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'Voice hearers like myself were once written off - we're due our own revolution and civil rights movement'

“I urge everyone reading this article to rethink ever using the s-word to describe someone again.”

Michelle Dalton

Michelle Dalton is a contributor to Schizophrenia: The Voices in My Head which airs on RTE 2 at 10pm on 19 September.

I WANT TO start off this article by clarifying that even though I am involved in a documentary with the word “schizophrenia” in the title, that is not how I perceive myself or my experience.

I am not nor have I ever been a schizophrenic, I don’t believe anyone is.

The term schizophrenia only benefits the psychiatric and pharmaceutical companies and serves as a weapon and a blanket term which suffocates and destroys a person’s identity, their human rights and autonomy over their own minds, bodies, lives and personal stories. As we have seen in our past language can have a profoundly destructive and damaging power.

There was a time where the n-word and the f-word where used very openly to describe black and gay people. Now society demonises the use of these derogatory terms thanks to movements like the civil rights movement and equality campaigns. So, I hope the word schizophrenia is next on that list of socially unaccepted words or the s-word as I like to call it. As once you are branded the s-word it leaves you vulnerable to abuse, lack of job prospects, dehumanisation, discrimination, displacement, institutionalisation, poverty, isolation etc.

Sound familiar? Voice hearers like myself that were once written off as an s-word are now due our own revolution and civil rights movement and we are doing this through the profoundly important movement that is run by voice hearers called Intervoice: The International Hearing Voices Movement which has networks all around the world including Ireland.

So, it is a mission of mine where us voice hearers can march down the street, have our own voice hearing pride parade and be celebrated, accepted and loved instead of being feared and neglected.

I urge everyone reading this article to rethink ever using the s-word to describe someone again and help in the campaign to abolish this prehistoric, harmful and unscientific term.

My voices

I know there are a lot of people out there who hear voices who wish they would go away but I don’t.

However, I believe that most healing approach is not to wish them gone but to develop a relationship with them because you are essentially building a relationship with yourself.

Your voices are messengers that are echoing difficult life events in your past and are literally giving those painful traumatic experiences a voice as many people who hear voices are survivors of traumatic experiences such as sexual, emotional or physical abuse.

I see my voices even the darker, painful and more frightening ones as a gift.

There is a beautiful Mary Oliver quote that I can resonate with on this point

Someone I loved once gave me a box full of darkness. It took me years to understand that this too, was a gift.

I have heard many voices and throughout my life over one hundred of them. They are female, male and vary in age. I also have a voice which I refer to as “Mozart” this voice comes in the form of music, where I have been woken up by full blown orchestrated music playing all around me.

I have also have had the voices of dead artists communicate with me, like Camille Claudel and Janis Joplin. As the phenomenon of hearing voices is a spiritual experience but western civilisations medicalise it but in African and other cultures Voice Hearers are perceived as healers, shamans and are connected to other worlds.

Also, I am grateful for my musical voices as they were responsible for me finding some of my musical heroes such as P!nk, Pj Harvey, Garbage and Tori Amos where they can play their music in my head, like an internal cd player.

Unfortunately, I cannot describe all my voices here but my earliest memory of hearing my first voice occurred as a child when I was 3.

A voice in a child’s voice and who I call Serephine spoke to me while I was in my back yard and told me:

You’re going to be a great artist, do you want to go and get your sketchbook and go painting?

This voice is still with me today and is present every day and she is one of my most dominant voices.

I am 28 now and work as a professional artist as ever since that day she came into my life I have dedicated myself entirely to being an artist.

Many people say to me, “Michelle, you are a gifted artist.” But this isn’t true as being talented at art doesn’t arrive in the post one day it takes labour, passion and dedication to craft.

The truth is that voice was the gift and art was the message.

Today, I live well with my voices and have no contact with the psychiatric services and took myself off all medication nearly six years ago, which was the right decision for me as I found the medical model damaging and re-traumatising.

My recovery started by accepting that all these voices are parts of me and there is nothing wrong with that and I wouldn’t live without them now.

28-year-old Michelle Dalton is an artist living in Cork city. 

Advice and Misconceptions: 

Mental Health Ireland says:

“Most people with schizophrenia are prescribed drugs to reduce the positive symptoms. The drugs may be prescribed for long periods and may have unpleasant side effects. Some people need a great deal of help in managing the symptoms of schizophrenia. Others find ways to cope with experiences such as hearing voices and do not necessarily wish to receive any treatment.

“People with schizophrenia are not usually dangerous to other people; they are more at risk of harm from others, or themselves.

“Sensational stories in the media tend to present people with schizophrenia as dangerous, even though most people diagnosed with schizophrenia don’t commit violent crimes. Another misconception is that people who hear voices are dangerous, but actually voices are more likely to suggest that you harm yourself than someone else and people have a choice in whether they do what the voices say.”

Helplines: 

  • Shine Ireland phil@shine.ie
  • Samaritans 116 123 or email jo@samaritans.org
  • Aware 1800 80 48 48 (depression, anxiety)
  • Pieta House 1800 247 247 or email mary@pieta.ie (suicide, self-harm)
  • Teen-Line Ireland 1800 833 634 (for ages 13 to 19)
  • Childline 1800 66 66 66 (for under 18s)

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About the author:

Michelle Dalton

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