My Story

Hi, my name’s Rachel (Rai to my friends). After being labelled with a variety of mental health problems over the last 16 years, and having to deal with the stigma associated with the worst ones (including schizophrenia and DID), I am now lucky enough to work in mental health trying to change things for the better. This site combines some of my thoughts and ideas with the work that I’m currently engaged in.

So, pull up a chair, get comfortable and let the stresses of the day fade into the background. This is a space for hope, understanding and – most importantly – for seeing behind the label.

As a starting point, here’s a little taste of my story. It’s not comprehensive (fitting 36 years into a single page is no mean feat), but it might help put the rest of the site into context.

If you’d like to find out about my professional experience, or explore the potential to work with me, please see: My Services, my CV and Experience or Upcoming Training & Events.

The Early Years:

I grew up in Leicestershire, with my wonderful family. Unfortunately life outside of the family wasn’t always easy, and I went through more than a few traumas whilst growing up. Being an independent soul, I told no-one until I finally broke down and ended up in hospital aged 20.

Aged 7, I remember looking into the mirror and seeing a monster look back at me. I was convinced that monster was me. By the age of 14 I was sure I had an alien inside of me and was terrified of what it would do. Throughout all of this I kept silent. It was this silence that stopped me from finding my voice and finding a way of dealing with what had happened to me. It was this silence that needed to be broken.

The Hospital Years:

After going officially ‘crazy’ at university, I finally ended up in a psychiatric unit in 1998. By that point I was trapped inside a confusing world of alien conspiracies, paranoia, voices and traumatic flashbacks. Given the terror I felt at my realities, I was actually glad to be given the label ‘schizophrenia’.

No label properly describes human experience, though, and throughout the next five years doctors made valiant (but futile) attempts at finding one that fitted. Eventually they settled on ‘Schizo-affective Disorder’ (something my psychiatrist still believes I wear).

My time in ‘the system’ almost broke me. I lost my confidence, self esteem and – most importantly – hope for the future. I became a shell and those around me thought that I would never recover.

Breakthrough:

After years of going in and out of hospital, I was lucky enough to find out about my local Hearing Voices Group. Through this group, I began to rebuild my self esteem and untangle the voices and beliefs that plagued me. Hearing the groundbreaking work of the Hearing Voices Network, Ron Coleman and Romme & Escher, I started to realise that my voices were my way of making sense of what had happened to me. I began to see a life outside the mental health system and – with support – made the decision to find it.

As Things Are Now:

After a rocky few years trying to relearn how to live independently again, and a few more years building up my skills and confidence as a volunteer, in August 2007 I made a brave – if potentially foolish – leap into the world of work. I got a job for a London charity as the manager of a project developing peer support groups for voice-hearers across the capital. This job was seriously amazing. I had the opportunity to develop new initiatives (including Voice Collective young people’s hearing voices project and the London Hearing Voices in Prisons Project) and work with a committed team. In early 2015 I made the difficult choice to leave this wonderful project and focus my energies on my freelance work. I am now lucky enough to do what I love in the UK and abroad.

In 2009 I took the step to come off my medication (slowly and gently as stopping meds quickly is rarely a good option in my experience). It was tough, and I now hear more voices than ever, but I feel happy with the fact that they’re my voices. They relate to my life in some way – even if they feel very separate – and they’re mine to deal with.

I have the support of my husband (Joel), my family, my friends and my colleagues. I’m no longer on my own. I’m part of an international movement of change to challenge the stigma, misunderstanding and oppression of people who are struggling to cope with their unusual experiences. I don’t have all the answers, and am still working out how to deal with some of my own issues, but I’m on the path.

Ron Coleman once said that recovery is ‘living your life’. I like that definition. It makes sense to me.

As a child my life was, in part, controlled by the trauma I didn’t want to talk about. In my 20s my life was controlled by the mental health system and the labels I wore. It’s only in my 30s that I’ve finally understood what it means to live the life you choose. It’s only now I feel I actually have a choice.

So, in part this blog is about how I’m starting to make sense of this life I’ve found that I have. As well as sharing some of my own story, I want to use it to share ideas and information from around the world. There is so much fantastic work and progress happening internationally, I hope that hearing about it might help inspire and re-energise you in some way.

Thanks for listening x

You might also be interested in:

Healthista: Living with ‘Schizophrenia’... This World Mental Health Day the folks at Healthista asked me if I'd be interviewed talking about what it's like to live with 'schizophrenia'. This wa...
Developing Support for Young People who Hear Voice... Whilst hearing voices is a relatively common experience in childhood adolescence, affecting around 1 in 5 11-13 year olds, 8% of older teens and 23% o...
Working with Self Harm: A Fresh Approach (December... About the workshop Thursday 21 December, 9.30 - 4.30pm @ Augustine House, CCCU Library, Rhodaus Town, Canterbury, Kent, CT1 2YA. Whilst there is ...
BBC Horizon: Why Did I Go Mad? This week I was one of three contributors with personal experience of things that often get called 'psychosis' (hearing voices, seeing visions and par...

