Photo by I.am_nah / Unsplash

No, you're not crazy if you hear voices

All of us do, for our parents, loved ones, all kinds of folks, among others,  installed them.

Society, media, messaging have installed them.

Life has installed them.

Melissa called me last night, which is rare for her that late in the day, and left me a message to acknowledge something she'd heard. Over the last three weeks I've had some very trying moments. I'd hit a wall at multiple levels.

Melissa's schedule doesn't allow for her to answer at just any time so a few of my voice mails had loaded up. She had listened to them all at once.

As a result, she explained, she was able to hear very different people, yet they were all me.

"I heard voices I'd never heard from you before," she said. I knew what she meant; I recalled calling when I was emotionally exhausted. I had been in deep physical pain, too. She's known me for years, but had never discerned, in real time, the different voices which lived inside me all at once.

You and I aren't just one voice; we are many. We have been many people and lived many lives even if we are barely thirty.

We carry stories in our bones.

We carry our ancestors in our bones. We store every moment of our own lives there. Our marrow is rich with stories, and from the depth of our bones our stories speak to us.

We also have many "parts" to us. There are friend parts, parent parts, lover parts, competitor parts, bitch or bastard parts, each of them rising to a given occasion. Sometimes unbidden in the wrong occasion, causing us terrible embarrassment.

Parts of us only show up when we're drunk, and other parts only show up when we are so tired that whatever persona or avatar we are holding out for the world to admire falls away.

Then some parts rise out of us with such grace and glory we hardly recognize that part as us, too. We shine so much that we're almost apologetic.

We so desperately want to believe that the nice version of us is the dominant, consistent one, right? Um. Thank god for friends' honest feedback, not exactly.

Those voices, nasty to nice, are in all of us. No one voice, no one unified entity, but a whole frat party full of egos competing for the karaoke mike.

There is no clearing out of any of them, either. We can negotiate terms with the worst of them, but that takes Deep Work. Hard work. And still, we can hear the whispers. When we're terribly vulnerable, the worst of the whispers can get loud.

Interestingly, the voices which speak to our intrinsic value are the most terrifying of all.

The ones which remind us that we are beautiful. Valuable. Talented.  Capable. Worthy of every good and great thing, the best of them, love.

How hard we can fight against the belief, which is true, that we are not only good enough, but that we bring value for simply having been born.

What a message that is for people born into a Calvinist/performance-driven society which gauges our value strictly by what we do, or if we have value only based on our looks or our riches.

Melissa was hearing different parts of me as I struggled to stay on my emotional feet after a difficult surgical experience (a surgeon points to the outcome, I point to the overall experience). I tried to stay present to my physical self, and then tried to rise up out of that exhaustion to find my ebullient self.

That ebullient self had gone into hibernation after nine surgeries since 2018, most of them just in the last year.

Chronic pain can and does wear you down after a while.

Still, my ebullient self bubbles up in the early morning, but the fizz is gone by early afternoon. Then, the day stretches out like a bad yoga position. I wobble to find meaning when my body is barking and I feel guilty about calling friends too many times.

I'd be there for them, no question.

Isn't it intriguing that we feel like an imposition (and may well be sometimes) when it's our turn to be needy or vulnerable? Why is it okay for us to be willing to go to bat for others but it can feel like way too much to ask for them to show up for us?

My house is big and it echoes, for there is no furniture in it but a couch, TV, desk and desk chair. I'd sold all of it, thinking I would move last year. The house is indeed an echo chamber (but WAIT! I bought a bedframe!!).

The voices which haunt me late in the day tell me that I am not worthy of life.

Those are my mother's words.

You're a loser.

Those are my father's words.

Both of them were speaking to what was lurking in the marrow of their own bones, placed there by their own parents. That's what I mean when I say the voices in our marrow, our ancestors, speak to us.

You and I get to choose which voices to attend. Questions of our worthiness, whether or not whatever we are bearing is worth it invite super efforts, yet other voices invite us to give up. Check out. I hear all of them, and when I am truly exhausted, my closest friends can hear them. Those voices also come out in my writing.

