Today I have a special treat for you. An amazing TED talk:
The Voices in My Head by Eleanor Longden
First, I want to clarify–I understand that schizophrenia and DID are different disorders. But I could really relate to what Eleanor said.
I love this video because Eleanor, who is now a psychologist, shares ideas about mental illness that really resonate with me. Also her message is one of hope–hope about our ability to overcome even something as debilitating as mental illness.
One of my favorite parts is when she says she remembers everyone who has hurt her, but more importantly she remembers those who helped her–helped her by empowering her to save herself. Then she says something else that really resonated with me because I feel the same is true of DID–
“My voices were a meaningful response to traumatic life events, particularly childhood events, and as such were not my enemies but a source of insights into solvable emotional problems.”
People with DID sometimes hear voices as well. Our voices (or alters) can also be menacing and direct us to self-harm as Eleanor experienced. I don’t usually hear voices, but there was one memorable time that I did.
I was sitting in church, and I had a sudden urge, a very powerful urge to cut myself–elbow to wrist–long and deep. I had never self-harmed before and had no idea why I suddenly had such strong craving to do it. A battle began in my mind. Part of me thinking of the pocket knife I had outside in the car and wondering if it would be sharp enough. Another part of me resisting and crying out, “But why? That would hurt.” Then I heard the voice.
“Because you need to be punished.”
That scared me deeply. I started sobbing and immediately got up and left the chapel, horrified. To further complicate matters, in my church (I’m Mormon), we believe that the Holy Ghost can speak to you in a voice. I knew this wasn’t the Holy Ghost. But I had no idea what it WAS.
Looking back, I realize that as Eleanor said it was a source of insight. I think the voice was my own recreation of a similar voice that I heard as a child. Punishment and cruelty was the only form of attention I received from this person that I desperately wanted to love me, so I understood that as love. When I was hurting and needing love, my mind reached into the past and recreated that for me. Understanding helped me to begin to heal that wound.
I have a growing concern about treating mental disorders and illness with medication only. I’m not against medication, but I worry about people receiving medication without also receiving therapy. It sort of reminds me of the old children’s joke.
Patient: Doctor, it hurts when I hit my head like this.
Doctor: Then stop hitting your head.
Taking medication, without ALSO going to therapy seems like taking an aspirin for pain while someone is still hitting you. I have talked to friends who have used a combination of therapy and medication and found it very helpful. So my concern is not with the medication, but the assumption that things like anxiety, depression (even schizophrenia) are simply biological. Anxiety seems to be a genetic problem in my family, which leads me to think perhaps there is a biological tendency for certain disorders, but I still think that therapy along with medication would be the best option.
I’m not a medical expert of any sort so my opinion is just that my opinion. But Eleanor Longden has experienced both sides. She has experienced mental illness and she is now a psychologist. That gives her ideas particular weight for me.
If you are interested in further reading on this subject, check out the TED blog where you will find some recommended reading.
Eleanor mentioned InterVoice and Hearing Voices. You can learn more about that at Hearing Voices Network
Finally, I’d like to thank fellow blogger mm172001 for sharing this TED talk. That is how I discovered it.
Thanks to Eleanor Longden and all who share their story in order to help others. Together we can heal.
- Eleanor Longden, ‘The Voices in My Head’ (hearingthevoice.org)
- The voices in my head: Eleanor Longden’s ‘psychic civil war’ (theguardian.com)
- Everything you ever wanted to know about voice hearing (but were too afraid to ask) (ted.com)
- The voices in my head: Eleanor Longden’s ‘psychic civil war’… (thisfragiletent.com)
- Living with Voices Inside Your Head (blogs.scientificamerican.com)