Inside – A Survivor-Made film on Psychosis

Inside - The Film
Inside – The film

Donna hears voices, but who will she will listen to?

INSIDE is a film about psychosis written and directed by Dolly Sen, a person who has experienced psychosis herself, a drama about the beginning of how she found a way to herself.



Dolly Sen’s Inside is a hard-hitting short with a powerful message highlighting the disparity of understanding of racism within the mental health system. Parading as care the psychiatric system channels mental health into often unhelpful and judgmental labels that become part of the problem as they do not address the underlying issues that lead to mental breakdown. Inside acts as a case study in how racism can harm people’s mental health and sense of self to the point where it can become part of someone’s psychosis. When Donna declares to a mental health professional that ‘nobody listens’, she expresses just how impossible her situation is where the weight of oppression from white privilege will not be acknowledged. In a succinct few minutes Inside suggests a conversation that the psychiatric system would do well to take heed of. COLIN HAMBROOK, Editor of Disability Arts Online

This excellent and gently powerful short from Dolly Sen portraying some of how people who hear voices can struggle, through the experience of Donna, who is waiting in some kind of clinical setting, set up like an interrogation room, for some kind of clinical professional to arrive and perform their professional thing. I hear voices and have struggled at times, I’m fortunate that I now get to put some of what I’ve learned to practice supporting others who struggle in different ways. I’ve learned that a commonly shared experience is the impossibility of communicating what we can experience to others – especially to those who don’t or can’t conceive that we could experience because its beyond the framework of what they have been taught, trained or indoctrinated to believe in. The best words I know that come close to capturing the pain of that struggle are from David Foster Wallace, from the first sentence of his essay the depressed person, I’ll borrow his words to frame how I understand what is portrayed here. Donna… was in terrible and unceasing emotional pain, and the impossibility of sharing or articulating this pain was itself a component of the pain and a contributing factor in its essential horror. I found that this short movie convey that very well. That a person hear voices, or however they choose to name what they experience, in and of itself is not the issue. All kinds of people hear all kinds of voices, and choose to name their experiences in all kinds of ways. Those that struggle don’t just hear voices as some thing separate from all other of their experience but as part of how they experience that struggle in this world. The voice[s] that are most painful to hear can be usefully understood as the voice[s] of the pain we feel from the uniquely personal existential struggle with [in] life, and especially from living with all that alone. In a silent voice. Trauma is not what happened but the pain we hold inside in absence of empathetic witnesses. Voices can express the pain we feel, the pain we are left to live with alone, and the pain of the impossibility of communicating that pain, and especially when we are confronted by the way that services and those working in services treat us. Even when people try to help the help offered – analytical, systematised decontextualized and dehumanized – so often makes that pain worse. Donna says: “I’ve spoken to so many people, you don’t listen.” It often comes at us as the words uttered by those around us – be that from those with whom we are in some lasting relation with, like families, friends, colleagues and/ or also from from those we encounter only once, fleetingly. The denigration, disappointment and despisement others project onto us can lodge like thorns in our spirit and eat away at our core, and embed itself deep within our soul at the core of our experience of living in this world. “Voices inside my head, echoes of things that you said”. The words we hear might be yours. The voice or voices we hear might be your voice – or some quality of how we experienced what you said or how you said it, over and over – or just once, but coming at hose times our doubts are at their highest and our ability to endure at its lowest. Often the voice we hear sounds like the voice of someone we know or met, or some combination of many we have met, it may be the tone, the words used, uttered, especially when thrown at us like daggers or spears or all of those qualities compounded. When we live hearing those words, those utterances, the emotions and the embedded meanings over and over again, all those the multiple denigrating messages we’ve heard throughout our lives can repeat, repeat, rerun and replay endlessly, leaving us feeling exhausted, powerless and alone. And if we’ve been categorized in some minority group through race or class, or poverty or gender, those meanings have the added weight of systemic power being used against us. There is much talk – and rightly so – in the hearing voices community of connection between traumatic childhood experiences and coming to live with difficult to hear voices. It is past time we also talk about how different kinds of exclusion and oppression the basis of race, gender, poverty, disability and innumerable other ways we find to declare some people “too different”, or “not us” and discriminate against them. Franz Fanon wrote of this decades ago, her The horror of being cast out from society let alone with that and the impossibility of communicating it when we summon the strength to try but find, yet again, that no one wanting to listen – or even when they do, they do not know how. This is then further compounded by the assumptions held by those whose work in helping professions try to put their training to work to “help”, listen for what’s wrong, what fits their toolkit of fixes, rather than simply listen. We also see glimpse of how voices can be helpful – and voices can suck at helping in all the ways humans can suck at helping – even and especially when it doesn’t feel helpful. Voices can be interpreted as some form of internal dialogue, if you like, in which we rehearse conversations we’ve had or might have, running through different ways of attempting to put the pain into words, that we might at some point try-out with those around us at the next opportunity. That supposes we are able to summon-strength enough for one more try, in hope that this person might be the one who is able to listen– truly listen. Most of us learn to listen long enough to interrupt and impose our understanding on the other person, the more so when we are in some position of power, representing some institution representing greater power over our lives. But that’s not listening. Listening requires us to hold ourselves open to be changed by what we hear, to put aside the assumptions we have been trained to hold as reality, the only reality. This short is all of seven minutes but I can see all this and more as Donna struggles to hold and contain the pain she holds inside – that is what society expects, nay demands of her- and the hope of finding someone who will listen and be able to sense that pain, yet also bearing the pin of all the times she tried before but found those she tried with were not able or ready or both.. I hope others too can see some of this, and that it helps them want to be curious to listen rather than figure out what they have in their toolbox of modalities they can use to fix us. I would also go so far to say that if you work supporting folks who struggle this way and you can’t sense this kind of pain and hold your own discomfort with that then you will need to learn how – or find other work. The hardest thing to live with for people who hear voices is not the voices – but how we get treated by those who don’t. What we need most is to be heard, to be witnessed and to feel felt. KEVIN HEALEY

INSIDE – THE FILM’, the second of the trilogy by Dolly Sen which started with OUTSIDE (2013), is a moving, intense and evocative portrait of the claustrophobia and loneliness of being spoken to by voices only you can hear in a mental health system which examines and assesses, while avoiding understanding and connection. Experience is reduced to diagnosis and risk. Sen portrays the stresses and precariousness of trying to operate within consensus based reality as someone experiencing psychosis. She speaks from inside the multiple layers of marginalisation experienced by those with psychosis who are seeking understanding, compassion and refuge. While it paints a vivid portrait of that distress, with Sen’s signature rage with biting humour,  it also leaves room for the possibility of beauty, hope and connection. David O Flynn, Adamson Collection Trust


DONNA Remi Fadare

INTERVIEWER Shareen Swainson

VOICE ONE Indigo Wilde

VOICE TWO John Hoggett



EDITOR Quynh Nguyen Dieu


1st AD Stephanie Zarilho






Ines Sofia Montoya

Jordan Evagora


SOUND RECORDIST Christoph Pelczar


RUNNER Michael Houghton

COLOURIST Gareth Thomas


PRODUCER Sal Anderson

We would like to thank these Indiegogo Contributors without whom this film would not have been made:

Helen Lister, Martin Goble, Michael Achtman, Chrissy Adams, Paul Avard, Penny Bennett, Steve Brown, Eleusinian Press Ltd, Alison Faulkner, Nat F, Joanne Newman, Dr Emmanuelle Peters, Anna Sexton, Mirabai Swingler, Jean Thirtle, Tim Verdon, Andrew Voyce, Alison Wilde.