Yes, It's that time of year again.
The shops are filled with fake and real Christmas spirit. Children squeal with delight and fingers are pointed into toy shop windows. The busy streets resound to the sound of falling feet and bustling crowds. Neon lights brighten the winter gloom.
Phone calls are made and families and friends are making their festive plans to meet and eat, to drink and laugh and occasionally quarrel together.
Meantime, some members of our community will be more isolated than ever.
They may be living in supported accommodation or alone at home and many, though not all, voice hearers will spend Christmas Day and the days surrounding it on their own in splendid isolation or abject misery, depending on their individual circumstances.
Lots of folk in receipt of mental health services are no longer in any kind of continual contact with friends and family.
Sometimes, that's the outcome of the journey they have been on, a journey filled with difficulties, diagnosis, isolation and alienation from those once closest to them.
I often worked in my support roles during festive periods and was sometimes the only visitor that people might have received in this time. We would cook a dinner, watch TV and play board games, maybe share a story or two. Try and help raise slumped spirits.
Often, a client would prefer to remain alone in their room much of the time and no amount of gentle cajoling could motivate them into even a brief interaction. And that was their choice, of course.
One of the first responses to hearing voices that are critical is to become withdrawn and self isolated.
This is because the experience can be very confusing and even a little frightening.
One gets drawn into the inner dialogue, making it very difficult to concentrate on conversations initiated by external sources.
It can be hard to focus on questions and queries and give clear, concise answers when there is a lot going on in your head. And this, quite often is the phase that occurs when close family and friends first begin to notice that something may be different or "wrong".
And for many, this sense of detachment and estrangement becomes more pronounced as time goes by unless it is addressed. Hence, preoccupation with internal experiences and difficulties in establishing and maintaining dialogue and conversation with others is often perceived by health professionals as a symptom of a specific mental illness, i.e schizophrenia.
In reality? It's a completely normal response and reaction to hearing voices that no one else can hear. Voices that are "other" than you. One reason many nurses are persuaded to advise distraction activities for voice hearers and to encourage folk to ignore their experiences. And this can be helpful to a degree, allowing people to try activities and exercises that occupy the mind, at least for a while.
Of course, spending a lifetime trying to ignore lived experiences may not offer many benefits in the long term. More engagement with the voice hearing experience as well as learning coping strategies can prove helpful here.
This is why learning from voice hearers who hear critical voices but cope well, can prove beneficial.
(There are coping guides and inks to useful websites on this site - see under "coping with voices".)
For many of us, Christmas is a time for being thankful. A chance to reflect on the year passed by and be grateful for whatever good things in our lives we have. For friendships, family, fraternity of spirit.
Whether we are Christians or not, it is a time of coming together, belonging and sharing moments. The passing of gifts and glasses raised in cheer. Every TV advert reinforces the collective experience and by accident, reminds those that have no one of precisely that, they may have no one. It can be a difficult time.
It deepens the gloom of isolation and creates despondency, underlining a sense of failure in lifes' journeying, that somehow, one way or another, they do not belong in this mass of hyper-happy festive cheer the majority of us will "enjoy".
So, all I would ask is this...to spare a thought for those who will hear no other voices than their own.
And, if you have a family member or friend who struggles with hearing negative voices, give them a call to check in on how they're doing. Pop by with a card or cake and, if they don't answer your call, remember it's their choice. Simply send a message and let them know you're thinking of them at this time.
You'd be amazed at how uplifting this can be. I witnessed it often enough myself. A sad face wears a sudden smile and it beautifully breaks the sense of social and individual isolation....
A Christmas present in and of itself...and costing nothing but a few moments in time.
I wish you, wherever you are and whoever you are, the best possible time this coming Christmas....Ivan
Activist/ Health worker/ 20 years. Specific interests : wellness/ voice hearing/ coping/ exploring/ sharing/ stigma reduction.