Last night’s Horizon – Why did I go mad? – was more refreshing than a Boxing Day Dip in the North Sea. You brace yourself for the cold, but you come out feeling warmed up and energised. The after effects of watching are still with me. Why? Because it allowed us to see value in, and make sense of, our fears and mental health symptoms. An approach that’s as rare as hen’s teeth (and, sadly, my hens eggs!).
I haven’t experienced auditory hallucinations (or hearing voices). Psychotic symptoms are something I can barely imagine. But the Horizon scene in the dark forest that allowed our minds to conjure up different versions of what was really there was incredibly powerful. Scary stuff.
But what if you can find peace with your fears and voices? Jacqui Dillon certainly did. It was as though Jacqui, and another inspiring contributor, Rachel Waddingham had been through relationship therapy with their voices. They’re certainly less frightening these days and, as Jacqui said, they actually remind her to pack her lunch.
Isn’t it interesting seeing a different perspective on voice hearing. The very idea of which has made many of us, not least the person experiencing it, incredibly uneasy and scared. But in Jacqui’s case, they were transforming themselves into a benefit, rather than a disability.
I was chatting to a colleague at work today about this. We were both blown away by it. My colleague said that she found the idea of mental ‘illness’ difficult. Because does it always have to be that way.
We debated how the external environment could impact this. How different ways of working, or learning, or where you live, could totally transform your relationship with your symptoms.
I have anxiety. Sometimes, I am terrified, panicked. Everything is black and full of dread. But I am also convinced that this anxiety plays a part in my tenacity, my ability to stand up for myself and my often sky high energy (Diet Coke, I must admit, also plays a part).
Sit me in a quiet office working on mathematical problems, and I imagine my natural adrenaline could morph into panic. Give me a noisy, fast-paced communications environment with endless banter – and my adrenaline is channelled into positive energy and productivity.
Another colleague I spoke to struggled with depression. She couldn’t stand a noisy environment. It had a bad impact on her depression and made her symptoms worse. But in a quiet environment, she thrived.
We are all different. And perhaps treating everyone the same and expecting them to respond in the same way is just like sticking square pegs in round holes. We don’t all fit into traditional environments or working practices. And those of us that don’t are not less valuable, we just need a slight adjustment to suit our make up and personality.
So it is an ‘illness’. Or is it just about understanding our different needs. And with regards to those different needs, making peace with our fears, concerns, and, in the case of the Horizon programme, voices.
My friend once described me as ‘like a spaniel – one full fat coke away from licking someone’. It still makes me laugh. And I am quite attached to that description. And the one my counsellor gave me when she compared me to a meerkat – always on the lookout for danger. There are pros and cons to these attributes (certainly licking anyone other than my husband would be a step too far) but if I understand them and channel them in the right way, rather than hating them and wishing they’d disappear altogether, they can help me in so many ways.
That is what I found so inspiring. Jacqui and Rachel weren’t looking to completely eradicate their voices and fears with medication. They were looking to understand them, see them in a different light and learn to live more harmoniously with them.
Imagine a day when we are able to openly chat about the wonderful things somebody with psychosis has seen, or the positive affirmations their voices have given them. I appreciate that’s not going to 100% transform psychotic symptoms into some kind of Nirvana, but it’s got to be a positive new step.