Saturday, December 27, 2008

Schizophrenia Symptoms: Voices

For me it usually starts with music.

Not the kind you know is only an echo of some recently heard song playing inside your head, something you understand is actually your thoughts repeating the song to yourself, though it may start out that way. No, this music, once it becomes audible, is quite distinct from that; for one thing, I hear the music coming from outside, not inside, my head, as if an invisible radio is playing from within the walls or floor or some place well-hidden. There might even be a DJís commentary in the background, mumbled, indistinct, but adding to the impression that I am listening to an actual radio.

Except that the music is never right; the words or tune are always sinisterly distorted, repetitive and ominous-sounding, so that even the most harmless or delightful of songs soon turns to misery-making.

But it does not end there. Rarely if ever does it harmlessly fizzle, sputtering away into nothing. Instead, it invariably escalates. Occasional bursts of melody become constant and nerve-wracking as songs change and deform and come back to haunt me, or certain phrases may be repeated endlessly, over and over and over, to the point that I want to scream and have to turn on a real stereo as loud as possible just to drown them out.

Then the jumbled, vague DJ commentary turns nasty, as recognizably human voices start calling me the worst names they can think of whatever would be the most hurtful, harmful and insulting. Usually some variation on ìFatso!î or Satan’s spawn! This is not necessarily done at full volume. Very often, I have the sense that what is spoken is done so secretly, the way, on the old gameshow Password, the correct words were whispered to the TV audience, supposedly so the participants couldn’t hear.

For me at any rate, this secret exchange of information always gave me the sense that I alone was being given the answers, which is in fact what I believe they wanted each viewer to feel. But this is often how the voices sound now: as if they are passing along secrets or letting me know something no one else is privy to, even if it is only to insult or deride me. The Password quality of these exchanges is so powerful that I know, or feel I know, that what they tell me must be the truth, a truth given only to me.

While I have heard loud voices and once heard Japanese being spoken in the walls, a Japanese curiously enough that I could completely understand, though I speak not a word of the language, much more often do the voices take on this secretive quality. They may go on and on, but will do so as if careful not to be overheard. Which only adds to my disquiet, as I sense what is in fact true: that no one hears what I hear.

But my understanding is that often they don’t hear it not because it isn’t real, but because the speakers deliberately pitch their voices in such a fashion as to prevent anyone but me hearing them. So naturally people will deny the reality of what I hear. It is meant for me alone; they aren’t supposed to hear it! But I do hear it, I hear something, and after the first few years, when the messages were relatively benign, all I’ve heard has been nasty, abusive or downright dangerous.

There is a part, early on, in the movie LULU ON THE BRIDGE with Mira Sorvino and Harvey Keitel, where Keitel’s character is walking alone at night past a wall where it seems he, or the audience, can hear people mumbling and chattering invisibly. This struck a chord in me, because it wasn’t the movie-loud screaming that many people associate with hearing voices, but rather what is more common for me: the experience of hearing conversations or commentary as if from a room away or from behind some barrier, the apparent distance from the source of the sounds making it seem all the more possible that what I hear is real rather than imaginary.

But what struck me as I watched it, was how similar this was to my experience of hearing real sounds from unreal sources. In my case it is not just memories or fantasy or imagination, or at least it doesn’t feel that way. It feels, it sounds, completely real and reasonable, which is part of the dangerousness of it, because if the sounds are real, if the content of what is said seems reasonable, then shouldn’t I reasonably trust them to tell me the truth and instruct me how to act? If the little dancing red man from the BioHazMat sign seems completely real and credible, both as a being and as an authority, why then should I not obey his dictates or listen when he tells me I must immolate myself and here’s how.

The problem lies in the brain, as Iíve been told innumerable times and as I believe to the best of my ability, but how can I distinguish real human voices or the actual radio from ones that don’t truly exist? It is a conundrum that escapes my solving it every time, because I have no touchstone, no yardstick to measure a human voice or radio DJ against that would reliably tell me which ones are hallucinatory and which are not. The big question becomes, how can you distinguish between the real and the not so real when your brain, which is supposed to do the discriminating, is the one simultaneously creating the confusion?

No comments: