An experience of hearing voices and living with other personalities
By Janet Cooper
Key Themes: hearing voices, coping strategy, multiple personality, autobiography, traumas, personal strength
“The Huddle” is a fascinating account of a woman’s struggle to cope with hearing voices. What is it like to hear voices? Where do they come from? What, exactly, are they? Is there a way of getting rid of them? What do they say?
Janet gives a lucid and raw account of her life with “The Huddle”. From the confusion of her teenage years, through marriage, babies, exorcism and rape. She is brutally honest and bravely attempts not to be euphemistic when writing down what the voices say, and are saying to her as she writes.
To say the writing of this book was a struggle is indeed an understatement! You will read about how the voices repeatedly ordered her to destroy her work, how she struggled against the fear of hallucinatory worms squirming up through the typewriter keys. There were beetles, nights of rotting and decay, incredible darkness and yet also glimmers of love and light and hope.
The horrendous counselling and exorcism by The Reverend is contrasted with the professional counselling received from a Consultant Psychiatrist and serves to make “The Huddle” a truly unique account.
About the Author
The author, now in her fifties, has suffered with mental health problems for most of her adult life after starting to hear voices at the age of fourteen. After two short spells in a psychiatric hospital she underwent five years of intensive psychotherapy following a disastrous attempt at exorcism by a Baptist minister.
Following this she went on to graduate with 1st class honours from Cardiff University, and also won a prize for her high exam marks.
She lives in South Wales, and has been married for over thirty years. She has two grown up children, two grandchildren and an elderly cat. No longer able to work, she devotes her time to her many hobbies and to writing.
IN THE BEGINNING
I was fourteen years old when I first started to hear voices in my head. Or was I? Did I hear them before then? Did I have ‘good’ voices that didn’t bother me at all? I don’t know, so I shall write instead that I was fourteen years of age when I first heard a nasty voice inside my head. I remember that day as if it was yesterday – it is still crystal clear to me although obviously not as disturbing as it was twenty five years ago! The nasty voices started in school like this…..
My history teacher had always made it abundantly clear that she didn’t like me and the feeling was certainly mutual. She insisted on calling me always by my surname whilst calling the other lasses in my class by their first names. That wasn’t nice and I not only disliked this woman, I hated her guts, and every history lesson was an utter misery for me. Because of her attitude towards me I would either deliberately make no effort at all in the subject or else go all out to be good at it in the hope of impressing her and getting in her good books. She frequently made me so angry that I would be determined to prove to her that I wasn’t as stupid as she thought I was! I never succeeded. Even a degree in history at the age of fourteen would not have impressed her where I was concerned!
Anyway, on this particular day, a Friday, my class had a history test. ‘Hitler’s Rise to Power.’ I remember that so well, and as I had learned my work thoroughly I was not in the least bit worried about writing my essay. It would be a doddle and I was confident of obtaining a reasonable, if not good, result. I’d show the stupid, ridiculous woman!
It was time for the test to begin. I wrote my name at the top of the first sheet of writing paper, but as I went to begin writing my first sentence I heard someone calling my name. Loudly, suddenly, urgently. A male voice. I was startled and turned quickly to look around the classroom to see who it was and what they wanted, calling out to me like that. Everybody was scribbling away, however, and appeared not to have heard this voice. Was I the only one? How puzzling, and not a little scary! My pulse began to beat a frantic tattoo on my chest wall as I went to put pen to paper again, only to be interrupted.
“Don’t write anything! You can’t write!” This was authoritative and commanding. It went on, even more insistently, “Don’t you dare write one word on that sheet of paper!” And so I didn’t. Every effort I made to begin my essay was greeted by this voice telling me not to write. The words, ‘or else’, seemed to hang in the air, unspoken, but as a very real threat.
I glanced around several times during the thirty minute duration of the test and saw that everyone else was busy writing away, heads bent over desks, oblivious to whoever was yelling at me. Mrs. History Ma’am invigilated, pacing slowly back and forth at the front of the classroom and thankfully not looking over any shoulders to see what was being written! Her eyes were remained fixed on the floor as if she was looking for something she’d dropped. It occurred to me that nobody had heard this voice but me.
Other sounds bombarded my ears and seemed extra loud. The interruptions to the silence of the classroom made by the occasional cough, the dropping of a pen, a fidget, the rustle of paper, a thoughtful sniff….. The room smelled strongly of leather satchels and floor polish. Time ticked on and still I wrote nothing. I was startled, scared and confused. I didn’t know what to do or how to react. So I sat there, bent over my desk, pen in hand, pretending to be busy and hoping nobody would notice I wasn’t writing.
Mrs. History Ma’am was furious when she collected my empty sheets of paper. She was probably secretly delighted as well because she then had a valid excuse to have a go at me and show me up in front of the rest of the class.
She took the sheet of paper bearing only my name and held it out at arm’s length. She then turned it over, peering at it closely, as if she had missed something, opening her eyes wider, scratching her head, looking for the writing that wasn’t there. She was being very dramatic about it and everyone started to laugh. Everyone, that is, except me.
“Bishop? A word if you please! Now either my eyesight needs testing or else you are using a pen with invisible ink!” The laughter increased. “Where, if I may be as bold as to ask, is your answer?” I couldn’t open my mouth, never mind give her a reply. “Well? I’m waiting with great interest Bishop!”
The laughter stopped abruptly as she raised her voice to me and set her face before me, eyes blazing. My then silent classmates sat at their desks, motionless, looking appropriately pained and serious as they waited for the fun to continue.
“Somebody told me not to write anything, Miss.” I eventually managed to say.
Oh! I see! Somebody told you not to write anything, did they? I don’t think I’ve heard that one before!” She paused here for effect. Boy, was she enjoying this, the rotten cow! “And who exactly is this somebody who told you not to write anything? Maybe I should have a word in their ear before they go around telling everyone else not to write anything.”
“I don’t know Miss.” I replied rather pathetically, but truthfully. My voice shook and silent tears rolled down each cheek in an unchecked torrent. Mrs. History Ma’am ignored my watery distress and continued to enjoy herself.
“Well, just you listen to me Miss Bishop! Nobody, but nobody, ever does this in one of my history tests! DO YOU HEAR ME?? How dare you not do the set revision! How dare you! Well, there’s somebody telling you to write something now, Miss Bishop, and that somebody is me, and I am telling you that I want one thousand lines from you by the time this weekend is over. One thousand! Did you hear that? One thousand. ‘I must learn my work for a history test’. One thousand times, and don’t think I won’t be counting them. And heaven help you girl if they are not in my hand on Monday morning! DO YOU UNDERSTAND??”
Sobbing and unable to speak, I nodded my head. It wasn’t my fault! I had done my revision! I knew more about Hitler’s rise to power than flaming Hitler would have known! It wasn’t fair. Gee, I hated that woman!
There had been a horrified, audible gasp from the rest of the class as my punishment was doled out. Fifty lines. One hundred lines. Even two hundred lines. Fine. Okay. But one thousand? Nobody was ever given one thousand lines! I was inundated with advice on what to do and friendly pats on the back as soon as Mrs. History Ma’am had stormed out of the classroom and we could no longer hear the quick click, click, click of her high heels along the corridor. But the other kids weren’t really comforting me. They had secretly enjoyed what had happened and showing relief, gloating, and being glad that it hadn’t happened to them! It’s so easy to appear to be sympathetic about something when that something hasn’t happened to you, isn’t it?
OTHER WORKS BY THIS AUTHOR
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