People are often surprised to learn that I’ve heard voices that others can’t for nearly 25 years. I've heard voices since the age of five and then regularly from aged eight onwards (I’m now 30).
"The experience of hearing voices has also taught me how to be confident and assertive, especially when people are dismissive of or misconstrue my lived experience."
Voice hearing is more common than one might think
People also tend to be perplexed when I say I would not get rid of my voices, even if I could. What few realise that hearing voices that others can’t is more common than one might think; also, that these are not always distressing experiences. Around 8% of young people* have unusual sensory experiences that others don’t: seeing, hearing, feeling, tasting, or smelling things that others cannot. To put that statistic into perspective, around 8% of young people have unusual sensory experiences whilst around 10% of the population are left-handed.
My experience of hearing voices
I hear a wide variety of voices: a mixture of loud and quiet; male, female, and gender-less; sacred and secular; positive and less positive; benign and dangerous. In addition to these voices, I have seen and felt things that others do not. I also identify as multiple (by which I mean I experience life as five totally different people housed within my one body. I call these my parts).
My voices and parts mean that I experience the world in a very different way than many other people. Some of these experiences have been admittedly disconcerting. In 1997, I had an acute feeling that it was my fault that Princess Diana died. I have heard satanic voices booming around a chapel and I often see large spiders moving towards my direction. Yet, I had so many positive experiences as a direct result of hearing voices and living life as parts. I am not entirely clear on how or why I am this way, but I have come to see my voices and parts as things that have greatly shaped my life for the better. They enrich my world view and make me a stronger person than I would otherwise be.
If I had never heard voices, there are some wonderful people – work colleagues, university staff, and NHS therapists – that I would never have encountered at all. These people have been formative in my developing an understanding and acceptance of myself. Two of them taught me a lesson I never thought I’d learn: how to allow myself to love another person. I know I am a better person for having known and loved such wonderful people.
- Other ways of understanding voice-hearing: Psychosis: from seeing snakes to picturing a future
- Other ways of understanding voice-hearing: Living with Dissociative Identity Disorder
Voice-hearing enriches my life
The experience of hearing voices has also taught me how to be confident and assertive, especially when people are dismissive of or misconstrue my lived experience. Experiencing life as parts, meanwhile, has taught me self-compassion, which has me helped nurture an empathetic way of sitting with others amidst the pain, hardship, and loss in their lives. Whilst it may sound ironic, living life through parts actually gives me a much more firm and stable sense of identity than I otherwise would have. I know who I am, what I believe in, and what my values are.
As a Roman Catholic, hearing voices has given me a renewed appreciation for the Christian mystics and saints, e.g. Joan of Arc, as well as characters from the Bible, e.g. Samuel. My own experiences have brought my faith to life – talking to the Virgin Mary and hearing her talk back to me has been profound and incredibly moving.
Ultimately, despite the struggles I have at times, I feel I am a better person and have lived a richer, fuller life than I otherwise would have. I wouldn’t change a thing and am proud of the person I have become, through hearing voices and identifying as multiple. I firmly believe that hearing voices is leading me on to great things.
- See more: Seeking early support for psychosis dramatically reduces chances of being hospitalised
- See more: I need urgent help, I'm feeling suicidal
Shanika has worked on Voice Collective, a project by Mind in Camden to support children and young people who have unusual sensory experiences.