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Pushing the boundaries



Sep 25, 2012
Planet Lunatic Asylum
Pushing the boundaries: Why didn't I think of this before?  - Exploring meaning in experience

I've been working in the mental health sector in both voluntary and paid capacities for around about a decade now, and as many people now know, I have recently made the decision to take the step towards developing my own independent practice and consultancy business.

Based on the principles of Intentional Peer Support and the Hearing Voices Approach, beginning in March and April this year I will be offering a number of opportunities for people to connect and engage with others who share similar experiences of voices, visions and other forms of altered states or perceptions, and who identify with spiritual, mystical or alternative explanatory frameworks, in a safe and supportive environment which encourages healing, discovery and growth through exploration of experiences and meaning, and an open exchange of knowledge and ideas. This will not be a 'mental health service' in the strictest sense, but will instead be a space where people can meet around shared experiences, values and ideas. I will be looking to establish a number of group and community spaces, as well as begin one to one private consultations.

The past few years has been an amazing journey through the mental health system for me, and I've been fortunate to find myself actively participating in an ever changing and developing space. In addition to my work with individuals and groups in the community, in recent years I've been heavily involved across a range of key systemic advocacy issues and important sector reforms, including the trial and implementation of the National Disability Insurance Scheme, the introduction of the new Mental Health Act 2014, the Victorian State Government Mental Health Community Support Services reforms, and the Department of Health and Human Services Consumer Workforce Partnership Dialogue Forum. I've also been fortunate to find myself being invited to present at a number of major conferences and forums on consumer perspective, including the 2014 Lifting the Lid on Mental Health Victorian Pre-election Event and the 2015 International Consortium on Hallucinations Research 'Hearing Voices and Hallucinations: Research, Practice and Recovery' Conference.

While I've been extremely grateful for these opportunities, and have even had a couple of instances where my own contributions have helped to move the discourse along a little, one thing I've been noticing more and more is that something has always felt like it was somehow 'missing'. A small, but integral part of why I've always felt these conversations were so important seemed to be destined to remain just out of reach as long as I continued to work within the boundaries of a system which is built on a foundation of classifying common human experiences according to binary, socially constructed models of what constitutes a healthy or unhealthy mind.
Many people who hear voices, see visions, and have other forms of sensory experience or altered states of perception and consciousness which others may find unusual, have often been viewed by communities throughout human history from a range of different perspectives. These perspectives have varied widely, from holding people in high regard as having 'special gifts', to labeling people as being ‘unwell’ or having a mental illness, or in many instances even vilifying and subjecting people to forms of structural and physical violence.

We know that many cultures around the world, including here in the West, have often viewed an ability to ‘hear voices’ as being connected to the realms of spirituality, religion, mysticism and magic; as having a connection to to the divine, or to a higher power. Others see experiences of voices and visions as a useful tool for exploring the mysteries of consciousness, a way to gain insight into ourselves, our paths through life, and our place in the cosmos. For many of us though, our voice hearing and visionary experiences, as well as other types of altered or extreme states which are consistent with these frameworks, have been diagnosed as mental illness in ways which can often leave us with little to no recourse. For many people, growing up in a culture which doesn't really have a context for many of these types of experiences outside of romanticised notions of psychic abilities or new age ideals and concepts of 'serious mental illness', lack of awareness and understanding in the community and from professionals, and in some circumstances enforced psychiatric treatments and other forms of restrictive interventions, can often mean we become isolated and cut off from our community and the world around us, and even our own sense of identity.

A number of specific, contemporary mental health diagnoses suggest that these experiences represent that we have somehow 'lost touch' with reality, while many people report instead feeling more like they've opened up to a deeper perception of it. For some of us, these experiences can feel uplifting and enlightening, while for others they can be confusing and disorienting, and even frightening and destructive at times. Many more of us still report feeling like we perhaps exist on a spectrum somewhere inbetween.

Regardless of how people interpret these experiences or choose to label them, the reality is that 'hearing voices' is a common human experience. The majority of people around the world who report having voice hearing experiences also report being in good psychological health (1), with current estimates suggesting that between 4% and over 13% of all people experience voices and visions, many of whom never receive a diagnosis of mental illness or require psychiatric interventions (2). The types of experiences people report are often similar across individuals who have received diagnoses and individuals who haven't (3), while people's beliefs about experiences which are often considered 'delusional' are also common among people who don't require psychiatric care (4).

