(Animated by Hunter Preston)

In recent years, the conversation regarding inner-monologue (or lack thereof) has garnered quite a lot of attention. Some people experiencing an inner narrative, a flow of words (in their respective native language) reflecting their thoughts back to themselves. Others, thinking in a more abstract way, metaphors, images, concepts, independent from a structured use of language. I’ve always experienced a mixture of the two, obviously thinking conceptually, bypassing the “middleman”, omitting the arduous application of language is far more efficient if you want to think on your feet. But that isn’t to say that there hasn’t been a nigh constant conversation going on in my mind for almost the entirety of my waking life. When I first entered the workforce, after being shouted at for hours at a time, my inner-monologue would often imitate the voice of the person barking orders at me. I had a knack for mimicry, and like a parrot, out of boredom and compulsion, I was often compelled to respond to someone in an impersonation of their own voice. Some found this more amusing than others. But ultimately, I’ve always had some level of control over my thoughts, actions and the words I’ve chosen to say.

But what if that wasn’t the case? If control was lost? Interestingly, for a great many people, the thoughts, the voices that speak in the quiet solitude of their mind, are seemingly foreign to them, a will independent from their own. It’s in these hijackings of the mind, these intrusions of that most sacred part of the human experience that cataclysmic repercussions can unfold. Herbert Mullin, in October of 1972 was told by voices that he had to kill, and offer a “blood sacrifice” to prevent a devastating earthquake in California. Murderer, Christopher Plaskon and serial killers, David Berkowitz (Son of Sam), Anthony Edward Sowell all claimed they heard voices that contributed to their crimes. Many individuals facing prosecution will claim to have heard voices as a means to claiming ‘not guilty by reason of insanity’ to attain a lesser sentence, or escape the death penalty (depending on the laws of the state/country where the crime is on trial).

As of 2017, it’s estimated that there are approximately 20 million individuals worldwide classified as schizophrenic, 75% of which, hear voices at some time during their illness (according to mentalillnesspolicy.org). It’s often said that the voices many people afflicted with schizophrenia hear are angry, erratic and make demands of an urgent nature, compelling an individual to do certain things (but this isn’t always the case). It’s difficult for people who have never experienced an auditory hallucination (or any hallucination for that matter) to grasp, but these whispering, shouting, spoken voices are indistinguishable from actual, audible speech (Schizophrenia can cause hallucinations: visual, auditory, olfactory, gustatory, and tactile. Along with an array of different forms of delusion).

Outside of medically diagnosed conditions, there are certain groups who believe that hearing voices is a relatively natural part of the human condition and far more common than we’re lead to believe:

If you hear voices, see visions or have similar sensory experiences – you’re not alone. The statistics vary, but somewhere between 3 and 10% of the population have experiences like these (increasing to about 75% if you include one off experiences like hearing someone call your name out loud). Despite being relatively common, many people who hear voices, see visions or have similar experiences feel alone. Fear of prejudice, discrimination, and being dismissed as ‘crazy’ can keep people silent. At a time when we are told that it is ‘time to talk’, it is important that anyone courageous enough to speak out is met with respect and empathy. People of all ages and backgrounds can hear voices at some point in their life, for many different reasons. Whilst some are distressed by their experiences, people can – and do – find ways of living with them.


ᵀᴴᴱ STORY ᴏғ ‘AB’

The year 1984 would be unlike any other year of her life, for a woman code named ‘AB’, by forensic psychiatrist, Ikechukwu Obialo Azuonye. A woman in her late thirties, a mother and housewife that had never experienced any notable irregularities in general or mental health. But in the winter of 1984, London, England, while AB was reading, she heard a voice enter her mind that wasn’t her own:

“Please don’t be afraid. I know it must be shocking for you to hear me speaking to you like this, but this is the easiest way I could think of. My friend and I used to work at the Children’s Hospital, Great Ormond Street, and we would like to help you. To help you see that we are sincere, we would like you to check out the following…”

According to Dr. Azuonye’s account, ‘A difficult case: Diagnosis made by hallucinatory voices‘ the voice gave AB three independent claims of information for her to verify that the voice was legitimate and not a conjuration of her own mind. Despite the three claims being accurate, AB immediately sought out psychiatric evaluation.

