I’m the only one at this concert

One of my earliest memories has no image attached to it. I’m not sure if I was dreaming or otherwise, but there is no visual, just sound. I was hearing the voices of people from my life at that time, swirling around and around me, picking up speed and then dropping it drastically. They were saying phrases that I was used to hearing, like “is it time for a nap?” or “don’t worry she’s coming back,” mostly the voices of daycare workers who took care of me. The volume and speed changing made it into something like a funhouse mirror of voices :

“Hiiiii theeere Sara are youreadyfornAPTIMEIT’STIMETOstopwhat you’re doooooiinnnng…”

I think I must have been laying in bed, but then this would start happening when I wasn’t in bed. I would be in the car and my mother would have the radio on, and the voices on the radio would start making the same fast-slow-loud-soft movements. I was putting my hand up to the window to feel the air coming in because it felt like time was not moving at a constant rate. Were we still moving the same speed in our car? How could I be sure? Would everything suddenly start going faster? Is that the correct speed of things and I’ve been moving slowly? Maybe this is just happens when you learn your first language, your brain learns how to process time. And it can have some hiccups on the way.

I didn’t have anything like this happen to me for a while after, until I was about eight. We had been on a roadtrip and were listening to the same CD in the car over and over. It was Jewel’s 0304, and we were driving to Canada. I had this habit of sticking my head all the way out the car window at this age, I really liked the adrenalin of 60mph wind in my face. I hung my head out the car like a dog and sung along. At the travelodge, while my mom my sister and I were all snuggling into the double bed, I heard someone in the room above us listening to the same album we had been listening to. It seemed like it was coming through the ventilator system, and it was clear as day. I pointed it out to my mom, “Listen, those people like Jewel too!” She said, “Honey, that’s just the fan you’re hearing. Now go to bed.” “I can’t sleep,” I told her, “I have to listen to the music.” The album played over and over for me until I finally dosed off.

After that it happened only rarely. I’d just be in the kitchen and hear a radio on and go looking for it somewhere in the house until I realized I was probably imagining it. Sometimes it was two people having a conversation, and I would strain to make out what they were saying, but I never could tell. When I read Mrs. Dalloway for the first time, our family’s heater started narrating it to me. Only a few times was it a really scary experience, once when I felt I was hearing the aftermath of a war in someone’s air conditioning system, and another time when I was worried for my girlfriend who hadn’t come back home in a few days, and I heard a woman’s voice in the radiator saying “No-no-no-no” in a deep voice. When she came back she told me she had been drugged at a party. Maybe there was a connection — I tend not to believe in the paranormal, but my girlfriend at the time strongly did and also confessed to many paranormal visions. Maybe that kind of thing can follow you when you are around certain people. I had a couple other hallucinations while with this girl, once I felt that someone was touching my back in bed, and the feel of their hand on my back was burning me. I turned over because I thought it was her hand but she was asleep. When she woke up, I told her about it. “Yeah, that’s the ghost from the bathroom,” she told me, and went back to sleep.

Now it mostly happens to me upon waking, and it is sometimes mixed with sounds from my dream. I had a dream while I was at my grandmother’s house that there were cayotes and rabbits pouring over the hills and their paws were thundering over the ground, and that sound seemed very real, even when I woke up. I could still hear them thundering, and then I realized it was my own heartbeat going faster and faster like a herd of pattering animals. When I went back to sleep and woke up a few hours later, I was very clearly hearing rag time blues playing very close to me in the room. It was as if someone had left an ipod playing although no electronics were on in the room at all.

This has’t happened to me in a pretty long time, but I’ve been reading a book by Oliver Sacks (RIP), about hallucinations, and especially the chapter on auditory hallucinations :

“… Hearing voices occurs in every culture and has often been accorded great importance — the gods of Greek myth often spoke to mortals, and the gods of the great monotheistic traditions, too. Voices have been significant in this regard, perhaps more so than visions, for voices, language, can convey an explicit message or command as images alone cannot.

Until the eighteenth century, voices — like visions — were ascribed to supernatural agencies: gods or demons, angels or djinns. No doubt there was sometimes an overlap between such voices and those of psychosis or hysteria, but for the most part, voices were not regarded as pathological; if they stayed inconspicuous and private, they were simply accepted as part of human nature, part of the way it was with some people.

Hallucinated music can be very detailed, so that every note in a piece, every instrument in an orchestra, is distinctly heard. Such detail and accuracy is often astonishing to the hallucinator, who may be scarcely able, normally, to hold a simple tune in his head, let alone an elaborate choral or instrumental composition. …Hallucinatory music can wax slowly in intensity and then slowly wane, but it may also come on suddenly full blast in mid-bar and then stop with equal suddenness (like a switch turned on and off, patients often comment)…

Prolonged silence or auditory monotony may also cause auditory hallucinations; I have had patients report experiencing these while on meditation retreats or on a long sea voyage. Jessica K., a young woman with no hearing loss, wrote to me that her hallucinations come with auditory monotony:

In the presence of white noise such as running water or a central air conditioning system, I frequently hear music or voices. I hear it distinctly (and in the early days, often went searching for the radio that must have been left on in another room), but in the instance of music with lyrics or voices (which always sound like a talk radio program or something, not real conversation) I never hear it well enough to distinguish the words. I never hear these things unless they are “embedded,” so to speak, in white noise, and only if there are not other competing sounds.”

That patient sounds exactly like me! So, have any of you hallucinated (visual or auditory) while you were stone-cold sober? Was it frightening? Did you feel like you couldn’t tell anyone what was happening? Does this happen to you a lot or randomly, does there seem to be a connection with your mood or things happening in your life ? I once had a conversation about this with someone who said she tended to experience this more when her depression was worse. I’m not sure if my hallucinations follow this pattern, that is, I’m not sure if I hallucinate more or less depending on my mental state, but the hallucinations certainly take on a more negative feel when I’m unwell. A lot of people don’t realize that hallucinations are actually fairly normal, even though of course when they become very present and overwhelming (due to mental illness or not) they can be debilitating and require treatment. But there’s a stigma attached to them in general which needs to be taken down.

Read the full chapter by Oliver Sacks here, and feel free to leave your comments below !

PS Sorry for the horrendously formatted block quotes, I can’t edit them unless I want to pay 3€ a month, honestly I’m considering it cause that crap is driving me nuts.

Okay I changed them cause I just couldn’t with the quote slipping off the sides of the post anymore, but they’re not pretty *sigh* oh well

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