Saturday was a rare sunny day so it was destined to be a garden day. However, before heading out to attack some really vicious brambles overshadowing the bean poles, I caught an interesting feature on BBC Radio 4’s Saturday Live programme. A programme guest, Adam, was talking about his experience of hearing voices. (The 12 minute segment starts at about 39 minutes in).
“I have another person living inside my head," he said. "I’m not just hearing a voice I’m seeing a person..... the Captain of my universe..... He is dressed as a Second World War German U-boat captain. He looks like me. He has a scraggy beard... " Adam went on to describe the implications of living with the Captain inside his head. "He has cost me relationships, he has cost me money, he has cost me so much.... "
Adam was posted with the Royal Artillery in Iraq in 2003 – 4, but described this experience as “a walk in the park” compared to the Post Traumatic Stress Disorder he experienced stemming from the time he was bullied at school. The Captain is not the friendliest companion in the world, as Adam goes on to describe. "It’s definitely a darker side of me.... it isn’t me, but it is me...”
Adam's experience of hearing voices has led to his involvement with the project Hearing the Voice: "an interdisciplinary project led by researchers at Durham University... (which) ... aims to help us better understand the phenomenon of hearing a voice no one else can hear (a phenomenon also referred to as auditory verbal hallucinations) its cognitive-neuroscientific mechanisms, its social, cultural and historical significance, and its therapeutic management."
Those participating in the project talk to one another about what they hear, and work with academics, clinicians, healthcare practitioners, and others with "lived experience" as part of the ongoing research. Adam describes it as "(The Captain's) turn to pay me back." The project website hosts an active blog, newsletters and links to other sources of support, including organisations such as Intervoice and the Hearing Voices Network.
Speaking publicly helps reduce the stigma surrounding voice hearing - "just because someone says horrible things inside my head doesn't mean that I am that person." Yet, if anything, Adam is reluctant to say goodbye to the Captain anyway: “If he was taken away who would I be then? My identity is a voice hearer - that's who I am.” The main thing he wants people to understand is that the voices will "never ever leave you but you can still have a life.... you don’t have to be a constant prisoner to your thoughts. There are people out there who understand and who will accept you."