“–Pauline looks better today.
–Yes, she is speaking non-stop, to herself.
– I noticed that. She does it often, even when surrounded by people and activities. What does she say?
–She talks about her house, her things. That she has a lot of gold and diamond jewelry. In reality she had some, but not that much. That she has a hundred sweaters. This is true. She had so many sweaters. She gave ten here and ten there and still, she has a lot. She talks about her nice furniture, all her possessions. She had a really nice apartment, well decorated. She enjoyed it very much.
–What a contrast with here. Maybe she needs to surround herself with the words since the objects have mostly disappeared.”
Pauline was slowly recovering from the flu. I was talking with her daughter-in-law. Pauline had been admitted to the nursing home a few months ago. We go along well in very simple English. Pauline sleeps, helps other people, observes and discusses what’s going on or spends hours doing very nice coloring and talking to herself in Russian, her mother tongue.
Reading THE VOICES IN OUR HEADS, by Jerome Groopman (New Yorker, January 9, 2017) inspires me to learn more about people who talk to themselves. I am one of them, as is J. Groopman. I do it often while riding my bicycle or walking. I recite my biography, I replay conversations, I rehearse future meetings. I started as a child. Fictional facts were mixed in, until I reached my thirties. After moving to the U.S., my life story became rich and complex enough to sufficiently fill my monologue. I wish I could ask Pauline her opinion on her self-talk. I might, if I find a translator who can explore the topic in an empathetic and respectful way. My inner speech stems from stress and uncertainty. I stay silent if I am relaxed and able to enjoy my surrounding. THE VOICES IN OUR HEADS differentiates between different types of inner voices. Who is speaking, and what is said help define the threshold between normalcy and pathology. The nursing home where I spend my day resonates with all kind of voices. I refuse to catalog them. If they exist, they are needed.
I was glad to learn the meaning of Pauline’s words. I had observed no distress during her long talks. I was not surprised that she was revisiting familiar situations. I admired how resourceful she was.
I am wondering if our society will become more accepting of audible inner speech as a result of the wide and constant use of cell phones. As I talk to myself in the street, I often pass other pedestrians who are talking to invisible people, through their phone. Our eyes are similarly unfocused and our brain oblivious to street activity. Are they really making a phone call?