Down in the marrow of our bones you and I also know that such voices are liars. The voices which tell us we don't deserve love, we aren't good enough. To that, the self-criticism, which we all seem to embody:

9 Ways to Combat Self-Criticism
Investigate the origins, create a ‘done list,’ and set up a self-criticism jar.

Our presence in the world is a sacred thing, particularly when we are deeply challenged. Our way through, our example, is what gifts others with a different voice in the same way that witnessing someone else's way through gave us a different voice.

Many of us, post-Covid and in a chaotic and somewhat unpredictable world, can feel unhinged.

Where there is no padding- that of loving friends, partners and family- the worst of the voices rise in volume and can overwhelm even our best efforts to beat them back.

Yet isn't it interesting that at times, maybe even much of the time, the voices telling us about our unworthiness are more familiar and validating than those which argue, strenuously, that we deserve love. Deserve to give love. Deserve a life which allows us to feel fulfilled and valued without being constantly measured for output.

Melissa, among others, is my padding. Just as I am padding for her, and for those close to me. The grief you and I feel is not intended to be carried alone, whether that's grief over an identity lost, a death, or a promising future laid to waste by disease or injury. All grief is Deep Work.

It is often during depression and grief that the voices visit.

Above all this cacophony is also the voice which speaks to the greater truth: that we are worthy.

Worthy of friends who help us bear what life hands us.

Worthy of being the friend to others whose lives have handed them dungheaps.

Worthy of having people stand with us no matter what, to "go the hard way" when friendship is what is left after love leaves us bereft.

Oh how we fight that, right? I sure have. So a bit of rewiring might be necessary right? Just take a few how-to-be happy seminars, go to the beach, have a spa day?

Allowing ourselves to have joy is also Deep Work.

Part of that comes from the idea that we are supposed to be happy all the time. It's written right into our Constitution.

Here are some mind treats to masticate about the idea of happiness, which is woven into the USA DNA, and which frankly is killing us off:

Why the pursuit of happiness leads to misery — and what to do about it
A growing body of research suggests that the more we value and pursue happiness as a life goal, the more miserable we end up.

Real happiness is much harder work than just "Don't Worry, Be Happy," the lovely, sweet, simplistic ditty that argues that it's a lot easier than it really is. While listening to the perfect tones of the equally ebullient Bobby McFerrin is uplifting, do we stay uplifted?

I didn't think so.

For joy is a choice. A hard one. Ask anyone who has lived a particularly difficult life, someone who still finds life worthy. In fact, celebratory.

Happiness is fleeting, temporary, and at best like watching a lovely peacock strut by on full display. Life satisfaction, a deep appreciation with our whole life, is available to all of us no matter our circumstances.

I can concentrate on the smorgasbord in front of me: an eventual return to hiking, biking, riding horses again, meeting new friends. All of which add value to the warp and woof of life. Not a single one of those guarantees happiness.

They are, however, likely to add to overall satisfaction. The work I do, the friends I make, more days without pain than with...overall satisfaction.

It's a choice. When you and I make that choice, then we also choose not to be a victim, which is the world's oldest story.

Its oldest excuse, too.

Not living life as a victim is hard work, deep work, rewarding work. That means listening to and aligning with the voice which tells you that you are worthy of friends, that you are worthy of a supportive community, and above all that those people need and will value you.

From the piece on happiness, and the pursuit thereof, above, here's my favorite excerpt:

Focus on others. Many longitudinal studies have looked at how people thrive, and they overwhelmingly converge on an important finding: People with strong relationships report being happier and healthier than those who don’t. Careers, achievements, and material goods don’t make people anywhere near as happy as social connection does.

We all live with those internal voices. Some of mine aren't particularly kind. Then I hear my friend Melissa's voice in my head reminding me that I am, indeed, kind.

The gratitude I feel for that voice, for the voices of people who offer support, for the voices of those who remind me that the work I do is worthwhile, is like a spa day every day.

And for a lovely, fleeting moment, my friend's voice, and her kind words made me very, very happy.

Right down to the marrow in my bones.

Two men hugging at church, greeting
Photo by Erika Giraud / Unsplash

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