Barrie Wylie has heard voices for as long as he can remember. Growing up on a small island in Scotland, the voices in his head were like secret best friends that he could play with. When he left school to become a fisherman at 15, his voices told him he was a disciple of Jesus. He believed he could control the weather and prevent harm befalling his boat and his crew.
As Barrie got older, his voices intensified. They became more aggressive, telling him to harm himself and others.
He learned to cope by silencing the voices with alcohol and other drugs. He wound up in police custody more than once.
When a family friend died under mysterious circumstances, Barrie was arrested and falsely suspected of murder. While in custody, he told his doctor about his voices. An autopsy later revealed that the friend died of natural causes.
But Barrie spent the next seven years in and out of psychiatric hospitals, all while heavily medicated for paranoid schizophrenia. The voices don't leave him, no matter how much medication he took. They only got worse, until Barrie believed he heard the devil himself inside his brain.
He tried to kill himself at least twice. [Please note: this episode contains two descriptions of attempted suicide.]
It was a social worker from the hospital who first suggested the Hearing Voices Network to Barrie. HVN takes an unorthodox approach. They say that hearing voices in and of itself should not yield a diagnosis. They encourage people to talk to the their voices, treat their voices as if they're real people. This approach is not universally accepted.
But Barrie said that talking to his voices actively gave him agency he never had before. He stopped trying to rid himself of his voices and instead learned how to have healthy relationships with them. He stopped trying to hurt himself. He stopped believing that his voices could control him.
He joined Facebook support groups that advocated the Hearing Voices appoach. And that's where he fell in love with Rachel. She also heard voices. Barrie and Rachel are now married and have a young child together. He says he couldn't be happier.
Barrie runs a website documenting his story and helping others through theirs.
This episode was produced by Luke Eldridge. Luke is an independent producer living in the UK.
The episode was edited by Bethany Denton, with help from Jeff Emtman, and Nick White.
Track image: Temptation of Christ, By Dutch-French painter Ary Scheffer, 1854.
We recently released another (very different) story about mental illness and delusions of Jesus. It's HBM039: A Goddamn Missionary, in which a man with Bi-polar Disorder learns to control his manic episodes through medication and altruism.
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