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  • Writer's pictureStephanie Hammond

Voices in my Head

I know I have a wonderful life. I am good at what I choose to do. I have a lifetime of successes to reflect on. Too numerous to mention. So why do I hear voices of doubt that tell me I’m not good enough. That I don’t know enough. That I don’t do enough. I despair that these voices will quieten and leave me in peace.


Over the years I’ve been beaten by them so many times that it seems they ruled my life, these voices that sometimes are my own; sometimes voices of others.


It took me a long time to get the courage to talk about the voices to my friends. What I found surprised me. My buddies, who I thought had it all figured out, admitted to experiencing the same thing!


So rather than exploring the who and why of the voices and their pessimistic assertions, I started to look for answers to a different set of questions.

  • Why was it that some days I didn’t hear the voices at all?

  • What made those days different?

  • What were those days like compared to others?

  • What was I doing differently?

And in answering those questions, I found patterns. And these patterns seem to be common to my life.


These days, I am happy, living a mundane life. To me, ‘mundane’ means no dramas. Does this also mean no growth?


Here’s an example. Almost 50 years ago, I was in a quiet, drama-less pattern of parenting; the two older girls were school age, the next two were 21-months and 9-months-old. I was in a good rhythm of home-making, community volunteering, parenting, even finding some time to read and write and visit with friends. No dramas, no voices, just me happily going about my life. This life was relatively peaceful (relatively so, with my small brood!)


Next came a challenge. Something unexpected. Something out of the blue. Something unplanned. I discovered I was pregnant. Not only pregnant, but sick as well. And not only sick, but I also couldn’t lift my head off the pillow, do housework, lift my little ones. And I couldn’t eat or drink without vomiting. And no medication helped. This continued for months. My days became full of drama compared to the months prior.


And now the voices played out in my head continuously. My voice tells me it’s psychosomatic. I’m only pregnant, for goodness’ sake! Fifth pregnancy shouldn’t be so difficult. Although I tried, I just couldn’t obey that voice and get out of bed.


My friends were very helpful, as were my older daughters. Everyone pitched in and took over my ‘duties’. Much to my husband’s dismay - he hated that we had to call on ‘outsiders’ to help and encouraged me to ‘be well’. Crunch day came when my wedding ring dropped off my finger and rolled across the floor. He was going to force feed me; he was so afraid I’d die.


Friends rallied again. One made juices for me and gradually she found a combination I could tolerate, and I was able to get sustenance. Over the next few weeks, I gradually progressed to eating a full and varied diet again. I put on weight, but I never regained my strength.


Outwardly, there was less drama now. But the voices were still there, more strident. The stress of my not being able to keep up my ‘standards’ coupled with those voices confirmed I was a failure.


My baby was born in the middle of December, in the middle of a Queensland heatwave. I was so fortunate to have a doctor who knew I was physically exhausted and insisted I stay in hospital for at least a week.


Those voices quieted while I was in hospital. But when it came time to prepare to come home, they started up again.


I wasn’t going to cope. I was useless, I wasn’t a good mother to the four darlings at home, how was I going to be a good mother with a new baby too? I lay there hearing the voices and feeling inadequate and powerless. Fear and drama again. Being cocooned in the hospital somehow made it worse. How would I cope once I returned home?

I’ve experienced this so many times before. Just when I think I have reached the end of my resources, a new voice enters. It comes first as a whisper, bringing with it hope. Sometimes I don't listen to that whisper.


This time, as I worried about going home, I heard the voice say: Why lie there worrying and wondering if you’ll cope? Just get up and go home and see!

I rose to the challenge. I went home. The rest in hospital revived me and soon I was running up and down the stairs, doing the housework, playing with the children, cooking meals, nursing the baby - being a happy mum again.


***


A lot of stories about my life fit this pattern. And maybe this is the way of progress. Not just for me, but for many of us. We are comfortable with our daily lives. Then we are faced with drama, drama we can’t find the key to handling. We struggle with the unfamiliarity of the new situation.


We struggle till we get to, or close to, rock bottom and then from deep inside we find a ray of hope that springboards us up and into a new stage of being that sits very well with us - until the next drama comes along.


And for me drama seems to be accompanied by those hypercritical voices.


Now I don’t mean to say that it’s inevitable that we undergo long and painful processes. It’s my experience we can recognise the signs and act quickly to move through those stages - and even circumvent the time we spend listening to the negative voices.


We can quieten those voices and refuse to give them power. Change the tape, so to speak. Instead, we can choose to listen for the voices that whisper hope and take the (sometimes massive and scary) action required to take ourselves into the next level where we can grow until we feel comfortable once more.


We can come to cherish those days when life is good, when things go smoothly, when we feel in control at last. And we can know that when the challenges come again, we’re in for a growth spurt! We can willingly welcome the challenge, embrace it, move through it, and feel sure knowing that joy will surely come again.


***


That beautiful baby born in the middle of the December heatwave grew up to be my adult son, Charlie. He’s the one I write about in my memoir Addict in the Family. Charlie became caught in the web of drugs and addiction. Over the years, helpless to help him change, I often felt the guilt of not being the healthiest of vessels to prepare him for the world he would enter. Was it my fault? Was he malnourished? Did his organs not develop properly?


Still the voices are loud, and persistent. My memoir tells the story of how I tried to help him. It tells of how feelings of guilt are finally somewhat resolved.


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