Hearing Voices

Posted: January 2, 2014 by S. Trevor Swenson in Me & Mine
Tags: , , , , , , ,
High Ang . . . ZIETY

High Ang . . . ZIETY

Years ago, I went to see my first psychiatrist regarding an unacceptable level of anxiety in my life. I had been having panic attacks with more and more frequency, and it was starting to affect the overall quality of my life. “Panic Attack” or “Anxiety Attack” are the common parlance, although I prefer the terminology from my grandmother’s time, “Having fits or spells”. One simply can’t go to a modern MD with a case of “The Fits” anymore. It does sound better when I’m in the midst of having one and someone asks what’s wrong, why am I hyperventilating and twitching…I just stammer. “Don’t mind me; I’m just having one of my spells.”

My path to psychiatry began with a tiny boo-boo under my index fingers nail. I didn’t think it was a big deal. It was painful and being located on a very popular digit, it made life awkward…but it wasn’t oozing puss or smelling of eau de gangrene.  Upon seeing the boo-boo, my co-worker and friend Matthew told me I should see a doctor. He’d experienced a similar injury before, and it had turned septic and nasty. Plus going to the doctor was a good way for me to skip out of an uneventful day at work. At the time, I actually had a real job with medical insurance and paid time off, so I left work early and went to see a very nice doctor about said boo boo. He gave me a couple of owchie shots in the finger which wasn’t one of life’s great treats, clipped the nail, drained the wound and bandaged me up. Then he wrote me a prescription for enough pain killers to keep the Mexican Coast guard high for a month. As I said, I liked this doctor, which is rare for me. I don’t generally like doctors, nurses, hospitals and medical procedures regardless of how minor they might be. I read an article once which stated simply and beautifully …”Why don’t people like doctors?” “Well, in addition to keeping you waiting around for hours in waiting rooms and in your underwear on butcher paper, they can be smug, do painful things to you, and finally they have a unique ability to deliver VERY bad news.” Like many patients, I pulled a “While I’m here doc…” as our visit was coming to an end and I confided in him that I was having panic attacks. He listened to me, asked me a few questions and then he prescribed a medication instructing me to follow up in a couple weeks and let him know if it had helped.

The medication worked on the panic attacks, but gave me vivid and disturbing dreams. I was getting cranky at work after waking up suddenly from dreams of being chased by lobsters dressed like Liberace singing “Who’s making love you your old lady?” So, when I followed up with the nice GP, he suggested I see a psychiatrist that he knew who would be better suited for medications and problems of my sort. So I made an appointment with Dr. Yakov Greenstein (How cliché is that name? Was Dr. Inkblot McFreud already taken?)

Dr. G was a nice enough man, albeit a caricature of a psychiatrist….Tweed Jacket, beard, glasses, yarmulke, mandatory Van Gogh prints adorning his office walls…

Now, it is S.O.P for a psychiatrist to ask new patients a series of questions; A psychiatric evaluation of sorts.

“Have you thought about hurting other people?”
You mean besides telemarketers and people selling religion door to door? No.

“Have you thought about hurting yourself?”
Um, does a chest waxing and a Brazilian count?

And finally..:

“Are you hearing voices?”

I thought I had given the correct answers on questions one and two, but on question three, I couldn’t help myself. Poor impulse control and trying to be funny have gotten me in trouble before. I smiled my best Cheshire-Cat grin and replied… “Yes, I hear voices, but they only tell me to do ‘good things’.” Dr. G looked at me with a totally blank expression before making a small note in my file. One would think that psychiatrists and proctologists would have better senses of humor. Guess not.

Because of changing insurance companies and networks, I have had to see 3 different psychiatrists over the years, and have luckily found a medication that helps with my anxiety. Every single Shrinky-Dink has asked me the same line of questions, and fortunately I have learned to curb my wise-assery until they got to know me, and my ummm unique sense of humor first. But today while walking around Midtown Manhattan, something dawned on me.

We all hear voices. At least I’m hoping we all do, and that I’m not all alone here. According to my best friend I am a “Special Little Snowflake”, but I certainly don’t want to be the only person not living in a puzzle factory who hears voices.

How many times have we heard the expression “I can just hear so-and-so-saying such-and-such?” Well, friends…that’s hearing voices. Ever stopped someone short from lecturing or bawling you out with a raised hand of capitulation and an “I know..I know…” That’s because we know what they’re thinking and what they’re going to say. We already heard their voice. My mother died a year and a half ago, and I have cried a million tears and know there are a million more to come…but I can still hear her voice…clear as day saying “Nice boy” when I do something, well… nice…and I can still hear her disapproving of me, lecturing me, her laughter and what she’d say to our many private little jokes. I hope I never stop hearing my mother’s voice. Besides some photographs, her extensive Rubber Ducky collection and my memories, it’s all I have left.

Before you tear up at this picture of poignancy…I also have far too many Norman Bates moments.

Mom’s Voice: “Well it’s no wonder you can’t find your keys in that pig sty you’re living in.”
Me: “Not now Ma…”

Mom’s Voice: “I’m just saying that you feel better when you clean your room, now you’re going to be late for work.”
Me: “Ma, seriously…not helping.”

