cobwebs and biomechanics

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 […]

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.

5 thoughts on “cobwebs and biomechanics”

  1. SO cool! I haven’t ever experienced anything like that, but what you describe is exactly what I would enjoy and be completely fascinated and charmed by. At least… so long as I was able to retain enough of it to write it down and see some tangible remnant of the experience, and not have it dissolve into something that I was left doubting my sanity and if it ever really happened.

    Really, really, cool.

    Not to sound too new-agey or anything, but maybe this was a one-off reaction to your normal meds, because you needed something to help fuel your natural curiosity and fascination with life? If you’ve been busy and stressed with the needs of merely existing, it sometimes takes a bizarre moment to remind us how much fun living can be.

  2. Heather, that’s the thing, what made this unique was that, apart from sleepiness, I wasn’t impaired. I wasn’t tripping in any way, so the experience stayed in memory with crystal clarity. That’s what made writing it out easy.

    Because of my experience with altered states, I didn’t find it the least bit alarming; it’s much like nitrogen narcosis at extreme depth when diving. Said state can freak divers out badly, but if you know what it is, and know how impaired you are, it’s bizarre and pleasant. One just had to retain an advanced sate of awareness of reduced judgment and capacity. I enjoy that state very much.

  3. I say…. Enjoy it, wonder at it, hope it happens again (but don’t go looking for it…that will just kill it). I’d say have a little recorder handy just in case. Apparently, the chances of the visuals is a pretty common response to sleep meds, including things like melatonin (hasn’t happened to me, yet). So have a ball with it. Relax into it. You’ll enjoy it o-

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