NOTEBOOK: Describe the Voices
I call them voices, but most of the time they are “just” persuasive noise in my head. They are urgings. They are football stadiums full of furious supporters screaming at a guy with a ball, trying to encourage him to either kick a goal, or to make him fumble the kick. Sometimes the screaming is about jinxing him; sometimes it’s about encouragement.
Sometimes it’s my mum, right in my ear, saying, “are you sure that’s a good idea?” And on those occasions, whatever it is probably is not a good idea.
I have over the past month or so had a hell of a bad time with the voices. It’s the major reason I haven’t been here much. It’s the major reason that when I have been here the thing most on my mind has been trying to figure out why I haven’t been here. Why I’ve been so silent.
Well, I can tell you why.
I’ve been scared.
I have these noises in my head. These anxieties. It’s a lot like having a group of friends whose every instinct is to hold you back from everything good that might come along for you, and that might lift you up and away from them. These clowns who surround you want to keep you down with them. They are bad for you. They mean you harm. They are holding you back. They want to keep the old gang together, the old gang from high school, or the block, or the hood, or whatever. You and they go way back. But you are or have outgrown them. You’re going places.
The voices mean you harm, and they will fight you.
Or, rather, they will seem to fight you. They will get right up in your face. They will invade your space. You will smell their breath. You will know what they just ate. You will hear their pulse. You will be so close you could kiss them.
These voices of mine had a real problem with me. They still have a real problem with me and they are up in my face as I write this. I am tempted to wear a string of garlic cloves around my neck to ward them off. My voices have a serious problem with me writing and talking about myself and all my stuff. My mental health stuff, my weight-loss stuff. All my endless stuff. The way I just never, ever, ever shut up about it all. It’s me me me 24/7.
And the thing is, they have a point. I am acutely conscious that I have been and continue to do exactly this. I’ve been talking and writing about all this stuff very intensively for a long, long time now. Anybody would be sick to death of it. Honestly, there are times when I am sick of it, the endless Bedford Show. Look at Me, Look at Me, check out Freak Show Under Glass, the Shameless Monster who just won’t shut up!
Yes, I get it. I started out with the simple intention of demystifying mental illness. I would write about the experience of treatment, show what it was like, what it felt like, the nuts and bolts, all the paraphernalia, the feelings, the whole ball of wax. And the whole thing kind of grew in the telling, and grew and grew. The more I wrote, the more I wrote—the more I could write. I got an actual book out of it.
And not long after that book got its first rejection, the voices in my head came out of hiding. They’d all been pretty quiet—unnaturally quiet, too quiet, and they hit me in what felt like a huge pile-on. One day the weather in my head was fine and clear. Nothing much going on. I felt okay. But the very next day, it was mental winter. It was a mental thunderstorm, and there was me caught in it without even the sort of hopeless umbrella that blows inside out at the first serious squall of cold wind.
The voices were on the attack. It served me right. They didn’t say this in so many words. It wasn’t like someone standing in front of me speaking to me, or someone on the phone. It was more like that football crowd erupting with furious delight because a hated player failed to score a goal. Yelling and screaming. People up on their feet, their arms up, waving banners and scarves, the atmosphere both electric and poisonous with hate. It was like that, but inside me.
They were glad I failed.
I tried to get going on the rewrites for the book. An extremely kind and generous friend offered to help me out. I made a start. But the noise, the noise.
Meanwhile, I’m still working hard on my weight-loss project. It’s going extremely well. It’s in its final stages. It’s so close, in fact, after such a long and arduous journey, that it’s affecting my mind. It’s stirring things up. It’s bringing stress and depression all of its own. And, meanwhile, it’s also filling my head with the urge to write about it, possibly at book-length. I could imagine writing about weight-loss, the closing stages of the project, and the struggle to keep it off, and the way it, the project these past five years, has in many ways, destroyed my mind, messed with my relationship with food and eating, distorted all kinds of things. I feel like a dreadful wreck. I will not, when I reach the destination in about eight weeks from now, be arriving in triumph. I will be like those marathon runners who stagger and hobble into the arena, barely able to move, their shoes full of blood, who have to be helped across the line.
The voices HATE this idea. More bollocks about yourself? More confessional writing? More me me me? More conceitedness, narcissism, self-involvement? More wanking off with an iPad? Have I, at last, no shame?
Can’t I just, you know, give it a rest?
It’s just, the idea struck. That’s it. I’m in the middle of the weight-loss. It’s in its closing stages. It’s on my mind. I can write about it. That’s all.
But the voices, they hate it so much! They hate it the way Gollum hates Frodo. They hate it, and they hate me, even though they are me. They are an expression of me, or part of me, of that part of me I’ve been dragging around like a prisoner’s ball and chain since bullied boyhood. Every resentment, every torment, every hatred, it’s all there in that iron ball, and in those voices. They don’t want me to succeed. They want me to be a stain on the couch, the way I used to be, before I went to hospital last year. They want me mentally ill, depressed, unable to cope or function, unable to write, unable to do a damn thing. Unable to break out of that old group, the guys from the old neighbourhood who don’t want me to succeed.
The thing about the voices is this: they can be loud, and they can be extremely intimate and persuasive. They can appear to you as your mum, your wife, or even as your own self. They can make the nest, most reasonable argument in the world, or the most terrifying, ball-shrinking threats. They can make you unable to speak on your own website. They can fill you with silence. They can make you believe nobody wants to hear from you. It’s eerie, how you end up believing all this stuff.
But the key thing is this: they can’t touch you. For all that they can get intimately close to you, they can’t actually touch you. All they have is words and special effects. They’re nothing. They can make you believe that bad things will happen if you do or don’t do the thing, but it’s all bluff. It’s just noise, a Ghost Train ride at the carnival, and when you go back in with all the lights on you see what a shabby lie it all was.
My voices are compelling, convincing, but they’re all talk. The thing is, though, their talk is so good, so powerful, that it conceals that fact. When they convey the impression that I’d better not write, that people are fed up, that they’re too polite to tell me to my face, but really, dude, give it a rest, just stop. The time has past. Get yourself a hobby. When the voices are telling me this, and making me feel so inhibited, so inward. When I open Ulysses (which, ironically, I’m supposed to be beta-testing!), look at the interface, feel all tense and conflicted and anxious, and put it all away again, it’s weird. It feels like I have all these people on my shoulder, telling me to step away from the writing app. Nobody needs to hear what you’ve got to say, dude. Your time is over. Move on.
This is what the voices are like. They are nothing, but that nothing can drive you to take your own life. My voices have never been like that (thankfully), but I understand how they might. I understand how it might happen, and seem like the most reasonable, sensible idea in the world. That it would seem like you would be doing the people in your life a favour, helping them. Relieving them of a terrible burden. I understand this.
My voices, the noise in my head, takes the thing I do best, the thing I am best at, and makes me believe everyone I know wants me to stop doing it because they are all fed up with me doing it. That they are sick of my writing, and wish I would stop talking about my life and issues. This is my own mind telling me this.
My own mind telling me right now, “Sure, but it could still be true, regardless.”
Wanting to punch my mind.