Giving Voice to the Void

I read the keynote speech from Karlo Mila-Schaaf that she presented at the Building Bridges Conference in Wellington.

An inspiring story it tells of some of her own experiences , her diagnosis with mental illness and her recovery.

She has kindly allowed us to place it on our website. You can read it by clicking  here.

Here is a little excerpt:

How do you explain why voices are talking to you from under the floor? How do you make sense of dreaming in ways so real that it does not feel like a dream, that you are being burned or hung in front of a large, maddened crowd, in Mala’ekula every night? (Mala’e kula is the Tongan royal burial ground).
How do you explain having the voices of your friends and enemies in your head, saying things louder and clearer than anything else around you? How do you make explain the fact that you can hear the pigs and farmyard animals around your house in Tonga talking to you in ways that you understand?
How do you explain people’s faces contorting and shape-shifting into other things? The Maori psychiatric nurse, for example, who shakes his head and he turns into a ruru, an owl, right in front of you? None of this makes any sense according to anything you have ever known or understood to be true. When you see your grandmother kneeling on a tapa, greeting the sun and you run out of your house to see her, forgetting that she is dead, and wondering, when you run outside and see no one, you’re wondering, what is happening to you?

My sister told me that someone she knew was hearing voices and she didn’t know how to deal with it, or her. What was the best way to react, she asked me. I said to her, “Don’t tell her the voices are not real”. It’s not helpful. It never helped me. The voices were there. I could hear them. Being told that I was delusional was not helpful. It just undermined the truth of my own experience. “Tell her that that sounds very frightening,” I said. “Tell her, that if that was you, you’d be freaked and frightened and that she is being very brave, dealing with this, because it must be impossibly frightening to deal with.” I said to her, “Affirm her bravery and courage and agency in what must be one of the most difficult and frightening experiences she has ever had to confront.”

You know, I can’t think of any worse response to facing this kind of incredibly frightening situation and then being at the height of this vulnerability, the most vulnerable and frightened you will ever be in your life, being slammed with a diagnosis that then cages you and captures you and pins you to the ground, saying thou shalt never move from this spot again, you will never recover from this, and you are now doomed with a diagnosis that you will never escape from, or recover from, go to jail, do not pass go, you will never be normal again.

Because this is what we do to people who experience psychosis, who see things they shouldn’t be seeing and hear things they shouldn’t be hearing. We give them some kind of schizo diagnosis, to separate them out from the rest of us, and we leave them on the other side of that bridge”

To read it in its entirety, please click on the link above.

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