A painted illustration of a woman sitting on a bench. Two friendly green monsters comfort her, while she stares at an ominous figure in front of her—a white man in a black suit.
(Keziah Toscano)

I woke up one morning from a horrific demonic dream. It was about people being killed, strange sex, and everything imaginable that’s horrible. Then I started hearing voices. I heard the voices of my friends and my family, but there was a voice that I could not recognize. The voice was telling me to kill myself, kill other people, jump out the window, just hurt myself and everyone around me. And it was horrible. It was so scary. Then I saw a person that I call “It”: A Caucasian man in an all-black suit who does nothing but stand in the corner and smile. And when I acknowledge “It,” he gets closer and closer and closer. When I’m sleeping, I wake up and he’ll be in the corner. Then I wake up again to go pee and he’s in the middle of the room. Then when I wake up to smoke a cigarette and he’s standing right over me. It is so terrifying, because I know that “It” is not real. But “It” feels more real than you could ever imagine. 

I don’t want to admit that I have a mental health issue, but I do. I have a ghost in my head that I may never be able to get rid of. A ghost in a reality that I do not really even live in. A demon that I have to live with for the rest of my life. No matter all the anti-psychotic meds, no matter all of the therapy, this is still a ghost that I’m going to have to live with forever. Treatment may quiet the voices, it may make the hallucinations less frequent, but they will always be there. It’s like I’m living in a haunted house, and the only thing that the treatment will do is make it pretty. It will just make the haunted house pink. 

I don’t want to admit that I have a problem because in the Black community, mental health challenges are taboo. They make you weak, they make you the runt of the litter. You always want to appear strong. I don’t want to admit that I hear things or see things that aren’t there because growing up, instead of talking about mental health issues, you were called crazy. Nobody ever said, “oh let me go get you help for your mental health.” It was, “that poor baby is just crazy.” Nobody wants to be considered mentally ill. You want to be as normal as everybody else. But what people don’t understand is that there’s no such thing as normalcy. 

When I first saw “It,” I thought it was a person in my room. Just as real as you are. And that’s the part that makes it so terrifying, because you don’t know. You don’t know. I can’t tell the difference between “It” and you, because “It” feels as real as anybody. 

I often call my friends and ask them to talk me off the ledge. And the mean voice makes fun of me, criticizing me, talking about how no one loves me, no one’s ever going to care about me, I might as well die. My friends’ voices are very kind. They say, “don’t listen, don’t listen to that, ignore us. Ignore us, we are not real, we are just in your head.” 

But it feels like I don’t know who to believe. I don’t know if my friends are lying to me. It’s almost like I’m being recorded. The voices are saying everything I’m doing. Like, “look at you, about to light a cigarette. Look at you about to put on your shoes.” 

That’s why there are times when I call just to ask, “where are you? Where are you?” And when they tell me they’re at home, or they’re on a walk, it registers that I’m just hearing their voices. But it’s also like, hmmmm, really? Where are you? 

I never heard voices before I was drugged with meth in San Francisco. I ran out of the house and laid on the ground and played like I was dead. I broke into some woman’s house, because the voices told me that she would help me. I ended up getting beaten with a broom stick. 

I was so delirious, I was conscious but I was not there. Having an out-of-body experience makes you feel like a ghost. It makes you feel like you’re not there. And I believe that’s what a ghost is—a being which is not there. Not in the physical realm anymore. And that’s how I felt. 

Once you start hearing them it’s almost like you can’t get rid of them. Even when you try, you do your damnedest to try, it feels like you can’t. And that’s what makes it like a haunted house. And these medicines and therapy and psychiatric stuff, it’s like we’re just painting the house. We’re not dealing with the ghost inside of it. 

In order for the voices to be quiet, it’s kind of like you have to do what they say. But what they’re saying is awful—things you know you don’t want to do. You just want them to be silenced. Alcohol helps because it builds up a wall—it’s almost like I’m able to put “It” in a box, put him in a storage unit. That’s why I drink: because I want him to be quiet. And the only way he is quiet is when I’m drinking. So I’m not an alcoholic because I wanna be. I’m an alcoholic because I feel like it’s the only thing that gives me sanity. 

Everybody is a bit strange and damn near deranged. If you think that you are normal, you probably a psychopath. Mental health issues should not be a secret. You should not feel like they are a secret. I may feel like a haunted house, and it may feel like a ghost story, but it is your truth. The only way you can get out is by asking for help. And you are the only one that can judge yourself. And you shouldn’t judge yourself negatively. Because everybody is going through something, whether they admit it or not. Don’t feel strange and don’t feel deranged. You are perfect and you are beautiful inside and out. 

Tiara Swearington is an unhoused writer and poet who lives in Oakland.