My First Voice

By Mindy Tsai | Apr. 16, 2018


No one, including family and close friends, has ever asked me about the first time I heard a voice. I think it’s a tough topic to talk about. Hearing voices isn’t considered normal. Regardless, I remember. Some voices are more memorable than others, just like real people.

On a sunny day, I heard “him” for the first time. Later on, I would name him Joe, because he reminded me of my secret crush at the time. I had just woken up and was getting dressed. Suddenly, I heard a man talking. I wasn’t sure if he was talking to me, so I thought, “Let me walk outside of the house to see if I can still hear him.”

I stepped out of my front door and there was silence for about five seconds. Then, he said, clearly: “Can you hear me?”

I locked the door and start walking to work. “Yes,” I said quietly and smiled.

There wasn’t a single person on the street I could see. Still, I heard: “Don’t smile. You are going to look silly if you walk on the street, talk to yourself and smile on your own.”

“Okay,” I thought in response. I transitioned from speaking out loud to in my mind only. That didn’t bother me. Actually, I didn’t really notice the transition.

“You need to ask someone for help,” Joe said. I still can’t believe that my first voice warned me about the mental health situation I was in.

I don’t remember how the conversation ended, but I do remember I had a completely reasonable “conversation” with Joe. We did not talk over each other. No one yelled. He did not make me upset. He did not give me commands to hurt or kill myself. Just like people, there are all kinds of voices.


During the earlier stages of my schizophrenia, I was trying to make sense out of what I heard. The voices to me were very real. And they were! Because I did hear them. It was only later that I made the connection that I was the only person who heard them. Writing and talking about what I experienced helped me finally make that connection.

So, if you’re a friend or family member of someone who is hearing voices (otherwise known as auditory hallucinations), the best way to be supportive is to talk about the experience. Simple conversation starters are: What was the first time you heard something? What did the voice say? How do you feel about them? Are you okay? It never helped when someone argued with me about what I heard or told me that it was all fake. But it was very helpful when someone listened.

My psychiatrist recommended Hearing Voices, A Common Human Experience to me when I asked to learn more about my condition. The book covers many different perspectives on hearing voices—from mental illness to spirituality, from religious figures to cultural folklores, from the distant past to current times. It’s an insightful read; like all the different kinds of voices, I thought it was interesting that we also have all kinds of perspectives on how we interpret those voices.

Every time I think about my schizophrenia, I’m amazed at what my brain can do, even when it’s considered “broken.” My brain can create an entire alternative world that only I know about. Perhaps, in the future, we’ll find out that it’s not really broken, but just behaving in a way we don’t quite understand right now. Hearing voices may not be considered “normal” for now, but trying to understand is a good first step in making those who have their own Joe feel accepted.


Mindy Tsai is an aspired writer working on her first memoir about her schizophrenia. She also started blogging about her real and messy life at During the day, she is a project manager at a digital health consulting firm. She lives in Brookline, MA.

Susanne Slay-Westbrook
As a therapist, I find this very insightful and well presented. Thank you!
4/20/2018 11:06:39 AM

Thank you so much, Mindy, sharing your story and with such wonderful peaks of good encouragement and chockful of delicate delights of good news.
Enjoy the blessed day- smiling!
4/19/2018 7:27:50 PM

Martha Sedani
I’m in tears right now! Reading your story just moves my heart. About 2 years my son started listen to voices also. It’s been very hard for all of us! But harder for him. Trying to find himself in this new person he has become.
4/19/2018 1:43:33 AM

Mindus Amitiel Debsin
My familiarity with NAMI goes back to 2006, when a destined supporter told me how much she loved NAMI and relied on it. Now that I have come to NAMI looking for something truly good, I have discovered they are just mediocre and not a pure blessing upon a soul as I had hoped. Why do you insist upon selling a book "Hearing Voices, A Common Human Experience" on Amazon, $31 for a paperback book? My other option at this time, the Theosophy website, publishes free textbooks on their website with no expectation of supporting amazon or paying exorbitant prices for books. Between death and slavery, I shall choose...... you know.
4/18/2018 5:34:18 PM

Rosalyn Glascoe
This blog gave me my first in-sight into people who hear voices. Thank you!
4/17/2018 3:36:23 PM

Joelle wisdom
Great article, thanks for sharing
4/17/2018 8:46:23 AM

My first voice came while I was at work. Plain as day, a female voice said "Tonight your life changes forever." She only said it once, and it was awhile before the onslaught of voices came.
4/16/2018 9:17:03 PM

Lizanne Corbit
I love this read, because it speaks to how amazing the mind truly is "broken" or not. We can get so hung up on assuming negatives when it comes to things like mental illness that we rarely stop to actually ask, how is this effecting the person? Are there possibly some positives that could come of this? Sometimes things that pop up are just asking to be acknowledged, and not drowned out, or pushed down. Thank you for sharing.
4/16/2018 8:24:04 PM

Gail Seckler
Have a son who has Schizophrenia. Your info very helpful. He never will talk about it
4/16/2018 7:26:33 PM

My wife heard voices when we first met. Everyone (Family, Doctors, Friends, Etc) told her they weren't real, she was sick, Etc, Blah, Blah, Blah.
I never told her these things. I acknowledged the voices. I reprimanded them when they tormented her. I spoke directly to them (one on one), not to her about them.
As a result she learned to trust me even when the voices told her she couldn't.
She saw she could confide in me.
Today she is going on 20 years with no medicine, sessions, groups, hospitalizations, and best of all; no voices.
4/16/2018 5:58:28 PM

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