Understanding People Who Hear Voices
There is a Private Struggle Happening All Around Us - We Need to Help Make This Conversation More Comfortable
It took me a while to figure out what topic to focus on, convince myself that putting it all together would be too much, too heavy - and then decide to keep the full story intact, because there is no way to decide what is and is not relevant to whomever ends up receiving this message.
My brother was diagnosed with Epilepsy when he was only 2 years old. I was 7 at the time, and can remember very clearly his having seizures and having to go to doctors often. I was familiar from an early age with the sacrifice and dedication necessary to care for a child with a serious neurological condition. He also had hypothyroidism, a condition he would have to always take daily medication for, and even was a trial member of a hormone treatment for children with slow growth that required daily injections for over a year. He dealt with all of it like a champ. He was an adorable, cheerful, dorky little boy.
Billy was 24 when he died. He was a bright, beautiful soul that was loved by everybody. His life had it’s ups and downs - his seizures had stopped for several years, and when they came back when he was 16, it was very difficult for him to readjust. He was depressed and isolated for many years. He eventually came to terms with his condition, embraced it, and evolved a great deal. He had control of his life - he had a college degree, he even drove and had his seizures managed - they only happened in his sleep. This, again, wasn’t the only condition Billy suffered from, however - he also began to tell us that he was hearing voices when he was 22. In journals we found after his death, it is apparent that he heard them starting at around 16, if not sooner. While auditory hallucinations are prevalent in epilepsy, there is a higher risk of schizophrenia that is inherent in adolescent males. It is difficult to determine the origin of Billy’s voices.
These voices were very angry and degrading. They told Billy he was worthless and a failure and instructed him to end his life. Billy began to obey on one occasion, but gained awareness and control and was able to tell us about it afterwards. He was hospitalized immediately, and went through a treatment program before being released, declared well. 6 months later, after being on top of the world - even falling in love - he suddenly took his own life without warning, without leaving a note. It appears an attack happened in the middle of the night that he could not regain control from.
As I learned more about my brother’s experience through reading his journals, I began to do more research on the pathology of hearing voices. It is now understood that they are manifestation of our own subconscious, and treatment patterns are beginning to explore ways of listening to what they have to say, examining the message through facilitated therapy, and has proven incredibly successful. This has not caught on in the US as much as it has in Europe, Canada and Australia just yet - here, we continue to treat the condition as a disease, using medication to find ways to eliminate the voices entirely. Our culture itself stigmatizes the condition. It is very apparent to me that my brother did not share the full story with me or with his care providers for fear of what we would think, and what might happen to him. Even more challenging is the fact that the voices one hears can have profound control, making it difficult for the person to tell anyone.
My curiosity and search for answers since my brother’s death have led down many paths. We need to understand the importance of mental health treatment for those that suffer from chronic conditions, specifically neurological conditions. Schizophrenia and Epilepsy both have higher incidences of suicide - yet there was no behavioral linkage, and once my brother did have a Psychiatrist, there was no communication with his Neurologist. While my brother was an adult that was in charge of making his own decisions regarding his care, it seems that something in the system failed him.
My brother was the kindest and most gentle person I have ever known, and I believe this was borne out of his desperate need to bring light to the world to contrast the dark that he endured for so much of his life. I hope that spreading awareness of his struggle will help those that hear voices find the strength and courage to accept the challenge of not letting it dominate their life, and for anyone with a chronic condition to find the strength to find that silver lining in each and every day. The lessons learned through adversity are the most important ones there are to learn, and the most important product of these lessons is a soul that is understanding and compassionate. I will continue to strive to have a spirit as pure as my brother’s, and give hope to those in the dark.
The world breaks everyone, and afterward many are strong in the broken places.
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