e.g., me, hear voices? No way! I’m not like that!) when, in fact, I might be. This post has made me feel like I’m not alone and might well motivate me to share some symptoms with my doctor that I haven’t disclosed yet.

    • June 14, 2011 at 10:23 pm

      I’m glad I’m could be of some use. That’s why I write. I don’t think that we should be ashamed of being bipolar, or its symptoms, any more than we should be ashamed of any illness. But we sure as heck should be proud of every tiny victory. We should shout it from the rooftops. I guess I can be open about things like hearing voices because I have conquered them.
      Still, the way I look at it is that I want to be well, and I need my doctor’s help to do that. My doctor can’t help if he doesn’t know what’s going on, so as ashamed as I might be of some things (despite what I said above), I have to tell him everything. Knowing what is wrong is crucial to getting the right meds.
      You’re definitely not alone, by the way, whatever your symptoms. It seems to me that bipolar people collectively suffer from just about every conceivable mental-health symptom (just not all at once). When I was sick, no symptom seemed impossible. There literally seemed to be no limits as to what could happen to me.

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