They Spoke to Me

Last Updated by Kealey Bultena on

I heard the voices with my ears. They encouraged me, they criticized me, and I heard them through my ears.

I know that seems obvious. We hear with our ears. Yet, when I considered what a person who “hears voices” experiences, I never realized that they hear them. Then I heard them. 

Stick with me. 

I put the earbuds in at Crisis Intervention Training with the Sioux Falls Police Department. Law enforcement officers spend a week learning and practicing techniques to address mental health situations from new perspectives. A section of that work includes a demonstration on hearing voices.

The earbuds flood sound into an officer’s mind. While listening, they read a story while listening. While listening, they watch a movie for 10 minutes. While listening, they then fill out a questionnaire from the original story. It is difficult, to say the least. I participated in an abridged version of the simulation. You can see some of the footage of my experience in the video.

I heard whispering. It was just loud enough that my brain automatically worked to discern the words, but it was too soft and muffled. The hissing became obnoxious, distracting noise that cluttered my senses.

I heard a voice that soothed me. A woman’s voice told me, “You know the way.” She said it again and again. She willed me, supported me, lured me.

I heard them laugh at me. A woman cackled. I heard her so amused that she couldn’t catch her breath while she laughed.

I heard a voice that degraded me. His cruel tone shouted. He tore at insecurity. “Wipe the smirk off your face,” he told me. He chastised me that this was not a joke. He told me to stop it. He reminded me, “You are disgusting.” 

I heard them with my ears. The sound was real. It wasn’t created in my head. And it clicked: that’s how some people experience their illness. 

When I’m thinking about something – trying to figure out which street to take or which words to type next – my conscious mind creates a monologue. This “voice” manufactured in my brain forms complete sentences or helps weigh pros and cons. Perhaps we just call it thought. 

Each time I’ve considered the symptoms of mental health conditions that cause people to hear voices, I’ve assumed those voices show up as thoughts. Sometimes they do. But other times, people physically hear the voices. The voices manifest. People hear the voices as if someone were speaking directly into their ears.

Maybe I’ve just missed this. Maybe it’s obvious that when we talk about someone who hears voices, everyone else understands that we’re referring to a delusion that the brain processes as realty. Maybe I just didn’t get it. Now I do. 

The voices crowded my focus. If I dealt with voices speaking to me, I have no idea how I would function. I don’t know how I’d resist their constant commentary, their urging and their destruction. They flustered me, and they left me troubled after only a few minutes. I can’t understand what it’s like to fight through those voices every day, but I’m now more aware of the struggle and of my own ignorance.


subscribe to sdpb email updates food and cooking banner image learning blog link living blog link news and information blog link science and technology blog link sports blog link image

The Latest From SDPB Radio News

FEMA Housing Lands On Pine Ridge Following Disaster

The Federal Emergency Management Agency is placing new mobile homes on Pine Ridge following spring storms and...

Daugaard Proposes Medicaid Expansion In $4.8-Billion Budget

Governor Dennis Daugaard is proposing a total state budget of about $4.8-billion for fiscal year 2017. You can...

Dakota Midday: Attorney General Marty Jackley Discusses 24/7

South Dakota Attorney General Marty Jackley recently returned from the National Association of Attorneys General...

Dakota Midday: GF&P Secretary Kelly Hepler

While broadcasting live from the state capitol building in Pierre, Cara Hetland visited with Kelly Hepler, Secretary...

Dakota Midday: Wink And Sutton Look Forward To Budget Address

South Dakota Speaker of the House Dean Wink and Democratic Senator Billie Sutton visited with guest host Cara Hetland ahead of Governor Dennis Daugaard's annual...

Hawks To Introduce Resolution On College Debt

One South Dakota lawmaker says she’s crafting a resolution about debt-free college. Democratic State Representative Paula Hawks says she wants to start a conversation...

Dakota Midday: Images Of The Past Potato Creek Johnny

Potato Creek Johnny is featured in this week's Images of the Past. Jessica Michak, Archivist with the HomestakeAdams...

Dakota Midday: Health Insurance Change Has Financial Consequences

Certain people who buy health insurance on the federal exchange could find themselves paying significantly more money in January if they don’t change their plans soon....

Dakota Midday: Budget And Policy Council Anticipates Budget Address

Joy Smolnisky, Executive Director, South Dakota Budget and Policy Institute discusses Medicaid expansion, Indian Health Services, education funding, and state revenue...

SD Scientists Welcome Renewable Research Boost

World leaders are meeting in Paris to hash out a new agreement on the best way to deal with climate change. As part...

The Latest from NPR News

White House Briefly Put On Lockdown After Driver Hits Security Barrier

The Secret Service said the vehicle did not breach the barricade and the female driver was quickly apprehended.

Gothamist Properties Will Be Revived Under New Ownership: Public Media

WNYC will buy Gothamist, KPCC will acquire LAist, and WAMU is taking over DCist. The move is funded by two anonymous...

Seychelles Finds A Novel Way To Swap Its Debt For Marine Protections

The Indian Ocean nation has brokered a novel deal that is intended to protect nearly one third of its marine area...

FDA Finds Hazards Lurking In Parsley, Cilantro, Guacamole

The Food and Drug Administration has started testing randomly selected fresh herbs and prepared guacamole. So far...

How 1 Tweet From Kylie Jenner Caused Snap, Inc. To Lose $1 Billion

NPR's Ari Shapiro talks with Will Oremus, a senior technology writer at Slate about how a recent tweet by Kylie...

Teachers Across The Country Are Thinking About Active Shooter Situations

President Trump tweeted this week that teachers should be armed, in response to the deadly shooting at Marjory...