By Kellie Stastny
The 12th World Hearing Voices Congress hosted by the Hearing Voices Network of Ireland was a unique online opportunity, aptly named Solidarity in Times of Adversity- The Global Voice Hearing Community Reconnecting. Many of the attendees had the privilege to witness the keynote presentation; The Listening to Voices Project: Listening to Voices: Hero of Myself. This presentation featured a monologue from a very talented human, Ben Pearson, he received a standing ovation with much of the feedback blown away not only by the quality for his performance but fact that it was delivered live. I have recently had the pleasure to spend some time with Ben, get to know a little more about the Listening to Voices Project and the artistic processes and immense work that goes into the creative performance. We shared space and time together and whilst I will include some of the questions I raised, most of the following will be just Ben’s words and I’m sure you will all see why.
What would you like the Hearing Voices Movement to know about you?
“Well I am a member of a group called Listening to Voices Theatre and we provide performance based education workshops both in theatre and online performances pretty much dispelling myths and pre conceptions around the experience of hearing voices and having a whole heap of fun while we do it!”
Ben has been involved with the Listening Voices project since 2016 and his first performance was a Hot House theatre in Albury Wodonga. Ben spoke about where the group has performed.
“So we have performed all throughout regional Victoria and New South Wales We’ve been to Sydney, Brisbane and Melbourne. We were invited to present at parliament house in Sydney but Covid happened and put the kibosh on that, but we’ve been to a few places and it’s been good!”
Ben drew attention to the impact and influence of the project.
“I think the more regional places we’ve performed at have been really changing for people with a small-town sort of sensibility of things. People who have the experience of hearing voices and might feel disenfranchised or very much alone in their experiences can realise that there is lots of people out there who have their own experiences”
I was curious if Ben had always liked or been drawn to drama.
“I’ve always loved story. As a young kid I read voraciously. Particularly heroic narrative as I like to call it. So where there is character that is untested and is pure of heart who goes on a journey and by the end has all these fantastic things happen, all these adventure happen but there is also a personal growth and they become the best version of themselves. I like superheros!”
Ben speaks incredibly fondly of his family and in particular his young nephews who are becoming interested in superheroes too so now he can share this interest, his expertise and, knowledge with them.
Ben’s performance monologue at the World Hearing Voices Congress was really profound to me and many others around the world. The chat was going off with everyone surprised about the quality of his performance and that it was done live.
“Live performance is such a powerful thing you have a connection with a human being you don’t get that as much pre-recorded or pre filmed stuff. That’s what I love about performing in the theatre too you’re in a room together and you get the energy off the people. It’s a human connection you know my experience of hearing voices has been about connection. As I spoke about in the piece itself my connection with Beast and finding that connection and realising that he wasn’t something to be afraid of, but he was there to protect me he was on my side that connection was profound”
The way Ben articulated this really connects to my own sensemaking and how I have constructed the voices I hear and also many others within the Hearing Voices Movement. That ability to turn a previously frightening experience into something meaningful. Ben spoke about how he did this.
“I say this in the piece; you know I turned and I knocked on the door it’s the thing about me sort of challenging him rather than running away cause that wasn’t working and I had done that for quite some time and finding yeah that I couldn’t take any more of the pharmacological or therapeutic angle more it was I’ve got to do something myself hear. I have had workers and psychiatrists that have been instrumental in my recovery no doubts there, but it had to come from somewhere inside me and realise that I experience Beast as someone who is along for the ride but in other ways, he is an expression of an unmet need in myself”
Ben is so powerful and thoughtful in the words he uses to describe and explore his experience. Talking with him was an enriching opportunity and he gave so much of his story so very generously. We spoke for some time about the challenges of a purely biomedical approach and how being diagnosed can sometimes feel like a personal attack particularly for a diagnosis like Borderline Personality Disorder. I t can feel like you are being told there is something inherently wrong with you.
“This work is so powerful and instrumental in saying people are not a disorder, people are not a one note song as well. They are not one thing that defines their whole existence. We are a beautiful spectrum of emotions, thoughts, feelings, and needs, and fears, and desires and all that human stuff”
We spoke about those professionals you encounter that share hope and see you as a unique individual.
“those people are jewels. They give you hope in the system. The work we have done with the students at universities, getting in at the ground level those grass roots attitude has been a very powerful thing”
I was curious about the response from young university students
“a lot of the time we have found it can be challenging for them but very rewarding. Before the performance we ask a question like what do you expect to learn from today and at the end what did you learn from today. Overwhelmingly the response would be don’t make assumptions about people from a file or a folder. That is a very valuable gift to give to people”
We shared what being a part of this Tribe means to us and how it supports us to make our own sense of what we experience we also connected over the diversity of the Hearing Voices Movement.
“I think that there aren’t any assumptions made cause each human being is a spectrum of themselves which I think is such a valuable way of looking at people in general. I think our community gets that really really well”
Ben shared how being a part of this project has given the opportunity to explore and share some of his story with his family and in turn the support and admiration he has received from them. Ben then went on to share what it is like working with the rest of the Listening to Voices team members.
“I’m so lucky to work with such awesome people. They are talented, they are giving, they are patient”
I reflected to Ben on the times I have witnessed the performance how it has changed and evolved over time and that every time I have taken something different away from it.
“It changes it’s a living thing. I think theatre is an experiment in living chaos but its slightly controlled. We have a script, but I liken it to if you feel it in your heart, you know the words, the words aren’t a problem. It’s like strapping yourself to a rocket and then just holding on and then you go on the journey with the audience. That’s the best feeling then you think I did that”
“The living energy in the theatre when you are in there with a heap of people, it’s a real exchange, it’s like a transaction of awesomeness”
I was curious what being a part of listening to voices meant to Ben.
“It’s given me a purpose and it’s been an immense amount of fun. I’m working with people who are awesome to the power of 10. I am so blessed to be able to tell my story and spread positive vibes to pretty much anyone that sees it and hope.”
Ben is so warm engaging and takes you on a journey with him. Every statement conveys so much and gives so much this obviously contributes to him being such a powerful performer. He is a gifted and talented individual, and I am so grateful to have had this opportunity to spend time with him. Condensing this interview was hard as every statement was a sound bite and information that needs to be shared. Ben thank you for your time and generosity.
If you are interested in finding out more please check out the Listening to Voices website https://listeningtovoices.org.au/