Wednesday, October 28, 2009
For at least 15 years -- and maybe my whole life, my doctor isn't sure -- I've been having hypnopompic hallucinations. When I start waking up, I see things that aren't there, but they are so real I feel I could reach out and touch them. Most of the time, I see innocuous things -- balloons around the ceiling of my bedroom, gently bobbing in the breeze of the ceiling fan (I groggily wonder, "Is it my birthday?"); beautifully elaborate patterns on the wall, like something on a palace wall in Marrakesh; hieroglyphic-style writing on the wall, sometimes in a lime green ink; damask wallpaper with roses; huge cracks in the ceiling.
But sometimes these visions are of people. And even if they're friendly people, it's so out of context as to be disturbing. The first one I remember, from college, I woke up to see my roommate standing in my doorway in a white nightgown. I wasn't scared to see her, just peeved because she hadn't even knocked. She was a little spooked later when I berated her about it, only to find out she doesn't own a white nightgown.
When I started living on my own, the hallucinations became almost unbearable. I saw ex-boyfriends looking in windows, would-be burglars with ski masks lurking over the bed. But the worst were when I saw angry men with knives or guns advancing toward my bed. I would blink rapidly, telling myself, They're not real, but they wouldn't fade for maybe 20, 30 seconds. So then I'd start screaming my head off. My neighbors probably thought I was insane, and I started to believe it, too. Sleep did not come easily most nights, because I dreaded what I'd see. And who knew when I'd blink my eyes, only to have the vision not go away? I took to sleeping with the light on.
Almost two years ago, I finally mentioned this weirdness to my doctor and she told me I probably had narcolepsy. I doubt I do, but I won't know until I let them do a sleep study on me (and my insurance being what it is, it won't happen any time soon). I don't have any of the other classic symptoms, so I think my hallucinations are part of something else, maybe my depression. Whatever the underlying cause, over the last two years they've become less and less frequent. The weird thing is, I miss them. Not the terrifying ones, but the gentler hallucinations with balloons and pretty wallpaper. It was almost exciting, not knowing what I'd open my eyes to any given morning. And for a few brief seconds, my ordinary, practical world became strange and wonderfully unusual.