I’ve had my share of hallucinations in my time. Both the pure-fatigue type (which consist mainly of non-persistent but repeating peripheral visions), and the chemically induced type which can be persistent, but also include a distinct muzzy-headedness, and often don’t repeat.
Last night, though, I experienced a wholly unexpected side effect of a medication i take semi-regularly.
I suffer insomnia sometimes; not consistent, but often enough that it’s a factor in my life. Sometimes this is good, because I used to get a lot of writing done after 2am, with bleary red eyes and fevered mind. More recently though, it’s been more the in-bed-on-the-edge-of-sleep kind; the kind where worries dominate and the brain gets stuck in repeating loops.
So on occasions, I use sleep aids which easily gets me past that portal to the land of dream.
Now, hallucinations are known side effects of certain meds; I see that every time I read the labels and warnings (which I obsessively do; I research every med I take, and every med my friends and family take, just because pharmacology fascinates me). BUt I’ve never experienced a single hallucination from normal sleep meds.
Last night, I had a full-blown hallucinatory experience, from a very normal dose (10mg) of a very normal med (@mb1en, spelled that way to avoid spammers).
I was watching the tail end of this week’s the fashions show, bravo’s project runway knockoff. And as the show ended and I turned off my teevee, I began to see ghostly cobwebs reach out from the still glowing teevee toward my ceiling fan.
I looked around the bed, and there seemed to be similar cobwebs on on the bed and, and then they began to stretch out onto the walls.
I looked at my bedside lamp; in bright light, I saw nothing other than a very slight haze. But in shadow, the general moving, drifting webbiness increased.
“I’m starting to hallucinate,” I said.
I began to describe the visuals to my nearly-sleeping bedmate, who tolerantly said ‘go to sleep’. But as I looked around, I found my wall paper (which is covered with a deeply-detailed, dark leopard print, as can be seen in the background of this image) was beginning to breath and roil, and then manifest in living, dragon-like shapes which would move as I did (likely it was my shadow and shifting point of vierw that animated it; the motion generally ceased when I held still).
I got up to pace around the room, wanting to explore what I was seeing. Close to the wall, the paper’s patters became blowing prairie grass, so vivid I felt I should feel it moving. Yet to my fingers, it was cool and papery-smooth. My eyes retained the visual of blowing fur or grass, but the experience wasn’t the least bit tactile.
I turned on bright overhead lights, and was left only with haziness; but when I turned the light out, all the visuals returned.
One corner of the room began to manifest as a sort of bio-mechanical, moving figure; made of webwork, but some sort of intricate flexible metal spider web. The shape resembled a witch or scarecrow, and again, it moved with my movements, breaking down into hazy cobweb when I moved close, but re-assembling into a consistent form when I walked away. Lights cleared it completely.
I turned and looked into my closet, where a figure stood – and this was the first one I actually found alarming. What looked like some sort of three-musketeers swashbuckler all in black, with a broad-brimmed hat. He grinned, though only grin was visible, no eyes. He bent his head and then faded into the shelving as I moved close, one of my hats and a pair of my boots clearly the source of the vision. I saw that only once, but it was startlingly vivid.
I prowled the room for several minutes; the experience was delightfully puzzling; never have I experienced hallucinations so consistent and visually organized. I roamed the rest of the house, still seeing creeping cobwebs and movement in shadows, but nothing in bright light (I think my daughters guinea pigs thought I was death from above when I tried to pet them, but I wanted to feel the webby trails they were creating as they scuttled and squeaked.)
I tried looking at my face in a mirror, and saw nothing but sleepy eyes and vague haze. Whatever I was seeing clearly had a light threshold. And I began to feel too sleepy to continue investigating what I was seeing. I went to bed and turned out the lights, and darkness obliterated any further experience. “I wish I could write this down now, so I don’t forget any of it,” I think were my last words before I drifted off.
The most interesting things about the experience, for me, were that I felt completely lucid; I wasn’t high, or confused. I was sleepy, because that was the intent of the medication. But I wasn’t befuddled, so my attempts to define the difference between visual and tactile stimulation felt organized, almost scientific. The other thing was that the medications I was on – teh sleep med, above, and an anti-inflammatory I sometimes take a bedtime for my achy shoulder – are things I’ve taken many times, separately and together. So I have no explianation for why the hallucinations manifested so strongly this one night. I’m puzzled about it, and curious about a repeat of the same experience. The sleeping dose I took was on the higher side (I usually take a half, but a whole 10mg isn’t unusual). I tend to have a high resistance to medications, so this amount wasn’t anything Id’ have ever expected a visual side effect from.
I remain curious.