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ally reeves The Globe and Mail

This is part of a series that looks at extraordinary experiences in personal health. Share yours at health@globeandmail.com.

When I was around six years old, I went through a period of having horrible dreams where I was being chased through the woods by shadowy figures – the "bogeyman," we called it – and I would wake up in the middle of the night. That started to change, so that when I woke up, the figures were still there. They were still talking.

I just remember my dad reassured me that those are just the kinds of things kids get. My parents didn't make a fuss. But those weren't the things you talked about, so you didn't. That's just the way it was. Late 1960s, Britain. You didn't talk about anything. It took me a long time before I realized other people didn't have this.

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I tend to think of my voices as an amplifier of whatever I'm experiencing. I'm never without them. They're hardly ever quiet. But if I'm in a good space and I'm not tired, and things are going well, it's like having a bunch of friends around. But then, if I'm starting to struggle with something, they will rib me for it. It starts in a joking way, but then if I ignore it, it becomes nagging and then it becomes yelling. It becomes more and more negative, and more and more distracting. It's like having a broken tooth that eventually gets so painful, you can't pay attention to anything else.

I had one difficult voice I call "Angry Voice," which I recognized as the voice of a person who beat me up at school when I was 12 years old. That person only ever said seven words to me, but when I was going through a hard time, I'd just hear those words repeated. And this voice would just come at me and I would be scared of it. I eventually figured out that when I'm feeling disempowered, that's when this Angry Voice would come. So now I read it as a sign that, "Aha! I need to stop this and I need to do something to use my power." As I've been able to understand that and tease it apart, that voice is now pretty quiet.

I was bullied for years as child, so when I finished school at the age of 16, I couldn't wait to get away. I went to another city and did an apprenticeship. One of my voices, Dave, is the voice of the first person I met there and felt safe for the first time. I spent four years around a bunch of fellow apprentices. There were a lot of laughs and a lot of swearing. The voices I hear the most now are those voices from that time. When it's good, it's just like that – those guys kicking around, having a beer and having a laugh.

That can get really weird sometimes, but in ways that I really enjoy. They'll talk about things that are happening here and now as though it's a comedy sketch. Like they'll be acting as if they're on the command deck of the Starship Enterprise from Star Trek, where they'll all be pretending to be Captain Kirk, Spock and Sulu. So I'll be in this present space, but that scenario is sort of overlaid over top. I love that, but it can be distracting, too. Even when it's good, it takes a lot of energy.

Kevin Healey, 53, is facilitator of the Hearing Voices peer support group in Toronto.

Read more stories in this series here.

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