“I have heard voices for 40 years, and I’m still here” Nyfed Griffiths

This is the speech Nyfed Griffiths from the Carmarthenshire Hearing Voices Group in West Wales gave at the Young Peoples Hearing Voices Conference held on the 14th April 2015 at St. Peter’s Hall, Carmarthen, Wales

Hearing Voices

I have heard voices for 40 years, and I’m still here.

You don’t have to do what the voices tell you. It’s up to you. You have a choice. You can do what the voices say, or you can not do what the voices say.

Not all voices are bad. I’ll tell you a story – a mother was collecting her teenage son from a psychiatric ward on his discharge. He heard voices.

His mother told him that she heard voices too, but that they were kind, gentle voices – good voices.

Not everyone who hears voices ends up in a mental hospital. That happens usually because the voices are nasty and bad, that people end up in a hospital.

So we need a coping strategy. One coping strategy is that you don’t have to do as the voices say.

And one of the members of our hearing voices group says that the fact that I’ve heard voices for forty years and am still surviving is a comfort.

Perhaps my worst crisis was in 1979, when I was in hospital for six months. Since then I haven’t been back.

I remember a student nurse telling me – “When you go home, don’t come back. You won’t be back again.”, she said.

She was right – I didn’t go back again.

In 1979 I heard the voice of God, and he told me:

Fail not to love every man and every woman, and you will love those you need to love.”

Some people say that hearing voices is a spiritual thing, and part of one’s development as a human being.

Another thing that happened to me in the late 70s, was that I saw a vision of Jesus. He was dressed in white and had a red head band.

A member of some Christian brethren said that the vision meant that Jesus was close to me.

And the way I interpreted the red head band was that I was to suffer with my mind – a red head band, a bleeding mind.

What about our Hearing Voices Group? I started with it over ten years ago.

I saw a poster in Wellfield Road, a resource centre, asking, “Do you hear voices? If so, you are not alone.”

I said to myself, “I hear voices, so maybe I should go along to the group.”

Eventually, I got through to the telephone number on the poster, and went along to a meeting.

It was good to be with other voice hearers. You are not alone!

I think taking the first step sometimes is difficult, but crucial. I went to the hearing voices meeting and that made a difference.

I have been the co-ordinator of the Carmarthenshire hearing voices group for ten years now, and it’s still going.

I’ve had my ups and downs, but I’m still keeping going.

A lady from Swansea phoned me last year. She was thinking of setting up a hearing voices group in Swansea.

She asked for my advice. This is the advice I gave her: “to follow your intuition, and use your experience.”

She later said my advice had helped. She thanked me for it.

Hywel Davies, Chairman of Hearing Voices Cymru, sent me a photocopy of a newspaper article earlier this year, about Rachel Waddingham. I took my time to go through the article, but I found it to be inspiring.

I’ll read some extracts that struck me:

Some voice-hearers speak to their voices, while others use internal dialogue.”

Dr. Marius Romme (a Dutch psychiatrist who was converted to believing in voices as a real manifestation), now 80, and Sandra Escher (a researcher – and Romme’s wife), 69, remain warm, optimistic and almost evangelical in their beliefs, which gave rise to the hearing-voices movement three decades ago. ‘Voices have significance in the lives of voice-hearers and can be used to their benefit,’ Romme says. ‘It’s not a handicap, it’s an extra capacity.’ “

(The words in brackets in the above and below are mine.)

(The hearing-voices movement started with Patsy Hague, a voice-hearer and patient of Romme, saying to him:) “ ‘You believe in a God we never see or hear,’ she said, ‘so why won’t you believe in the voices I really do hear?’ “

Attributing meaning to the voices gave Hage comfort, and Romme encouraged her to speak to other voice-hearers.”

‘We thought that all people who heard voices would become psychiatric patients,’ Escher says. ‘That simply wasn’t true.’ ”

Romme and Escher’s belief that voices are not a symptom of disease but rather a response to troubling experiences – and their treatment method of listening and responding to the voices – remains far outside the mainstream.”

‘I’m sure [Romme and Escher’s] approach can be helpful for some, but I can see some instances where it could be destructive,’ says Russell Margolis, a professor of neurology at Johns Hopkins University in the US. ‘One of my great concerns… is that people can get so wrapped up in their symptoms that they don’t move forward.’ “

(I said:) He may have a point there.

Yet for many, the hearing-voices approach remains an important alternative to the dominant psychiatric model. Waddingham’s voices forced her to confront her past and have helped her push past her pain. She now takes care of the voices that once tormented her. ‘I can feel a lot of what that voice is feeling,’ she says. ‘If I can chill them out and they can feel safe, then I feel safe. Years ago, I would have interpreted these feelings as evidence of me being watched. Now I have a way of making sense of them that gives me some autonomy and control.’ “

Waddingham is now helping others do the same. She runs the Voice Collective, a London-wide project that provides services to young voice-hearers and their parents. In 2010, she began establishing therapy groups inside English prisons, where, according to the Ministry of Justice, 15% of women and 10% of men demonstrate psychotic symptoms but are left to cope on their own. The challenges they face – alone in prison cells – makes Waddingham even more thankful for how far she has come. ‘I feel so privileged,’ she says. ‘I’ve travelled. I’m married. I’ve got cats. And I’ve started my own business. People always say I work too much, and I say: ‘I spent a good decade drugged up with no life. I’m recapturing some of what I’ve lost.’ ‘ “

Some thing else I’d like to read is from the HVN magazine for Spring 2015.

It’s about Shaun Hunt, a voice hearer.

He said, in answer to this question:

Is there anything else you’d like to say?”

If my experiences have taught me one thing it is that we should never lose hope. People believing in me has been a recurrent theme in my recovery and at times when I have lost any hope people have carried it for me, that’s been so important. During that 3-year admission I was fortunate to have the same support worker all the way through. Someone who always had faith in me, even at my lowest ebb she always believed things would get better for me. I didn’t believe her, but she was right and I still think back to her words when things become difficult for me now”:-

Never give up hope, no matter how dark and how

bad things become, there is always a way back.”

All I want to add to this is: “Keep going!”

Thank you.

Nyfed Griffiths

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