For most of my life, I could only tell you one hallucination story. When I was a freshman in college, I had a gruesome accident while canoeing. I won’t go into the details, because they are truly disgusting, but suffice it to say that it required a trip to an emergency room, and the pain, even during my subsequent recovery, was excruciating. I went back to my dorm room clutching the bottle of codeine I had been prescribed. I followed the instructions on the label, and then I collapsed into bed.
I have no idea how much time had passed, but I woke up to see that my roommate had put a box fan at the foot of my bed, because it was a very warm day. That was nice of her. I was so out of it that I hadn’t even heard her come in and leave again.
But then I felt this change. You know that feeling you get when you’re being watched? But there was no one in the room but me.
No one but me and the box fan, that is. And suddenly I was absolutely convinced that that fan was coming to get me. It was inching closer and closer, and if I didn’t do something right now, it would chop me to pieces. I screamed.
But it was midday, midweek, and the dorm was deserted. So deserted, in fact, that I began to wonder if my roommate had put the box fan there at all. Maybe the thing showed up on its own. It looked rather angry.
I sat up and scrambled toward the headboard, hoping that I could buy myself a little time before the inevitably gory attack began. To say that I was terrified doesn’t even begin to describe the depth of my emotions at that moment. I broke out in a cold sweat.
And so, we waited, the fan and I. The fan was glaring at me and making a low growling sound as some fans do. I knew that if I touched the floor I’d be a goner, so I was trapped. I was paralyzed with fear.
At some point, I fell asleep again, this time in a fetal position by the headboard. When I woke up, the fan was still there, but I knew it was just a fan. I had a good laugh at myself.
Then I flushed the rest of the codeine down the toilet. I’d rather recover in pain than go through that again. Some things are worse than pain.
When I think about my Day of the Killer Box Fan, one thing stands out for me. I was convinced that that fan was a serious threat. I mean, convinced like I am that the sky is blue. It was a fact, man, as sure as I’m typing here.
The mind can play funny tricks on you.
The reason I thought of this was that I was reading an article on one woman’s experience with postpartum psychosis, which is very rare, but much worse than postpartum depression. She was hallucinating, too. She even thought God was talking to her. The news anchors were talking to her from the television as well. She wound up being institutionalized for 17 days.
That, in turn, made me think about the many delusional people who cross my bridge, punching the air in front of them or shouting at no one. Whatever they are seeing, it’s very real to them. It’s heartbreaking to witness.
And I’ve only just started reading a book called The Reason I Jump, by Naoki Higashida. I read it after watching the documentary of the same name. The author was 13 years old at the time he wrote the book, and since he’s severely autistic and non-vocal, the way he did so was to point at various letters on a large board, and then a transcriber would write it out for him. So he spelled the book out to someone, letter by letter.
I’m only partway through the book, but it seems that people asked him questions about autism, and he answered them, describing what is going on in his mind. It’s as though he popped open his neurodivergent brain and allowed us all to look inside at the inner workings. It’s pretty fascinating.
It is amazing to discover that a non-vocal autistic person could very well be quite lucid deep down, but he can’t bridge the divide of sensory chaos to show the rest of the world that he is, in fact, quite articulate. In one section he says it ticks him off when people assume they should talk baby talk to him. I got stuck on the phrase “ticks me off”. To think that someone who never even looks up at you or interacts in any way, someone who can’t make himself understood, can still get ticked off… that’s profound.
I just remembered one other hallucination I had not too long ago. (I’m extremely sensitive to certain types of prescription medication.) I looked up at the ceiling and I thought I saw a spider. It was spindly, and it was glowing and golden. I pointed it out to a few people who were in the room with me, and they couldn’t see it. I was pretty insistent that it was there. I kept trying to convince them. They told me I was seeing things. I got so frustrated.
And then after they left, I kept looking at the spider, and all of a sudden it turned into a really beautiful, elaborate, gold filigreed glass window. That’s when I realized that they had been right. I was seeing things. So I sat back, relaxed, and watched the gorgeous ever-changing hallucination until I fell asleep.
Wow, the brain is complex. In retrospect, I can’t really say that I’ve had only two hallucinations in my life. For all I know, this is a hallucination. My whole life could be one big hallucination. I’m convinced it’s not, but I was also convinced about the killer box fan and the golden shape-shifting spider at the time. So who knows?
The idea that my brain can conjure up just about anything is wondrous, but also a little scary. I mean, what if the fan had turned into a giant and much-less-attractive spider? Who’s driving this reality of mine? Me or some other… thing? I don’t know. How can any of us be sure? It feels like we’re all at the mercy of these alien creatures that take on the shape of our squiggly grey matter.
I’ll never fully trust my brain again. Who knows what it’s up to? It could decide to go rogue at any moment. If so, brace yourself, because I’ll surely be writing about it.
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