Learning from the voices in my head – Eleanor Longdon

Eleanor Longdon at TEDx London in 2012 telling her story of going to university, eagerly entering the student life fine times, but underneath deeply unhappy but skilled at hiding it. 

Then she began hearing a voice – ” my strange commentator” – and mistake number 1:  confided in a friend who, horrfied, urged her to seek medical advice. This led to mistake no 2: confiding in her Doctor [GP] who referred her to a psychiatrist who

“took a grimm view, interpreting everyting I said through a lens of latent insanity”

so followed the typical, sadly familiar pattern: 

 “events began to rapidly overtake me –  a hospital admission, the first of many; a diagnosis of schizophrenia;  a prolonged and toxic sense of hopelessness and despair about myself and my prospects that tormented me beyond endurance and drained me humiliations, helplessness and loss of self respect into a shaddow of myself.”

“having been encouraged to see my voice not as an experience but as a symptom , my fear and resistance toward it intensified essentially taking an agressive stance aginst my own mind.

…and in turn the voices increased: one voice became twelve, hostile, setting me bizarre tasks orering me to harm myself as I grew increasingly demoralised and disempowered.

“Two years leter I had the full frenzied repertiore: terrifying voices, grotesque visions, bizarre intractible delusions.

“My mental health status had been a catalyst for verbal abuse, discrimination, and physical and sexual assault.  

“And I’d been told by my psychiatrist :

‘ Eleanor, you’d be better off with cancer – because cancer is easier to cure’

Having been dehumanised, demoralised, abused and discrimiated against”, and told she’d be “better off with cancer”, summarising what she’d experienced at the hand of orthodox healthcare:

“I’d been labelled, I’d been medicated and I’d been left.

…by now I was so tormented by my voices I attempted to drill a hole in her head to let them out.”

Eleanor turns to credit …

“those good and generous people who fought with me and for me and waited to welcome me back from that agonised and lonely place”

“together they forged a blend of courage, creativity and integrity, and an unshakeable belief that my shattered self could become healed, and whole”

“crucially, they helped me to understand what I’d always suspected: that my voices were a meaningful response to painful life events: particularly childhood events…”

“…and as such, were not my enemies but a source of insights into solvable emotional problems.

“and so I gathered together my splintered self, each fragment represented by a different voice, and I went back to psychiatry: only this time from the other side”

“I returned to studying and gained the highest degree in psychology that the university had ever given and one year later the highest masters”..

“that isn’t bad for a nutter”

“The important question in psychiatry is not “what’s wrong with you? “

but rather “what happened to you?

“All the while I’d listen to my voices with whom I’d finally learned to live with peace and respect which in turn represented a growing sense of compassion, acceptance and respect towards myself.  “

“I’m now very proud to be part of international hearing voices movement, … which locates hearing as a creative and genius survival strategy – a sane reaction to insane circumstances.”

“not as an abstract symptom of illness to be to endured but as a complex, significant and meaningful experience to be explored .

“Peter Levine has said:

‘the human animal is a unique being, endowed with an imstinctual capacity to heal and an intellectual spirit to harness this innate capacity.’

“I would like the TED audience to be aware of two things:

that as members of society there is no greater honor than facilitating that process for someone.

for survivors of distress and adversity, that we remember: what lies behind us, and what lies ahead of us are small matters compared to what lies within us.”

“As a very wonderful Doctor once said to me:

‘Don’t tell me what other people have told you about yourself, tell me about you

Watch/ listen for yourself.

Please:  like, it, share it, comment at TED.com,  cast your vote for Eleanor Longdon to be included in TED 2013.

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3 Responses to Learning from the voices in my head – Eleanor Longdon

  1. Excellent, inspiring and helpful!


  2. MSkillz says:

    Thank you for sharing this. Very inspiring. I really like this part:

    “crucially, they helped me to understand what I’d always suspected: that my voices were a meaningful response to painful life events: particularly childhood events…”
    “…and as such, were not my enemies but a source of insights into solvable emotional problems”.

    “Solvable emotional problems” — YES. What a great example of “reframing”.


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