• The Understanding

Invisible Difference and You


Outline drawing of face with chalk on chalkboard with yellow rectangle wooden boxes inside the brain

Coronavirus symptoms can look like a common cold, and things like anxiety, depression, or chronic pain are easily hidden. These are examples of invisible things that can be directly harmful. There are also invisible things that are fine on their own, where the harm comes from other people’s perceptions and prejudices toward those invisible things. Things like being LGBT, having a mental illness, and being left-handed are or have been subjects of prejudice.


To illustrate this, I feel that one need only look at the case of Eleanor Longden. Eleanor was in college when she began hearing a voice. The voice didn’t do anything harmful, just narrate her day. Eleanor found that it would sometimes speak in a tone which reflected whatever emotion Eleanor was trying to ignore in herself.


But when she told her friend about the voice, the friend treated it as a problem. From there, Eleanor went from doctor to doctor and was eventually diagnosed with schizophrenia, which that doctor implied was harder to cure than cancer. Several more voices had shown up by this point, and the situation became so bad that she tried to drill a hole in her head to get the voices out. Her then-current psychiatrist gave her a pamphlet from the Hearing Voices Network, and she followed the Network’s advice to work with the voices and treat them as coping mechanisms for (in her case, childhood) trauma rather than as symptoms of illness.


If one thinks of the bad times full of negative voices as a war between Eleanor and the voices, the Hearing Voices Network pamphlet convinced Eleanor to engage her voices in peace talks. The voices went back to not being harmful. More than that, one of them even helped during one of Eleanor’s exams by dictating answers (which were correct) and getting the other voices to be quiet during the exam, and another voice acted as cheerleader and prompter during a TED talk!


The bottom line, as it’s relevant to this post, is that Eleanor Longden’s psychic voice(s) became a scary thing only after being treated as such, first by her friend, then by a series of doctors, then by Eleanor herself. The problem was with the stigma around hearing voices, a stigma which gets internalized by Eleanor and many others like her, not with the phenomenon itself.


This isn’t to discount the idea that hearing voices can be negative in and of itself, though. If you’re hearing negative voices and you and your doctor feel like the Hearing Voices Network can help, you can find a list of their chapters here.


In these times of isolation, please reach out and check up on your loved ones. Even if they turn out to not have anxiety, chronic pain, or another invisible illness, they’ll still appreciate the fact that someone asked. It’ll make them feel good, it’ll make you feel good, and you don’t have to risk giving/getting the virus. And if your brain conjures a voice, don’t jump to demonizing it.

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