Mom’s Voice: “Just look at this place, socks everywhere…underwear…I hope you don’t have any girls over with your apartment looking like that. Did I raise you to be such a slob?”
Me: “Shut Up, Shut Up SHUT UP!!!!”

Now I may be a fool, but I am not such a fool as to ignore the fact that there are people out there who hear voices that plague them with very bad and destructive advice. I once met an outpatient schizophrenic while walking on the beach in Florida. She was a young black girl who came up to me while I was out for my walk, and just started a conversation. I think she was a little lonely. She almost immediately confided in me that she was taking medication because she had been hearing voices. I talked with her for a little while. I wasn’t scared of her, even though schizophrenics can be dangerous. She seemed more sad than anything, and lonely too as I have said.

I still think about that girl from time to time. I hope she’s OK. OK, like me…hearing voices that only tell her to do good things.

I was glad the girl was on a medication that was helping her. The quality of mental health care isn’t always up to snuff here in the Land of the Free and the Home of the Whopper. I wonder if anyone has ever said: “The meds seem to be working doctor. I still hear voices, but now they speak Spanish and I only understand every third word.”

My dear friend Pamela J is a psych nurse. I’m blessed with lots of close friends who have interesting jobs. Pam the psych nurse, Fred the Marine to name two, and I enjoy talking to them about their jobs. For further research I decided to call and ask Pamela J about hearing voices and how serious, common and or benign it was. “Well, do you argue with the voices and more importantly, how often do they win the arguments?” One of the Pamela’s duties is to do “intakes” for psych patients who are similar to a psychiatrist’s evaluation without the tweed jacket and Van Gogh prints. She’s an incredibly patient and kind-hearted person, while at the same time having an extremely astute BS meter and low BS threshold. The first part of this equation would explain our lengthy friendship. As for the BS, my only guess is that my particular variety of BS doesn’t step on her dress as much as others. I can imagine she’s quite good at her job, although she has confided in me on a few occasions that she felt the psych gig has diminished the skill set she learned in nursing school. She’d rather be working with Doctors Without Borders or such agencies as she’s quite adventurous. Instead, she has to tell drug addicts 5 or 6 times an hour “No, you get your methadone at 6pm…not 5:35” followed by “No, you get your methadone at 6pm…not 5:40. No, blah, blah blah 5:45, blah blah 5:50, and blah 5:55”. You get the idea. I often tease Pamela that I plan to take a vacation at one of the facilities where she is employed. She counters with gleefully administering Thorazine as well as shock treatments, and that a cruise to the Bahamas might be a better choice for me.

Pamela has given me some great first hand insight into various psychiatric conditions. “The only ones I don’t like are the borderlines.” (Borderline Personality Disorder) Pamela, like many in her profession has developed a healthy detachment. She works hard, tries to help, but doesn’t beat herself up over those she can’t. She once told me something interesting that I never knew about paranoid schizophrenics…that they often naturally get in touch or perhaps more accurately, come back in touch with reality after a certain amount of time has passed. Maybe the voices they hear stop, or they realize the voices are self-manufactured. I hope my voices don’t abandon me completely.

I’d get lonely.

  1. Ralph Tyler says:

    Dear S. Trevor

    This is a wonderful blog. You have your clever one-liners as usual, but have added much human warmth, your vulnerabilities, your love for your mother who becomes a vivid person, your revelation that all of us, not just the schizophrenics, hear voices that tell s something. Yours told you to write something good–and you did.


    R. Winfred Tyler

  2. I really like what you guys tend to be up too.
    This sort of clever work and exposure! Keep up
    the excellent works guys I’ve included you guys to my blogroll.

  3. babedarla says:

    My Mom died many, many years ago, 1992 I think, of a brain tumor, which I’ve always thought was a fitting way to go for a dramatic personality such as herself. She didn’t go however, before giving me one of my own favorite Norman Bates moments. Yes, she was still alive, but, after we found out about the tumor (a few months later) the incident became almost charming in it’s ridiculous humor.
    I was a single Mother of a five year old. I was also working my ass off as a Set Decorator in the film biz. I also had just had the flu for two weeks and gone immediately onto a film set for a two month stint. My mom was coming to pick up my son to watch him while I worked. I’d been on the job about a week, and, as I said, i was sicker than a dog before that, so, while the living room was semi-neat, the kitchen was a wreck, dishes in the sink, cans of soup and juice bottles overflowing the trash can, not to mention empty frozen food containers…Before I put my key in the door I said to my mom “Okay, remember, I was sick with a fever and went straight to the set after that, so my house isn’t what I’d like it to be, so please, please, PLEASE don’t go in the kitchen.” silly me! where’s the first place she went? Why, the kitchen, of course! she went off, all about how I should be ashamed, but the kicker was, the part that now, years after the fact is so funny: she turned to me and said “No WONDER you don’t have an M-A-N” (yes, she spelled it out!) “if you keep house like this.”
    Do you think our mom’s were related?

    As usual, great post, Trevor!

  4. babedarla says:

    P.S. I guess I can thank the spammer-with-the-bad sentence structure and lack-of- command-of-the-English-language who’s advertising fat burning products, for cluing me into this post.
    Thanks, fat-burner-scammer!

  5. […] run the risk of hurting the feelings of one of the little voices in my head. Can’t have that. I wrote about this once before…Well, sort […]

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