Roz Oates, a doctoral student in Durham’s Centre for Medical Humanities and Department of Geography, who is also part of the Hearing the Voice research team, continues our ‘two-post special’ on VoiceWalks:
On Saturday 2 August, I gave a talk to the people taking part in the Hearing the Voice VoiceWalks taking place in Tower Hamlets Cemetery as part of the Shuffle Festival. There were five voice-hearers who gave talks on the course of this walk. My talk addressed stigma and voice-hearing, so it was fitting that opposite me was a building that was formerly St Clements mental hospital. I could see the doorway to the hospital through which they used to carry the bodies to bury them in the cemetery.
Each person taking part in the walk had been given a copy of the magazine Voicewalks, that was co-edited by the ‘Hearing the Voice’ research team and Stepaway magazine. I read a short extract from my short story, ‘Behind the Wall’, and then I spoke of how I had not mentioned even to friends for many years that I sometimes heard voices, as I feared their reactions. Entering the mental health system many years later led to a stigmatizing diagnosis, and being given low expectations by mental health professionals, which I found very difficult. I then spoke about how since that time I have struggled with so-called self stigma. I did not make a recovery, until I moved to a different city, when a very helpful psychiatrist suggested that I enter therapy, and this led me to make connections between voices and trauma, and to normalize my voice-hearing experiences. I was then able to reengage with postgraduate academic work and my interests, and I developed a social network again. I mentioned in my talk that a crucial turning point for me was meeting Rachel Waddingham, another voice-hearer on our walk. I met Rachel at the Hearing Voices Groups Facilitators Training Course in 2009 that was run by Camden Mind, and I saw that Rachel functioned well with voices, and had a fulfilling life. This planted the hope that I, too, could recover and work again. I shared that I am now hoping to set up a hearing voices group with another facilitator in the autumn.
It was an inspiring experience to be walking with other voice-hearers, who were carrying banners that had printed on them strong messages, such as ‘We hear voices. Listen to us’.It felt as if we were challenging stigma together, and that this was, in fact, a civil rights issue, given the marginalization, isolation and powerlessness that voice-hearers have historically experienced. The second speaker, Brian, spoke of how psychological therapies are less likely to be offered to black and minority ethnic voice-hearers. Adam, the third speaker, described himself as a ‘24/7 voice-hearer’, and said that he wanted to combat stigma, and to speak for voice-hearers who are less able to challenge prejudice. Finally, there was a co-presentation by Molly, who had unusual experiences as a teenager, and Rachel. Molly thought that it was very important for a young person to share their unusual experiences with someone they trusted. While Rachel stressed that despite now hearing up to thirteen voices, the voices are parts of her, and she would choose to live with them. Rachel now works creatively with young people who are voice-hearers, and encourages them not to be afraid of their voices.
The people participating in the walk asked all five of us voice-hearers interesting questions. There were also informal conversations as we walked together, and people said that they had learnt more about voice-hearing. Some people said that their ideas about voice-hearing had changed in a positive way.
Part 1 of ‘VoiceWalks at the Shuffle Festival’, by Mary Robson, is here.