Voices carry

By S.I. ROSENBAUM  |  October 21, 2011

Does the CIA give you any vacation time? Marty might ask him.

It takes a year before she tells them about her own voices.

She calls the worst one a demon, because it wants her dead. It tells her she has always been a defective disappointment; anyone who thinks different just doesn't know her yet. She deserves to die and it would be a blessing to others and it's a matter of time, she should quit dragging it out.

The other group members nod. This is nothing unusual. A lot of them hear voices like that.

In the fall of 2010, Cohen and Hornstein invite some of the UK founders to come hold the first American training session for Hearing Voices facilitators. They decide that Marty and another woman should take the facilitator-training course.

Marty isn't sure she's stable enough to be a facilitator. To be honest, neither are they.

But they convince her to try.

During the session, the trainer looks straight at her. What are your voices like? he asks.

It gobsmacks her. No one has ever just flat-out asked her that before.

***

What does it mean to hear voices?

Marty says:

It's like being separated from a part of yourself.

The voices are keepers of our worries or wants or something stored in us, and when they speak, even if they are generated by us, they are separate from us. I know I have had voices that I call demons — they sounded like demons separate from me. They were full of all the negative thoughts and words stored up in me based on the words and deeds that happened or were said or done to me.

Sometimes some voices seem to be God or a ghost trying to communicate with me.

So I guess, in short, that voices are self-generated but an external representation. However, I would not be surprised if we learned that voices were spiritual creation. I wonder how the body is able to do that.

***

In A History of Psychiatry, Shorter wrote that the biological and psychological perspectives on madness are "polar opposites."

"Either one's depression is due to a biologically influenced imbalance in one's neurotransmitters . . . or it stems from some psychodynamic process in one's unconscious mind," Shorter wrote. "Both cannot be true at the same time."

But in fact, both are true. If Marty takes a dose of Thorazine, it changes the biochemical reality of her brain. But the experience of going to the Hearing Voices group also changes her brain. Over time, it will even make her neurons form new connections, throw out runners, form new structures and pathways.

Drawing a distinction between the mind and the brain is impossible when all of our experiences — our memories and emotions, fears and desires — exist as chemical transactions between billions of neurons, trillions of synapses. As Quincy pediatrician Mark Vonnegut (son of Kurt) wrote about his own experience with madness: "Maybe it was all in my head, but where else is there for anything to be?"

We haven't solved madness. The best that can be said of psychopharmaceuticals is that they help some people, some of the time. And the theory behind the drugs — that they restore some chemical imbalance in the brain — hasn't been borne out by research. We don't know much more about the causes of madness now than we did in the 1940s.

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