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Hallucinations

By: Greg Walshaw

I first experienced psychosis as a child. I would see ghostly apparitions that would show up at night. Not believing in ghosts, I would try to convince myself that they were simply a visual effect from a streetlight, except that they would move around the room at times. I was frightened by these hallucinations, but I couldn’t tell anybody about them since I was afraid of getting in trouble.

Once I was a teenager, I would start to hear voices. Yet, they were not voices speaking to me, or if they were, it was in a language I did not understand. At other times, the voices were too far away and indistinct to hear clearly. The hallucinations would come often, but not in predictable patterns. I would have an auditory or visual hallucination more days than not, but might go for a week without seeing or hearing anything strange. But then the sky would start to fall - a recurring visual hallucination where the air became visible and would fall to the ground like rain.  

After my hospitalization and diagnosis (bipolar I) at age 20, the hallucinations disappeared for years, only coming back when I was 42. It was, in fact, when the sky began to fall again that I knew I needed to be in treatment again. Very soon after, I was hearing voices again. My brain would play tricks on me. Sounds that were far away, like a car door closing, sounded as if they were coming from the next room. Any strange noise would leave me trying to figure out it if was real or a hallucination.

Visually, I had the same falling sky hallucination I had so often as a youth, but had new experiences as well. Buildings would move when I looked at them - not every building, only certain ones here and there. At times, ordinary objects such as mail boxes or cars would seem like they were too large, as if a balloon that was over-inflated. Trees would sometimes seem as if they were, well, just...wrong. This particular hallucination is always hard to describe because there was nothing objective I could point to. The tree was there, looking normal, yet I perceived it as abnormal in some way I could never put my finger on. 

When I saw the psychiatrist, she prescribed an anti-psychotic medication. Over time, the hallucinations lessened and eventually disappeared. While I did experience some delusional thinking when I was younger, most of my experience of psychosis is in the area of hallucinations. And, most of the time, I am aware I’m hallucinating. 

It is a disturbing feeling to know that what you are witnessing is not real. You know that what you see is not reality, yet all you can do is ride out the experience. For me, hallucinations do not last all that long, but they can be debilitating when they are present. I can’t focus on work, and social interactions are difficult. I know I have to calmly wait for the storm to pass.  

The Centre for Addiction and Mental Health in Toronto, Canada, has an informative page on psychosis. Psychosis is common in schizophrenia and in bipolar disorder. In bipolar, it can occur in either the manic or depressive episodes, although it may be more common in mania.  

While I am glad that with treatment I am free of hallucinations, I do sometimes miss them. Even while they are disturbing and disrupting, some of the visual hallucinations I have had carry a strange type of beauty that I may never see again. But I know that hallucinations in bipolar never come on their own, they are always part of mania or depression and a marker of a mood episode. Psychosis is serious and can be scary. But it doesn’t need to be scary to talk about it, and it can be treated.  

Comments

I have had visual hallucinations/distortions since I was 19 (the first induced my marijuana), so for 21 years now. I can relate to everything you said so very much, especially the missing them which a lot of people will not understand since I have always described them as the scariest thing I have ever experienced. For me, people's faces would start to melt off and I would become smaller as they became larger. Thank you for sharing this. People would be so shocked if they knew I had these. I'm so seemingly normal.

I had been diagnosed since I was about 22. 1977. I am 65 now.i was depressed as a child 5 or 6,the depression lasted into my teens and beyond. I had a severe manic attack when I was about 22. Working in a diner, chasing a cook around, whom I thought he and I "loved," each other. I got on my knees and begged him to love me. I was hospitalized for the first time. Transferred to a state hospital, treated horribly and my parents had me transferred to a private place, much better. Meds. Probably Haldol amongst others. Shock treatments.
Released after 3 months,only to find out that my father, who I loved dearly, was dieing. No worries for me! He was going to be fine. I was hugging everyone thanking them for helping. One huge aid I hugged tweaked my nipples. Knew enough to jump back. He died alone in the hospital. Still haunts me. Mom and I went back to the hospital for FOLLOW up appointment, only to find out that doc had died. Hospital 3 hrs away. My mother who had never been normal or maternal, went completely off the rails after my father died. I was somewhat stable. Moved from Jersey to California, at my lying Aunts invitation.Borrowed a 1,000$
Got a job and an apartment, lived there for a year and a half, hospitalized three time. Nightmare. Lucky to find a wonderful guy who was leaving the navy lived in Jersey close to my town, took me home. I think G-d had something to do with it. Got a job, fired after a few yrs acting erratically, very attractive 26, flirted with all the docs, did go out with one who didnt know. Had a reputation as the most beautiful girl in the hospital. I could go on and on but too much happened. Became stable went to
nursing school, did take a semester off, at the behest of the school, did graduate 1988. Of course I fell in love,
lived with him for 3 yrs, his wife had left him and the kids, we were all very young, very early 30's. He was a drug addict, didnt know for a while. Wound up in the detox, kids went back to mom, we got married and the kids were shuffled back and forth their entire childhood, did become friendly with mom, severe problems but now like sisters. Sometimes better. In the meantime I got my BSN, MSN, (now we're talking 25, 30 yrs of no incidents EXCEPT severe insomnia on and off. I was getting my MSN for majoring in psych and detox for my Advanced Nursing Practice, or NP. Uh oh, trouble in paradise. Working part time and school three or 4 days a week. Stayed up for nine days helping others too.
Graduated with honors. AS SOON AS I GRADUATED A FEELING CAME OVER Me, (before testing), I was high, but of course did not recognize it.Evety one else did, my coworkers who all worked psych and detox, trying to help me. Which of course I did not want. Went on disability.
Took boards three times and finally did pass. Oh the high! Not good. Back up, first time I took boards, failed was fine with it. Happy, will take it again soon no worries. In between not right. Took boards 2 more times and finally passed! Now I'm an NP! Offered my dream job. (This happened before I took the first test, the assumption that I would pass.)
Everything spiraled down. Acting crazy after I passed. Dream job gone, hospitalized 3 times in a year. Strapped down once (I WAS in control, begging for water. This was the first or second time). Seemed like hrs before i was released and given water. 2014! Since then I have not worked, Never practiced.
Husband stuck around, he was devastated. Had never experienced this, and was confused. Frustrated, he got sick with diabetes, another nightmare. Lost his business, lost all of our retirement savings. had to leave my home in Jersey, My life, and all whom I loved.He got a job in Tennessee working for my BIL. 2016. My mother had a beautiful house built for us, my two sisters are here, not too bad. I am on full disability and trying to adjust. Going to take some history classes and I go to the gym almost everyday. Weekends usually with my sisters and their husbands. See a good NP, who works with me. Trazadone 450 mg(I know. like I said extreme insomnia) Klonopin, and lamictal. Small doses of each. Did recognize the beginning of a manic state a few days ago, crying, talking on the phone too long. too much stimulation. Handled it. Now I truly understand warning signs and how to avoid symptoms. Made the mistake of talking to my husband so have to tiptoe around him.
Life is good. Grateful. Count my blessings.

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