The Voices in My Head

As I (ahem) expected, I got a few letters from readers about last week’s story about the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill’s successful campaign to get Sears to stop selling a T-shirt. It reads:

“You Should Hear the NAMES the VOICES in my Head are Calling You.”

But the nature of the letters weren’t what I expected — no one was mad! (Er… angry.)

NAMI had objected on the grounds that the shirts “reinforce an unfair perception of violence.” In my tagline I retorted, “Why assume the ‘names’ are violent, rather than ‘honey’ or ‘sweetie’? Maybe they’re paranoid?”

Richard, a doctor in Maryland, wrote:

I would like to object to your response to the NAMI complaint to Sears about the T-shirt. I know the idea of suing Sears for offensive T-shirts they sell is foolish, the drive to make it impolite to make fun of handicapped people is morally correct. Schizophrenia is a debilitating illness which is not funny to the people who experience it, either directly or by watching their loved ones go through it. Reminding Sears that they needn’t abet immoral behavior is not political correctness, in my opinion.

My point — that one does not have to assume violence is the only reaction a person with mental illness could have to voices — is extremely valid, and I’m surprised anyone would disagree with it. They clearly stated that the T-shirt could only mean that.

For the utmost clarity, I’ll use their words: “They [the shirts] reinforce an unfair perception of violence.”

Not the Sears shirt: years later, the same message was on shirts sold on eBay, with no apparent controversy.

It is similarly “morally correct” (uh oh; this isn’t the beginning of the “MC Movement” is it?) not to “enjoy” it when people get hit by cars, but didn’t you get a certain satisfaction when you read the story this week about the bank robber getting run over?

Yeah, I thought so.

In contrast, I got several letters like this one from Laura (who, strangely, is also in Maryland):

I read your bit about the aura of discrimination about some t-shirts at Sears, and I think this is a riot. I have bipolar disorder, and have had episodes in the past where I have heard voices. What is even more depressing is that an organization like the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill is too busy scanning malls for silly t-shirts to notice the real problems. My biggest problem is discrimination, not by people wearing t-shirts with dumb slogans, but by my insurance company. I am legally disabled by my disease, but I have exhausted my ‘6 lifetime visits’ to my psychiatrist. I am no longer covered for my psychiatric illness. Can you imagine them saying that to someone with diabetes or cancer, ‘oh, six visits are up, you are on your own now.’? Maybe groups like NAMI should be redirecting their energies toward making insurers responsible for providing equal coverage for ALL types of illnesses so people like me (and many others I know) won’t fall through the cracks.

I want to be a good mom for my daughter, and I fear what would happen when I can’t afford to see my doctor. Banning a t-shirt isn’t going to help me or others like me. Plus, I think the shirt is funny. I want to get it and wear it to my next appointment with my shrink.

But Maybe Laura is a One-Off?

Not even. Loren in Wisconsin agrees:

I have Bipolar Disorder (Type 1 w/numerous add-ons/variances), and it has played hell with my life in many ways over my 39 years; but thank the Godz it has never once ever caused me to lose my ability to joke about my condition(s) or those of others when appropriate. NAMI has been going further off the deep-end of political horsehooey for a few years now. Haranguing people to not make jokes about mental illness will not stop people from getting ineffective treatment [or encourage] compassion from the medical community or society at large. Since I have an official diagnosis of having a ‘mental disorder’, I defy anyone to tell me that I can’t refer to myself as nutso when I want to. Keep at ’em, bud!

Bottom line: Don’t presume to speak for those who are fully capable of speaking for themselves.

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7 Comments on “The Voices in My Head

  1. What else can you expect? The government has led the way in deliberately NOT addressing issues but only making noises and ineffective policies which APPEAR to be helping. If it’s good enough for the government, then the example has been set for businesses and associations. (Although I think in the old days, it was called sleight of hand or distraction, and practitioners were called snake oil salesmen.)

  2. Interesting that the two letters you noted were from BP suffers like myself. Even doctors agree that a sense of humor is a vital part of making it through any prolonged illness or disease, and I vouch for that. I have seen shirts with similar slogans at numerous stores, and if only I had more petty cash I would buy every one of them!

    As it stands I have to make due with a hat my husband bought me. It reads “Mood subject to Change without Notice” in such a way that “Mood Change Notice” are the most prominent words and I wear whenever I’m having one of my difficult times.

    And let it be a warning to anyone who says I shouldn’t appreciate jokes made at my expense!

    Great hat. I have a good friend who is bipolar, and have learned a lot about it by talking with him. He would be the first to agree that a sense of humor is key to coping. -rc

  3. I see a psychologist as part of the treatment plan for chronic pain, and according to her, and her predecessor (who retired), I’m reasonably “normal” — no mental illness or personality disorders, no depression. My only disability is my pain.

    When I talk to myself, I hear voices in my head, and when other people are doing nasty or stupid things, I sometimes call them names in my head. That’s one way that some people deal with stupidity and rudeness in the real world without getting themselves hurt.

    When I see exceptionally nice looking men, I call them other names in my head.

    The t-shirt doesn’t necessarily imply mental illness, violence, or anything. Beauty and discrimination are often both in the eye of the beholder.

  4. I have a good friend who suffers from mental illness. She and all of her friends are very aware of it. She has a whole repertoire of funny T-shirts like this one. Wearing them when she feels like it is one way of dealing with the problem and staying, um, sane.

  5. Am I out of the mainstream here? I have voices in my head all the time. In 50-odd years, I’ve exceled in my job, raised a family, established a consulting firm dealing with companies, and enjoyed high social popularity. I’ve never been diagnosed bi-polar, schizophrenic, manic-depressive, or the myriad other labels tossed around.

    Some of the voices in my head are my own, some are other people I know, and a few that I don’t know. The purpose of the voices range from simple conscience to self-debate to further understand my own viewpoint on many things. I would say that none of those voices has ever told me to do things counter to my convictions, but in fact, they have. Like the guy who cut me off in traffic. A voice in my head says, “I oughta run you off the road and kick your …!”

    But my convictions have prevailed. Had they not, the problem would not have been the voices in my head, but my own strength of character.

    I’m not trivializing the problems faced by people who are diagnosed with the disorders mentioned above. I just find it condescendingly presumptuous of those who purport to be helping them by stigmatizing them with ‘protections’ of Political Correctness (or Moral Correctness, if you choose).

  6. I once heard a small child define “conscience” this way:

    “Conscience is the little voice in your head that tells you that you should brush your teeth or clean up your room.”

    I love that definition — and I hope that nobody would say that this small child must have schizophrenia!

  7. I have voices in the head too. A little uninsult voice from one girl shows me promises something in the future. But I have been diagnosed as “voices in the head” maybe just for “Moral Correctness” as Mike said. Many thanks for your comment I don’t find this voices telling me something counter to my convictions too. Sometimes were pretty annoying to deal with all but that was maybe my wish coz of huge amounts of loneliness.


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