For many people, this suggests that how we cope with our experiences, how we adapt and learn to integrate or use them in our lives, or whether we require clinical treatment, is largely dependent on our own emotional responses to our experiences, or our beliefs about them. It also raises an important question about whether or not a diagnosis of mental illness can really be an objective, or even helpful assessment of many different forms of 'voice hearing', when people's experiences are often interpreted by others through a subjective lens which is largely informed by culturally contextual worldviews. The question I often find myself asking during conversations with many people is whether or not it was the experience which was the problem for someone, or other people's perception of it and reaction to it? Perhaps not surprisingly, often the answer ends up being that maybe it was a little of both.

People often talk about the dilemma we face when we are told that we have somehow ‘lost touch with reality’, while any effort to articulate our experiences as being much more akin to opening up to a deeper, more comprehensive perception of reality are largely reflected back at us as confirmation of our inability to understand that we have become unwell. Generally speaking, many forms of voice hearing, visionary experience, and so on, are classified under the collective terminology of ‘hallucinations’. Compounding this issue for many is when a person’s beliefs about their immediate experience which do not reflect a Westernised medical world view are often simultaneously interpreted through the lens of diagnostic labelling such as delusions, ideas of reference and anosognosia. Essentially people find themselves excluded from the discourse about their own lives, as well as what these experiences might mean for our collective understanding, simply because whatever they happen to think about them is often dismissed as confirmation of a psychiatric condition.

Talking about our experiences in a collaborative space with mental health professionals, researchers and other key stakeholders can often involve the Herculian task of navigating multiple language structures and paradigms in an effort to get everybody on the same page, simply so you start talking about the experiential qualities of visionary states in a way which doesn't get dismissed as the psychotic ramblings of a mad person, and this is all before you can even begin to explore meaning.

If you want to have a conversation about 5th dimensional perceptions, chatting to non-corporeal entities, and having an ability to shed all ego boundaries and experience oneness, well, I wish you luck...

But this dilemma did get me thinking about my own experiences, my work, and where this whole journey has taken me over the years. I realised that perhaps there was something I was doing which was contributing to this problem, that perhaps it was me who needed to make a shift. What if, in all of this effort and energy I've been putting into these conversations for so long, I was somehow simply giving away my power again and again and again? Why do I insist on continuously trying to convince those who don't have these experiences of their legitimacy and value, when there's a whole bunch of us out there who do share these experiences and similar views about them? Why do I keep feeling I need to seek the permission of the mental health system to have these kinds of conversations? What if we were to start exploring these states together?

References1. Slade M, Longden E. The empirical evidence about mental health and recovery: how likely, how long, what helps? MI Fellowship 2015

2. Beavan V, Read, J., Cartwright, C. . The prevalence of voice-hearers in the general population: A literature review. J Ment Health 2011; 20: 281-92.

3. Johns L, Kompus, K., Connell, M., Humpston, C., Lincoln, T., Longden, E., Preti, A., Alderson-Day, B., Badcock, J., Cella, M., Fernyhough, C., McCarthy-Jones, S., Peters, E., Raballo, A., Scott, J., Siddi, S., Sommer, I., Larøi, F. Auditory verbal hallucinations in persons with and without a need for care. Schizophr Bull 2014; 40(S4): S255–S64.

4. Johns LC, van Os J. The continuity of psychotic experiences in the general population. Clin Psychol Rev 2001; 21: 1125-41.

Nathan Grixti is an independent mental health Consumer Consultant and Advocate. Nathan also provides independent, specialist Peer to Peer Mentoring, Education, Community and Support for people who hear voices, see visions, and experience other forms of altered states or sensory perceptions, and who identify with spiritual, mystical, or alternative explanatory frameworks.

Nathan holds strong conviction in the importance of recognising and listening to the wisdom and expertise of lived experience, with a focus on wellbeing, social justice, equality and human rights. He is also a strong supporter of the social movement which is happening within the context of the International Hearing Voices Network, and which is increasingly engaging frameworks promoting exploration, rather than suppression, of voice hearing, visionary experiences, and other forms of altered states and perceptions, as a potentially healthy expression of human diversity.

Visit nathangrixti.com for more information.


