A Synopsis and Review of Hearing Voices: A Memoir of Madness by Eric Coates

by Jordan Bailey, MT-BC

During the pandemic, I spent a great amount of my time reading. I decided to re-read a few books that stood out to me in the past. The book I’m telling you about today was so profound to me when I read it for the first time that I was very excited to crack it open again. The author painted an extremely vivid image of exactly what was happening in his head during two major mental breakdowns due to schizoaffective disorder

Schizoaffective disorder is a mental illness that features symptoms of schizophrenia, depression, and bipolar disorder. These symptoms can occur all at once or separately.  In Hearing Voices: A Memoir of Madness, Eric Coates does a wonderful job of taking the reader on a journey of his experience with schizoaffective illness and his personal thoughts during his mental breakdowns. 

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The First “Break” from Reality

Coates first starts by describing what he thought was the greatest part of his life. He had the career that he had been working toward, he had fallen in love, and he and his lover were even expecting a child. The first trigger begins when he separated from his partner after the birth of their daughter and she moved away. He found himself following her in order to be there for his daughter; therefore, he moved away, leaving his dream job. In the new location, he had trouble finding stable work. Losing job after job, he became depressed due to his uncertain financial position and his dull social life. 

These experiences changed his entire perception of life and caused his first breakdown which was characterized by an intense feeling of paranoia. He tells a story about a young man that he often saw around town and how he had begun to recognize him. He wondered why this man was so present in his life. His paranoid mind made him believe that this random young man was there to harm him. This is what initiated his delusions filled with paranoia. After discussing the issue with his mother, she advised him to “go to the hospital and tell them that you’re anxious, they’ll admit you.” 

After the hospitalization, a diagnosis of bipolar disorder, and treatment, it took him a year to rid the feelings of anxiety and psychosis. I really thought it was so interesting how his paranoia snuck up on him seemingly out of nowhere. In many cases, people experience denial when it comes to mental illness situations and sometimes, they even find it difficult to differentiate between actuality and/or the product of paranoid delusions. I think it’s important to note how he sought out help for his mental health issues and accepted the advice and medical help given to him.


The Second “Break” from Reality

About five years after the first incident, Mr. Coates had experienced a highly unprecedented level of success running his own business. This was a huge difference from the position he had found himself in earlier in the book. He found himself working almost constantly – but he never got tired. He even considered himself very happy during this time. His mother was the only person who had noticed that he might be experiencing a manic episode due to his bipolar disorder. He dismissed the first breakdown and thought of it as an episode of anxiety based on his life situation. When he was not at work, he admitted that he had been spending a lot of time intoxicated and under the influence of drugs. He noted that may have triggered his paranoia and even schizophrenia as a whole. 

One day he started to feel that maybe he was being followed and that he was a part of a government conspiracy. To him, there was logic to his delusions as in his mind it all made sense. It all pieced together in a way that made him believe that it was true. He discusses this logic in great detail in chapter eight. Mr. Coates knew that he was losing touch with reality; he was generally unsure about the reality of his delusions. He also knew that he was beginning to have disorganized thoughts. He hypothesized that he was so aware because he was diagnosed with schizoaffective illness in his late thirties, unlike usual when people experience the diagnosis around the ages of young adulthood. He began to panic when he reportedly started hearing the voices. They grew louder and louder and it became somewhat of a mind game to him. He described it as a game show in his head. Having everything going on in his mind explained was fascinating. He explained his elaborate thought processes and how they worked. Coates later writes about his current state. He has great insight of his illness and knows when he needs to get help. He still hears voices in his head, but he is able to ignore them until they dissipate.

If you’re a music therapist working with the mental health population, or a music therapy student hoping to do so, I highly encourage you to read this memoir. Though it is a short and simple read of a little more than just 100 pages, it is filled with raw information from the author’s personal point of view with no sugar-coating. It is a very honest first-hand account of what a person may experience when they lose their grip of reality. This awareness can greatly affect your clinical practice for the better.

Chime in!

Have you read any good books that focus on mental health lately? If so, what are they?

Jordan Bailey, MT-BC

Music Therapist – Board Certified


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