“I saw her at the psychiatric outpatients clinic, and diagnosed a functional hallucinatory psychosis. I offered general supportive counselling as well as medication with thioridazine. To her great relief, the voices inside her head disappeared after a couple of weeks of treatment, and she went off on holiday. While she was abroad, and still taking the thioridazine, the voices returned. They told her that they wanted her to return to England immediately as there was something wrong with her for which she should have immediate treatment. By this time, she was also having other beliefs of a delusional nature.”

—Dr. Ikechukwu Obialo Azuonye, 1997

Upon returning to London, AB was instructed yet again by the voice(s) to go to an address, that turned out to be the computerized tomography department of a large London hospital. Once she arrived at the location, the voice(s) told her she needed a brain scan immediately. Warning AB that not only did she have a tumour in her brain, but her brain stem was inflamed. Through Dr. Azuonye an appointment for a scan was requested, to confront AB’s delusions and put her mind at ease. Initially the request for the scan was denied, but after some negotiations an appointment was made in April of 1984.

“The initial findings led to a repeat scan,with enhancement, in May, revealing a left posterior frontal parafalcine mass, which extended through the falx [cerebri] to the right side. It had all the appearances of ameningioma.”

—Dr. Ikechukwu Obialo Azuonye, 1997

It was soon decided, by AB, her husband, and several medical professionals that an immediate operation was the best recourse of action, according to AB, the voice(s) agreed with this decision also.

“These were the notes of the operation, carried out in May 1984: “A large left frontal bone flap extending across the mid line was turned following a bifrontal skin flap incision. Meningioma about 2.5” by 1.5” in size arose from the falx and extended through to the right side. A small area of tumour appeared on the medial surface of the brain. The tumour was dissected out and removed completely along with its origins in the falx.”AB later told me that when she recovered consciousness after the operation the voices told her, “We are pleased to have helped you. Goodbye.” There were no postoperative complications. The dosage of dexamethasone was halved every four days, and then it was stopped. She was on prophylactic anticonvulsants for six months. Antipsychotic medication was discontinued immediately after the operation, and there was no return of the hallucinatory voices or the delusions which she had expressed.”

—Dr. Ikechukwu Obialo Azuonye, 1997

It’s said that AB never heard the voice(s) ever again, they never intervened with further health complications. It was never learned why they decided to contact her, who or what ‘they’ were. Naturally, the case has been highly criticized as a hoax, a coincidence, psychosomatic. Some suggesting that AB may have mentally projected her own warnings to herself, somehow subconsciously aware that something was wrong in her brain, dull aches, etc.

For a moment, just considering that some foreign voice(s) by some unknown means infiltrated someone’s mind and potentially did save a life, why would they choose to do so? Were they spirits? Were they once living humans, existing in some strange state? Were they beings of a different origin altogether? Or is it possible that AB’s ‘guardian angels’ were not only human, but very much alive. Would the strangest turn events of all, be that there are certain individuals among us, though indistinguishable from you or I, who wander carelessly through our minds, sifting through our secrets? They see things that remain unknown to most. For the most part, someone with this ability might be unscrupulous, preying on those they can with cruelty and creating chaos, motivated by destruction and self gain. But some few, would rather help you if they could.

Like a voice calling out from a car wreckage, that leads emergency services to discovering a 1 year old girl that had been unnoticed for 14 hours. Jennifer Groesbeck, the driver of the vehicle believed to have died on impact when the car landed upside down into the river. But after over half a day, dangling above freezing cold water that sent emergency service workers to the hospital with hypothermia, a voice was heard by three police officers and two firemen. A voice that led to Lily Groesbeck’s rescue.

‘Help me, we’re in here.’

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