Tomorrow is World Mental Health Day, making it a perfect time to explore the language used around mental health. Juliette Burton would like you to know that she’s not a psychopath.
I just finished reading my first thriller. I don’t read thrillers or horror books, but I literally could not stop reading this one. Because I was being employed to read it. I was recording it as a talking book for the RNIB.
This is one of my many jobs at the moment; I’m diversifying and one direction is voiceover work, which I love. And I love reading for the RNIB because they’re a great charity. So far I’ve read a few books for them and I’ve enjoyed every one. But this one was an unusual experience.
In the book I had to read certain pages written in the voice of the killer’s inner monologue. It was the most disturbing part of the book in fact; the descriptions of the gruesome corpses were words that conjured images but this, this was psychologically the hardest.
I’ve struggled with mental health issues all my life, including eating disorders, depression, anxiety and even a psychosis involving auditory and visual hallucinations, and I continue to campaign for equality and awareness, but for this job I had to put my experiences aside and give voice to the author’s portrayal of a certain type of insanity.
We all have an inner monologue. In my show Look At Me – a docu-comedy show about body confidence and mental health stigma that I continue to tour – I give voice to my inner monologue. I have a dark side to my thoughts. Among all the voices raging and arguing over indecision, excitable joy, repressed anger and so on, there is a voice that belittles, criticises, beats me down to an extreme. Let’s call her Head Bully.
“I began to wonder, what is so different between the internal monologue of the killer in the novel and this voice I hear daily? Could Head Bully morph into something more terrifying?”
Most people I know tend to have a Head Bully. It’s the voice that tells you you’re not good enough, the voice that punishes you, keeps you scared that you’re never going to live up to expectations and will never be beautiful, successful or clever enough. I hate it. I hate it far more than most because Head Bully, for me, bleeds into the voice of my illnesses, telling me the solution is to give in, harm myself, punish my body, or just give up.
This voice, Head Bully, is not the same as the voices I heard when I was audibly hallucinating, I hasten to add. Hearing voices in a psychosis is like hearing any other regular voice outside of your own head. Head Bully is a thought process, a destructive and unhelpful part of me that has morphed into, and exacerbated anorexia, bulimia, depression, anxiety and more.
When I first listened back to this voice which features in the show, I was genuinely terrified. Suddenly I’d created a manifestation of something I hadn’t ever heard as external before. It was shocking how scary it was to hear. Then I started getting used to hearing it. After a year of performing and hearing it sneer its bile, I’ve become increasingly angry with it. And that anger feels good.
I’ve also noticed how many external voices surround us to add to this internal belittling. And I’ve become angrier with them too. It’s all so unnecessary, this outside bullying from fashion, advertising, and general idiots. We have enough difficulties to deal with without having our self-esteem punched in the gut every day.
I began to wonder, during this audiobook recording, what is so different between the internal monologue of the killer in the novel and this voice I hear daily? Could Head Bully morph into something more terrifying? You only have to look at headlines surrounding mental health to fear people with the various conditions: “crazed”, “psycho”, “maniac”. Could I ever become one of them?
“People with depression, anxiety, psychosis, eating disorders, any form of mental health condition are not automatically also psychopaths or sociopaths.”
Head Bully encourages me to harm myself, but I have never had any instinct to harm others. Far from it. Head Bully turns my negativity inwards. And therein lies the difference.
The inner voice of this psychopath, or sociopath, in the book was bigging up his ego, telling him he was so clever, different, special, unique and that the fates were with him. His negative feelings were solved through harming others. All positive feelings he had were mixed up with some kind of thrill at harming others. Harming others was instinctive to him.
Psychopaths and sociopaths disregard law, other people’s rights, don’t feel remorse and are violent. Psychopaths are unable to form emotional attachments. Sociopaths are volatile and aggressive. Let’s make this very clear: people with depression, anxiety, psychosis, eating disorders, any form of mental health condition are not automatically also psychopaths or sociopaths.
My horrid Head Bully will be with me for life, but it has never encouraged me to hurt or harm anyone else, only ever myself. Neglecting to look after myself feels instinctive. And this is something that needs to be far more widely understood.
People with mental health problems are not scary. Us one in four will not hurt or harm anyone usually other than ourselves, any more than any of the other three people in every four. Using language like “psychopath” in eye-catching headlines or in conversation will encourage people to be scared of us, including ourselves. It will encourage other sufferers to not talk. They will stay isolated and alone, and become further marginalised. And they very well may end up hurting themselves more.
The last book I read for the RNIB was a Mills & Boon. I felt much more relaxed during that recording.1963 Views
Juliette Burton is a docu-comedian, actor, writer, thinker, dreamer, doer and person. She has a history of mental health problems and loves The Muppets. These two things are in no way linked.