The voices in my head | Eleanor Longden | Summary and Q&A

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August 8, 2013
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TED
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The voices in my head | Eleanor Longden

TL;DR

This content explores the personal journey of a woman who experienced voice-hearing and her recovery through the support of others.

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Questions & Answers

Q: What was the speaker's initial experience like when she left home for university?

The speaker's initial experience when she left home for university was filled with hope and optimism. She had done well in school, and her expectations were high. She embraced the student life of lectures, parties, and even traffic cone theft.

Q: What was the speaker's true emotional state underneath her well-crafted persona?

Underneath the speaker's well-crafted and convincing persona, she was deeply unhappy, insecure, and fundamentally frightened. She had a fear of other people, the future, failure, and felt an emptiness within her.

Q: How did the speaker's perception of the voice change over time?

Initially, the speaker found the voice to be neutral, impassive, and even strangely companionate and reassuring. However, as the speaker's fear and resistance towards the voice intensified, the number of voices increased and grew progressively hostile and menacing.

Q: How did the speaker learn to interpret and cope with the voices?

The speaker learned to separate the metaphorical meaning behind the voices from a literal truth. She deconstructed the messages behind the words and tried to understand the emotions they represented. She set boundaries for the voices and tried to establish communication and collaboration with them.

Q: How did the speaker's understanding of her voices change over time?

The speaker realized that each voice was closely related to different aspects of herself and carried overwhelming emotions that she had never processed or resolved. She learned to show compassion and care towards even the most hostile and aggressive voices, as they represented the parts of herself that had been hurt most profoundly.

Q: How did the speaker ultimately overcome her struggles and achieve academic success?

The speaker eventually gathered her shattered self and withdrew from medication. She returned to psychiatry, this time from the other side. Through patience, understanding, and self-compassion, she graduated with the highest degree in psychology the university had ever given. She worked in mental health services, spoke at conferences, and published academic articles, all while continuing to listen to her voices and live with peace and respect.

Q: What is the message and goal of the Hearing Voices Movement?

The Hearing Voices Movement seeks to understand and respect voice-hearing experiences. It supports individuals who hear voices and values them as full citizens. The movement promotes dignity, solidarity, and empowerment for those in mental distress, working towards a society that recognizes the meaningful experiences of voice hearing and provides support and understanding.

Summary

In this talk, the speaker shares her personal journey of living with voices in her head. She describes how she initially appeared to be a typical university student, but was actually deeply unhappy and fearful. She recounts the moment when the voices began, narrating her every action, and how they gradually became more hostile and menacing. She discusses the stigma and mistreatment she faced from medical professionals, the impact it had on her mental health, and her desperate attempts to escape the torment. She then shifts gears to talk about the people who helped her, the realization that her voices were a response to trauma, and the process of learning to coexist and find meaning in them. She shares her accomplishments after her recovery, her involvement in the Hearing Voices Movement, and the importance of empathy, solidarity, and empowerment in supporting individuals in mental distress.

Questions & Answers

Q: What was the speaker's initial experience like when she left home for university?

The speaker describes her initial experience as a bright day filled with hope and optimism. Despite feeling deeply unhappy and insecure underneath, she appeared to be a confident and energetic student.

Q: When did the voices start and how did they affect the speaker?

The voices started when the speaker was leaving a seminar. They began by calmly narrating her actions in the third person. Initially, the voices were neutral and even comforting, but as time went on, they became more hostile and menacing. They dictated increasingly extreme tasks and caused the speaker to harm herself and others.

Q: How did the speaker's friends and medical professionals react to her sharing about the voices?

When the speaker told her friend about the voices, she was met with horror and fear. This fear was infectious and the voices no longer seemed benign. Medical professionals, particularly a psychiatrist, took a grim view of the voices and interpreted everything the speaker said as a sign of insanity, further reinforcing the stigmatization she faced.

Q: How did the speaker begin to find a different perspective on her voices?

The speaker started to separate the metaphorical meaning behind the voices from their literal truth. She learned to deconstruct the messages and identify the emotions they represented. For example, she interpreted voices warning her not to leave the house as a reflection of her own fear and insecurity in the world. She set boundaries, interacted with the voices assertively yet respectfully, and established a slow process of communication and collaboration with them.

Q: What realization helped the speaker understand her voices and begin her recovery?

The speaker realized that each voice represented an aspect of herself and carried overwhelming emotions related to unresolved trauma and experiences such as sexual abuse, anger, shame, guilt, and low self-worth. This understanding allowed her to show compassion and care towards even the most hostile voices, recognizing that they represented the parts of herself that had been hurt most profoundly.

Q: What were some of the achievements the speaker accomplished after her recovery?

After her recovery, the speaker attained a high degree in psychology and worked in mental health services. She spoke at conferences, published book chapters and academic articles, and advocated for the importance of understanding the experiences of individuals with voices. She became involved in the Hearing Voices Movement and embraced a society that respects and supports individuals who hear voices.

Q: What is the Hearing Voices Movement and what is its mission?

The Hearing Voices Movement is an international initiative that views voice hearing as a survival strategy, a sane reaction to insane circumstances. It aims to promote dignity, solidarity, and empowerment for individuals in mental distress. The movement has established hearing voices networks in multiple countries, working together to create a new language and practice of hope that believes in the power of the individual to heal.

Q: How does the speaker emphasize the importance of empathy and support in mental health?

The speaker highlights that facilitating the healing process for someone is a great honor and privilege. She encourages society to bear witness, reach out a hand, and share the burden of someone's suffering. She also emphasizes that survivors of distress and adversity don't have to be defined by their past experiences and that what lies within them can never be truly taken away.

Takeaways

The speaker's journey sheds light on the experiences of individuals living with voices in their heads and the challenges they face. It emphasizes the importance of empathy, fellowship, justice, and respect in supporting those in mental distress. The Hearing Voices Movement offers a new perspective that reframes voice hearing as a meaningful response to trauma. The speaker's story demonstrates that healing and empowerment are possible through understanding, compassion, and collaboration.

Summary & Key Takeaways

  • The speaker experienced mental health issues while in university, including hearing voices that narrated their actions.

  • They were initially misunderstood and misdiagnosed by medical professionals, leading to further deterioration of their mental health.

  • Eventually, they found a supportive network and learned to understand and live peacefully with their voices, ultimately becoming an advocate for others in similar situations.

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