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19 Secrets of People Who 'Hear Voices'

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Contrary to what many think, “hearing voices,” or experiencing auditory hallucinations, can mean many different things — and not everyone who hears voices or other sounds has schizophrenia. In fact, while the percentage of people who have schizophrenia is close to 1 percent, one survey of 31,000 people found that about 2.5 percent of the population has experienced an auditory hallucination. While hallucinations can be symptoms of conditions like bipolar disorder and postpartum psychosis, traumatic life experiences are considered to be among the most significant triggers of auditory hallucinations.

Even though talking about mental health has become less taboo, people who hear voices still face unfair stigma and discrimination — often based on stigmatizing media portrayals or news reports. That’s why we wanted to ask people in our mental health community who’ve lived with auditory hallucinations to tell us one thing they wish others understood about their experience.

Here’s what they shared with us:

1. “I have no control over them. These voices have different personalities and are mostly very destructive. They destroy my self-esteem and every positive thing I believe in. Sometimes I just shout ‘shut up’ repeatedly out of nowhere to beg them to stop. Please don’t think I’m crazy and understand I can’t just shut them on and off like a light switch.” — May S.

2. “I haven’t had any for a few years. But I want people to know that while they’re not real to you, they are very real to me. But also that just because I have scary thoughts doesn’t mean I am scary. Also, just being able to talk to someone through it, even when I don’t make any sense and you can’t convince me otherwise, sometimes helps. Because having those thoughts can be completely isolating.” — Becky R.

3. “I wish people would educate themselves, or openly ask me questions if they don’t understand. Please don’t tell me I’m possessed by the devil and ‘joke’ about getting an exorcism… It’s 2017 not the 17th century; my illness isn’t contagious.” — Jane S.

4. “I haven’t had them since I became pregnant with my son. But when I did have them (both visual and auditory), it was scary. When people recognized I was having it happen, they were curious and wanted to hear all about it. They wanted to say how they thought it was an angel or a demon or a ghost. All I wanted was to not think about it and move on, I didn’t want to remain in that scary moment. It may be interesting to them, but it was terrifying to me, don’t make me stay there.” — Desiree N.

5. “It isn’t my imagination. Just because you don’t hear it or understand it doesn’t make it any less real for me. My anxiety, my fear and my sensory overload when the voices get too loud and mix with my surroundings too intensely are all very real feelings that happen to me on a daily basis. I’m on meds for it now, with some improvement, but I would like people to know this.” — Kayleigh O.

6. “I’ve been seeing and hearing voices/people for four years now. I see two main voices (one female and one male) and I also see a child’s voice that only shows in certain situations. I wish people realized that when they say to me, ‘Don’t worry there not real, they’re not going to hurt you,’ it just makes things worse because they are real to me. I can’t escape them, they are always there. They might not be able to physically hurt me, but they cause me a lot of distress which can result [in] self-destructive behaviors. It’s as though I’m in a separate world to everyone else and nobody can reach me to drag me out.” — Jodie A.

7. “I would want people to know I’m not some homicidal like they might see on TV shows. My voices have different personalities and make me spend most of my time hating myself… not others. On a good day, I can be more like you and on a bad day, I’m not in control and just need your understanding.” — Naomi C.

8. “Hearing things doesn’t make me crazy. It’s a symptom of my PTSD. They are flashbacks. I experience them with all my senses, including auditory. This is why flashbacks are so awful. It’s as if I’m being re-traumatized, in this case by the sound of the voice of the person who abused me.” — Monika S.

9. “It is extremely hard to resist them and at times it seems like the only way for them to stop is to listen to them and attempt to hurt myself. Yes, I know I look ‘crazy’ but in the moment I am fighting my demons and that is all I can focus on.” — Michaela L.

10. “I’m not crazy, I know they’re not real. I’m one of the lucky ones in that way, but it scares me. It’s not like I’m best friends with the voices in my head, they’re toxic and only come out at the worst of times, like when I’m most anxious or most depressed. Other people seem to think those who hear voices are scary people who plan and act out on homicidal rampages, which it may be true for some, but most are just like you and me, and to be honest, a lot of those I have met who hear voices or hallucinate in any other way are some of the kindest and most warm hearted people I have ever met. Not everyone lives up to the stereotype and honestly hearing voices doesn’t make you crazy.” — Holly K.

11. “I wish people knew I’m still me, even though it feels like multiple people live inside of me. I struggle to know whether they speak truth or not, but you should know I still love like a human person. I still empathize, I still laugh, I still cry. This particular symptom of depression doesn’t make me crazy, or really necessitate special treatment. I’m not smarter when I don’t hallucinate or ‘dumber’ when I do; I just need you to believe my perceptions feel real, and I need you to help me cope.” — Serena L.

12. “It’s not always the commanding cliché. I have what I call the good, the bad and the strange voices. ‘Bad’ speaks about violence and is angry, ‘Good’ speaks about my talents and encourages me and ‘Strange’ just makes me go wtf at the weirdest times (i.e. Talks about how giraffes fight with their necks while I’m trying to comfort a friend). Long story short, voices are as varied as those of us living with them.” — Jace P.

13. “It’s not something in my head, like my own personal voice; it’s something outside of my head with its own personality, so to speak. I cant control it, but they are managed by medication.” — Julie J.

14. “I don’t hear voices, but I used to have auditory hallucinations of police sirens. I remember once it was so bad it sounded like there were at least five cop cars outside my window, as if they were in my yard and right up to the house. I knew it wasn’t real because I couldn’t see any lights coming in. Eventually I fell asleep and when I woke up it was over. I guess what I would want people to know is that auditory hallucinations aren’t always voices talking to you. I want people to understand that just because you’re not hearing voices, [doesn’t mean] you’re not sick. It was hard for me to notice my own because they were so mundane. It wasn’t until that bad day that I even realized I was having them.” — Kendra S.

15. “I have now come to realize the voices are not real but experiencing them is in fact real. It is difficult to not listen to them and it isn’t something we can just ‘turn off.’ You learn to cope, hopefully find the right support, medication and treatment and continue living life.” — Hollie M.

16. “It makes you unable to trust yourself. You’re being gaslighted by your own brain, and even when it stops, and has stopped for years, you still don’t know if you can trust your ears, your eyes, your touch, your thoughts because what if it’s not true, what if your reality is a mirage? It totally destroyed any confidence I had in myself and my abilities for a long, long time.” — Sissi C.

17. “It can be very scary. It’s not real to you but it is to me. If I open up about it, don’t look at me in disbelief. I’m not asking for attention. I’m asking for help.” — Lexi L.

18. “I’m lucky enough that my auditory hallucinations are usually harmless. Sometimes they are scary, but usually I find them somewhat humorous.” — Zed W.

19. “I wish people knew that just because I hear voices, it doesn’t make me a violent person. I am kind and gentle. If you talk to me you wouldn’t know unless I told you. I wish people would stop judging people who hear voices, stop assuming we are ‘crazy.’ Just treat us like everyone else.” — Lindsey V.

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.

If you need support right now, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255, the Trevor Project at 1-866-488-7386 or text “HOME” to 741-741. Head here for a list of crisis centers around the world.

Originally published: August 29, 2017
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