32 responses to “My Story”

  1. Hey Rai, really enjoyed the lecture you gave in Perth on the 18th, you inspired a lot of people there, thanks again!

  2. Hi Rachel
    I attended your hearing voices groups in prisons talk at Durham University last night and was definately inspired by you and your story and made me want to know more about you. Thank you for sharing your story on your website,it has given me an insight into your recovery journey.
    Joanne

  3. Hi my name is Fran Armentrout, I suffer with hearing voices and also have PTSD, borderline Personality . I would like to attend a group on hearing voices. I live in Massachusetts ,USA . I also live in a supported housing and have staff 24 hours a day. I go to peer support and we also have a group called Illness Management and Recovery. It teaches us coping skills and also how to deal with stigma . I would be very interested in hearing from you on other coping skills. Especially in how to deal with hearing voices. Sincerely, Fran Armentrout

  4. Hey Rai just read your story that in many ways reflects my own. I live in a town a few hours out of Perth WA I’m now in the process of starting up a HV group hear in rural west Australia.
    Your story is really inspiring and it is People like yourself and others around the world that has incouraged me on my journey
    Joanne

  5. Hi Rai after reading your story and following you on twitter thought it would be good to contact you. Your story has some similar aspects of my own. I live in Busselton western Australia a few hours drive from Perth and are in the process of starting up a HV group something a few years back I could not imagine. But thanks to some excellent support from HVNWA and Richmond Fellowship it now seems a real possibility. Your story really inspired me along with others in the Hearing Voices movement.
    Thank you Joanne Newman

  6. Hi,
    are you familiar with the work of Debbie Ford? If you’re not it will greatly help you to understand the true nature of those inner voices and their aggenda. I really believe that everybody is hearing voices – only that some of us choose to ignore them.
    Here is a great book by Debbie Ford: The Dark Side of the Lightchasers.
    http://www.amazon.com/Dark-Side-Light-Chasers/dp/1594485259/ref=asap_bc?ie=UTF8

  7. Hi Rai,
    You and your work are very intriguing to me. I am a school counselor who is studying and practicing mindfulness. Some of what you are doing to help with hearing voices sounds a lot like mindfulness. Do you have such a practice? Thank you for sharing your work. I hope to share it with people at work and with family members who struggle with mood issues.
    Joanne

  8. Congrats on your strength and willingness to share. I came across your site via a post on ‘disinformation’.

    My wife has DID, one of the worst ones for stigma, as you mentioned. We’ve been fortunate in that we haven’t gotten any grief about it. She’s quite open and is accepted by everyone she meets, including our families.

    The description of your voices in the article sounds a lot like what my wife hears/lives.

    Keep up the good work.

  9. Dear Rai
    My sister has so called schizo affective disorder/ schizophrenia i don’t know what the final label was. she hears a lot of different voices some of which are very cruel and mean and tell her frightening things that make her very lonely and isolated. she lives in leeds in the uk. i think she might benefit from meet / speaking to people who have similar expeirences to the life she lives. but she finds it very hard to reach uot to others becauyse of bad experiences of exploitation and the “system”. i would love so much to help her…. is there a hearing voices group in leeds? any contact in leeds who could make contact with her. she has no friends or contacts and lives alone.
    sorry for this very long message.

  10. thanks very much for the link to leeds HVG i’ll try to contact them

  11. My daughter who is in her early 20’s has recently had her first psychycotic episode. It’s over a month ago now and she has not recovered and is hearing voices telling her she is God and Satan and other bizarre things. She is in hospital and has been put on anti psychotic meds

  12. Hi Rai,
    I wanted to say thank you for a wonderful presentation at the UPCA psychotherapy conference yesterday. For me it was the most thought provoking part of the day & I’m grateful to you for the insights you shared. I only recently qualified and have a lot to learn about the topics you discussed, and I was interested to read more about your work on your website.
    Femke

  13. My Golly, I’m just beginning to read your website after signing up for your four courses and I can feel my eagerness growing to become as personally-involved as possible in this HVN Movement and its roots in England, where the real and definitive action is. How can I sit still, over here in the Americas, when my only objection to being there is that it’s cold at this time of the year? I’m likely to be sitting on some warm beach in Mexico or Belize, reading your course material, rather than bundled up in freezing, wet London! And yet, the opportunity to dive right in among my peers is already inspiring me to get on a plane and just get started. Tell me I’m crazy! Tell me it’s not much warmer, or dryer, there in June as it is now, in December. Then, tell me the Beaches don’t have what you’ve got…. ground-breaking and very exciting New Beginnings for a whole lot of people, and I won’t be able to resist. As a long-term Voice Hearer, perfectly content and capable on my own, I find myself simply starved for the chance to TALK ABOUT IT with others of my peculiar talents; to learn what it feels like to be them; to share tips and things that have worked for me; to philosophize and wonder about it all. That’s what the UK has to offer me that no other planetary location has at the moment. Ground Zero in this exciting subject. However, time passes rapidly and I’m sure I can have my beach life and London, too, if only I can sit still long enough to experience the interchange, electronically, for the moment, till the sun comes out Over There.

  14. Hi Rai, Thanks for answering so quickly. I would like to know the details on the 2017 World Congress in the US and I didn’t see the info on the website you referred me to. However, I’m not currently in the US and will have to make a special trip home to attend that Congress. I am just now, in Mexico but will be traveling south on my leisurely around-the-world solo backpacking trip, destined to take four years….until 2019. I could certainly factor in the World Congress, but do plan to spend a lot of time in the UK, specifically to zero-in on this new self-discovery possibility. Surely, we’ll meet at some point!

  15. Thank you, Rai,

    Europe… and thus, Paris…is already in my long-range plans for 2016, so when I know the dates of that Congress, I will sign up to be there, for sure.

  16. Hi Rai. I’ve been looking at your website and reading your blog posts and it’s just amazing stuff.
    However, I do feel a bit voyeuristic now – feels a bit like reading my pals diary…….
    But I will be sending the link out to a couple of people tonight!!!

  17. Wow! Namaste.

  18. Amazing working with you yesterday Rai. I think that you have such a unique manner which is able to make such a significant contribution in challenging traditional perspectives in mental health. We all need a slice of Rai in local areas!

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