I hear that a lot. In some thankfully-rare weeks, I hear it almost daily.
Not from another person, but rather from inside my own head. The tone is conciliatory; even a little fatherly. It talks me down.
I call it Voice Two. It sounds a lot like me, but more put-together. More in control. More rational, reasonable, and calm. The voice of experience, to which nothing is a problem.
Voice Two always puts things in sharp perspective, and knows exactly what to do when trouble strikes. It’s blasé, no matter what the situation is. Always faintly bored, and exasperated at all the unnecessary fuss.
If the problem is health anxiety, it’s ready with statistics. If my (minor, almost certainly harmless) heart issue is playing up, it reminds me that I’ve been through this hundreds of times before, and I’m still here. If I get caught in a spiral of negativity about my work or myself, it has a stream of anecdotes about people who actually quite enjoy my writing, thanks very much. It always knows the right buttons to push, but that’s hardly surprising.
It uses the word “you” a lot. You’ve got nothing to worry about. You’re fine. You’ll survive this. You’re good at what you do.
Maybe I should find that unsettling, since the voice is just a construct of my own mind. It’s not a separate personality, or anything so grandiose and sinister. It’s just an embodiment of self-reassurance that I rely on sometimes.
I’ve had to invent Voice Two for myself. You probably have something similar, if perhaps not quite so formalised. Yours probably has something of your parents in it, or their parents, or a beloved schoolteacher, or even a mentor you’ve chosen - maybe from real life, or even from fantasy. Perhaps your darker moments are blunted by the unflappable poise of Captain Picard, or Dr. Greg House, or the tone you project upon your preferred deity.
My secondary voice has none of my parents in it, nor of any beloved fictional character. It’s just a whisper that began at some point, and that I came to seek out, more and more often.
Voice Two is a more matey, blokeish, yet quietly compassionate version of myself. It addresses me as a friend would in the pub, after that second or third pint, if the conversation had strayed to topics of a sensitive or difficult nature. The sort of moment where you’d both lean in over your drinks, lowering your voice to prevent eavesdropping, and temporarily put bluster aside, to acknowledge shared frailties and common humanity.
Don’t worry about it until you know it’s going to happen, it says. There’s no point knowing a prognosis until there’s a diagnosis. The things you’re worried about are unlikely at best.
Easy to say… and yet it helps.
Am I that fragile? I don’t think that’s a fair judgement. Everyone has their insecurities, and the kind of introspective, pondering, imagination-focused type of person that would do something as unwise as trying to be a full-time writer, would most certainly have semi-regular dark nights of the soul. I don’t see it as weakness. It’s more of a… congenital deficiency of the breed. The artist’s dysplasia, if you like.
The voice is a corresponding adaption. The creative’s equivalent of white blood cells, producing antibodies for the mind. If you think of it that way, it’s something to be profoundly grateful for, not ashamed of. It means that everything is still working.
I don’t hear from the voice too often, all things considered. The bad weeks - with self-doubt, or anxiety - are rare. Most of the time, I’m OK. But we all have our down days, and turbulent times, and that’s when I’ll hear the whisper.
It’s got to the point when I can summon it at will, then listen carefully to whatever wise counsel is offered. Banalities can be wise, you know, if you remember that the point is to get over the bump and continue on. It’s no substitute for tackling the issues at hand - or talking to another real, actual person - but it’s pretty good in a pinch.
No-one is the sole inhabitant of their own mind; we all have other voices to listen to. I think that creative people are just more aware of them. They acknowledge the existence and apparent separateness of these other threads of who we are. Some even give them names, and accents, and their own peculiar mannerisms. I don’t think that’s unhealthy, or anything close to a personality disorder. It’s just our multiple nature.
We’re all animals, but also intelligent beings. Children, and adults. We exist in a continuum of identities, never quite the same from one decade to the next. I’m a man but still also a boy; a son, and a brother; a husband, and perhaps a father someday. A scientist, and a writer. Confident and afraid. One and many.
We struggle against these overlapping and diverging elements of ourselves, standing at the centre of the cacophony. To anthropomorphise these facets as actual voices is simply the sane thing to do. It’d be crazy not to.
To be a creative person is just another level of the same thing. My own mind echoes with the sound and sight of my characters - and even of real people, in alternate scenarios I can’t help but imagine. Overheard phrases, or something as simple as a piece of architecture, a strikingly-dressed person passing on the street, or a sound I can’t identify, all spark narratives - and then the voices begin to speak.
Voice Two is just another in the crowd, albeit one I’ve made for myself. An ally, ever ready to quietly remind me that I’ve got this far, and it’s probably not all coming to an end quite yet.
A more capable and reassuring presence, for when I can’t muster the required calmness and poise on my own.
It’s going to be alright, mate, it says, when I most need it to.