Every so often my brain likes to tug its little hand free of mine and scamper off the path to run headlong into the woods, giggling madly. This can be mildly annoying or utterly terrifying, but once my heart rate is back to normal, I’m curious. What on earth made the little bugger go off like that? Stress and fatigue are factors, but if that’s all it took, everybody would hallucinate.
Yes, at the risk of sounding certifiable, I want to share with you a secret. Sometimes I see things. Things that aren’t there. You know what else? I hear things, too.
I’ve revealed to a few people my tendency to hallucinate, but only rarely. I haven’t wanted anyone thinking I’m weird. But lately I’ve reconsidered. So what if people think I’m weird? I’m a writer. Weird’s practically a job requirement.
So here’s Part 1 of a brief, incomplete history. I’ll leave it up to you to decide about the state of my mental health.
The first time I hallucinated was when I was 4 or 5 years old. I was in my parents’ bed so that they could keep an eye on me, because I was ill with a high fever—over 105°. (I used to get those quite often as a child. Which could explain a lot, actually.) From the bed, I saw my mother standing before her bathroom mirror, dressed to the nines, ready for an evening out. I heard her laughing and talking with my father, who wasn’t visible from my perspective. Turns out neither was she. Despite the clarity of what I was seeing and hearing, none of it was real. Some would call this a “fever dream,” but I wasn’t asleep. I learned later that they came upon me sitting up in bed and chattering animatedly to the empty space where I thought my mother was.
That’s the only time I can recall hallucinating the video with the accompanying soundtrack. Since then the visual delusions have been separate from the auditory. The visual ones usually occur upon waking in the morning. You know, seeing hairy black spiders the size of dinner plates scuttling down the bedroom walls . . . that sort of thing.
What? You don’t see those? How about a child-sized figure in a red, hooded coat, standing by the bed with an upraised knife? (That happened in 1973, after I watched Nicolas Roeg’s film Don’t Look Now and scared myself silly.) These morning hallucinations are always accompanied by paralysis. My inability to sit up, fight back, or even move so much as a finger adds immeasurably to the thrill. (It’s only temporary, of course, and once the spiders or the killer dwarfs disappear, I’m free to move again.)
The symptoms aren’t unique to me; they’re all part of something called a “hypnopompic state.” It’s the vividness of the hallucinations coupled with the cherry-on-top paralysis that makes them extra-special.
Then there’s the “hypnagogic state,” which occurs during the transition from wakefulness to sleep. It brings on hallucinations that I call “night terrors,” a term I’m not sure technically applies to me, although it’s certainly accurate. I’m not paralyzed during these visions, so they’re even more entertaining. Within a few minutes of falling asleep, my eyes will fly open for no apparent reason, and I’ll see a shape in the darkness by the bed. Frequently it’s an inanimate object. For instance, once it was an oversize screen door falling down over me. Another time it was a pair of 7 foot tall porcelain statues—Chinese guardian lions (those things often called “Foo Dogs” in the West). Here’s one available on Amazon that’s very like the ones I saw:
Sometimes it’s a male human. When it is, I can see so clearly what he’s wearing (including fabric colors and patterns—extraordinary in an unlit bedroom at night) and what he looks like that I’d be able to give a precise physical description to the police. Whatever I see, it always seems threatening. At once I sit up and scramble desperately away across the mattress while keeping the thing in view and shrieking as loudly as I can. Then, after about 15-20 seconds, it gradually fades into the darkness.
Neither Glen nor I enjoy being awoken in this manner. Fortunately (and oddly!) we both go back to sleep soon after I stop screaming.
But sometimes a visual delusion will occur in broad daylight when I’m nowhere near the bed. A few years ago I was rear-ended. It was pretty minor as car accidents go, but it still shook me up. When I drove to the body shop a few days later to drop off my car, I exchanged it for a loaner. While I was still at the body shop, the other driver’s insurance rep called me to find out the loaner’s make and model. I walked around to the back of the vehicle, and read out to her what I saw there. “It’s a Toyota Titan,” I said. “A pickup truck.”
I can hear some of you saying, “Toyota doesn’t make the Titan pickup!”
You’re right. Nissan does. But I didn’t know that at the time.
That’s not the worst of it. When I made it home, I parked the truck, got out and started to walk into the house. I glanced at the emblem in the grill as I passed. It wasn’t a Toyota. (It wasn’t even a Nissan.) In disbelief, I walked around to the rear to be certain.
It was a Ford F-150.
Next week, Part 2: the audio portion of our hallucinatory broadcast!
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