My favorite hallucination I’ve ever had was a flock of black angels flying over the highway. I leaned out my window to look as we drove under them. I was severely sleep deprived, manic, and on a medication that I hadn’t yet figured out was affecting me badly, so I didn’t know right away that it wasn’t real. Usually I can fact-check and try to reason through the situation if something comes up that doesn’t make sense. These angels felt very real to me. I got to watch them for about 45 seconds before they were gone, and because they disappeared, I could confirm that it had been a hallucination.
My hallucinations are caused primarily by bipolar episodes and sleep deprivation. Depression can sometimes play a role, and mania is a guaranteed hallucination factory. Sleep deprivation, though, causes the most intense visions, and they last all day. I’ll see smoke billowing in the air everywhere I go, people dressed in black walking up and down stairs, hundreds of birds in the sky, and bugs on my skin. Less often I have auditory or olfactory hallucinations, where I hear or smell things. Least often I have the physical sensation of touch. That one throws me for a loop every time.
There are good, bad, and irrelevant hallucinations. Now that I’m on beneficial medication, most of mine are just irrelevant; they don’t actually impact my life. I count myself lucky for that. Most people who hallucinate don’t know or believe they’re hallucinating at the time it happens. I don’t know immediately, but I can often use logic to determine what’s real and what’s not. Most of the time the things I see disappear in under a minute, and if something disappears I don’t even need to reason with the situation, I just know I hallucinated. I count myself lucky for that, too.
My irrelevant hallucinations are sometimes very small, like seeing the pattern of moving water all around me in the air, or watching a stationary object slide across the floor. I have seen many people who don’t exist, usually from a distance and only for several seconds before they disappear.
These days, bad hallucinations happen slightly less often than the irrelevant ones. I’ve seen a Chinese soldier wearing a traditional straw hat, covered in blood, holding a large rifle with a bayonet attached, twelve feet away from where I was sitting. I’ve seen a black spider about four feet in diameter crawling around the corner of my room near the ceiling. Just last summer, I saw a blonde little boy drowning in the lazy river of our local pool, and when I dove down in a panic to save him he disappeared before I got to the bottom. Finding out that I’m hallucinating doesn’t make the pounding in my chest lessen. It doesn’t make the fear go away, but it does bring a little comfort in knowing that there are no practical actions I need to take to change the situation: the man with the gun can’t shoot me, the spider can’t bite me, and the little boy doesn’t need to be saved.
I have found disappointingly few accounts of hallucinations on the internet. I’ve reached out in chat rooms and done google searches, and I never found anyone who talked explicitly about their hallucinations. If you have had hallucinations you want to share with someone, feel free to contact me. I’d be more than happy to hear your story.
By Emily Harrington
The Goldfish Painter