Feb 1, 2016
Thank you for posting this you are giving people that are misdiagnosed with a disorder and given medication to stop it, which of course doesn't work causing the individual to loose hope, back that hope. Here is my story My name is Ben Buckland, I am 29 years old. Three years ago after a big nervous break down and was diagnosed with PTSD relating to service in Afghanistan in 2009 where I was a member of the first battalion Royal Australian Regiment. I was put on a very generous wage thanks to The department of Veterans affairs. A range of private mental health services were also made available to me. I spent the first year trying to numb the pain with a mix of alcohol and prescription medication. Which eventually led to harder drugs which slowly got worse until I became clean which I am now in my eighth month of clean living. So when the voices started over a year ago I instantly blamed it on the drugs. I was convinced I had scitzaphreania. But after a phcycyitrist and a number of doctors and phcycpligists couldn't diagnose it I was left with no answers except the ones I was being given in countless promises, threats, tricks, abuse, mixed in with a fair bit of positive support which sometimes was confused not heard or the information was quickly squashed with a promise of a clear answer if I did a task that was given to me. The tasks were usually very negative and often sexual in nature. Until very recently I was listening to the wrong voice, where i thought I was talking to a guide of sorts, I was actually being deceived by my ego, which is everything but you. It is negative, abusive, and defiantly doesn't care about you in anyway at all. It wants you to be angry it wants you to be upset. For me substance and alcohol made my egos stronger and especially when I was intoxicated it could at times control my behaviour, attitude and actions. It could make me angry, sad, lost, frustrated and even suicidal at times. I had abuse in my head from the moment I woke up till the moment I fell asleep. Before the voices started I was the biggest sceptic and in no way at all spiritual. Except I was very connected to the environment and the outdoors, having grown up in gidgegannup. I feel at home in nature and connect with it. I am still most happy when I'm in nature. When they started naturally I assumed they were actual people. Another of the egos tricks is to mimic voices of people we know. It knew I was ignorant to the spiritual side and used to pretend my loved ones were having heart attacks, car crashes, and even that they were being murdered. The ego also knows all your past mistakes, from breaking the law to how I used to drink and verbally abuse my ex partner. It then manifested tricks ie, the police were after me or that child protective services were coming to take my son. The aim of this is to cause anxiety, fear, anger, remorse, guilt. And other negative emotions, as the ego thrives off these. Also in the process of this it silences our true self, our inner child and our spirit guides. My ego was a master at confusing me, making me think that I had figured what was going on building me up promising. Me until I was estatic. Then crushing me as he laughed saying I had been fooled again. My ego pretended to be all sorts of people and things, from my partners father and ex boyfriend, to my mums late stepfather and my deceased poppy, to my friends, to old girlfriends. At one point it convinced me I could talk to the dead. Another time I was convinced that I could talk to people I knew through telepathy. I was a mess. It pretended to be on my side encouraging to abuse a girl who he claimed was his a compliance. This girl ended up being my inner child, I did this for months and months certain I was doing the right thing when all along I was crushing my inner child who is very important and should be praised and nurtured, because they are our pure innocence and when they are not happy we can never be at peace or happy ourselves. I also spent the same amount of time fighting my ego back thinking I was doing the right thing, when I was playing right into the egos hand. Arguments are another thing that fules our ego. Because like it or not ego exists inside us all, so fighting it is actually you fighting with yourself. Ego also thrives off negative behaviour as well as thoughts, so not only will it grow stronger if you act towards others in reality. Ie abusing the girl at McDonald's because your order was wrong. But also those thoughts you have in your head that are disrespectful to others. You think it is harmless behaviour, when in fact you are feeding your ego. An example of this would be, when your on a train and you look at the person across from you and think wow they are so fat. All those little jokes you make in your head disrespecting people or in fact any negative thoughts are making your ego stronger. The way I countered this behaviour was simple instead of thinking negative thoughts about that over weight lady, instead complement her in your mind, this will starve the ego. One of the hardest things to do that I found was distinguishing your angels and guides plus your inner child from your ego. Simple, your ego is an angry abusive voice who will swear and yell, for me it sounds like a nasty evil version of myself. Your higher self will be a much deeper calmer voice who will never swear or put you down but give you logical guidance and advice. Your inner child will sound like a little child- go figure. And your spirit guide will be also kind and always encouraging. Be careful though because if you have neglected your inner child they may be angry at you, so don't confuse them with your ego. If this is the case you need to say your sorry and start being caring and protective just like you would your 5 year old child.if you like me have tried everything and ten things more to get rid of the voices especially the abusive ones with no luck, I'm sorry to tell you but they are there your not crazy and unfortunately you will never be rid of them. This sounds very negative but it's not, it's just a matter of living your life without ego, once I accomplished this, the ego was still there- it always will, but because it had no fuel it grows weaker and quieter. Allowing all the positive Angels, guides, your true self as well as your inner child to communicate with you clearly without confusion and for the first time in a Long time you will be at peace. If you are fighting with your ego "YOU ARE FIGHTING" against your self and all you will achieve is anger, self hatred, depression, and even suicide. You will be free to make decisions again once you start living your life without ego plus you can access all sorts of information guidance and very important advice. Plus you will never be alone again. Like me YOU can be happy again even if you are so lost you want to give up. If you stop the fighting with yourself, and the negative thoughts and behaviour, I hope like me you can find peace within yourself.
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