The dictionary definition probably says something about seeing things that aren’t real, as experienced by casual LSD users and Bridget Jones on that beach in Thailand. I could probably have done with some recreational drug use or a holiday to Thailand but unfortunately I was doing neither. In the absence of any idea that there would be any repercussions following the accident; instead I thought I was going mad.
About 4 weeks later I was stood in my bedroom at the mirror putting on some make up (near death is no excuse) when to my left out the corner of my eye I could see insects crawling up the wall.
Not even in the way you think you see something and when you look again they’ve gone. I was stood in the middle of the re-make of Bugs Life. After a second or two they would disappear and a bit freaked out but aware I hadn’t slept since the accident, I carried on with my mascara. Then they came back. Black and in military style formation ants were marching up the wall.
I put down my mascara, wrote the day off and took the duvet downstairs to the couch. For the next few days it didn’t matter where I was, I could see insects crawling up the wall. Thinking about it now, always to my left. With an ongoing kidney problem that meant I couldn’t get pissed to make it all go away, I went to the doctors.
Diagnosing Post Traumatic Stress Disorder she patiently listened to me while I told her I was just tired and not to write my sick note for work for any more than another week because I’d be fine.
She outlined some of the symptoms I could expect and told me I’d be waiting a year for any support from the NHS. Sceptical and dismissive but clutching a leaflet I left, unsure what to make of it all. I binned the leaflet when I got home and went back to bed.
That was the start of something that has plagued me ever since. I’ve always got a series of hallucinations on the go and the subject of them changes periodically. In hindsight, the ants weren’t that bad. Some of them are terrifying. The most established subject is wild animals. For weeks at a time I see lions in the garden trying to get in the house. I’ve completely lost track of Coronation Street because keeping my eyes on the TV is almost impossible. Alternatively if I’m out as a passenger in the car I’ll see wolves running alongside, salivating and looking for an opportunity to get in. Failing that, if it’s not wild (and hungry!) animals it’s sometimes the fabled bad man. We’ve all experienced men with questionable motives but I don’t want one in my garden. Anyway, I can’t see his face. If he was cute I might have let him in.
It will happen daily, or sometimes less often for a few weeks before it changes to something else. Every time it has been something frightening however for my most recent hallucination it changed to cats under the bed and I can live with that.
As frightening as they are, the insects, bad men and wild animals are not the worst, especially now I’m used to them. They make me jump but after the initial panic I can remind myself they’re not real. It’s unlikely I’m ever going to have a lion in my suburban garden and the wolves look more like something from Narnia than from something David Attenborough would narrate.
The most difficult hallucinations are the multi-sensory ones that mostly come at night.
It started with being able to smell gas while I was in bed. It was strong and distinctive and I was convinced the gas hob had been left on. We have an electric hob but I got up and checked anyway. This quickly progressed to being able to smell burning and hear fire crackling downstairs. It’s much harder to talk yourself out of it when you hear it as well. The multi-sensory hallucinations are very difficult to ignore because there’s every chance it’s real. If you are experiencing something you can see, smell or hear but there’s nothing else supporting it you can usually convince yourself it’s not real. Talking yourself down from a frightened state when you can smell and hear something is difficult.
There have been occasions where I’ve woken up to the sound of fire ripping through the house and I can smell burning, but additionally I can feel the heat of fire flickering on my face. Paralysed with fear I was sure I was about to burn to death in my bed.
I have it on good authority (Dr Google) that these hallucinations are not forever. If you are reading this because you’re also stuck in a nightmare somewhere between ‘The Lion, Witch and the Wardrobe’ and Tim Burton’s imagination, I now have the benefit of an explanation from my brain doctor. He is officially called a psychotherapist but I think he likes it when I call him brain doctor. In the absence of a lorry in my house (that’s a bonus) and with memories sketchy at best, the brain invents things to be scared of. It can’t process what actually happened so it manifests the fear into something that it can process. Cheers brain.
I am in the very lucky position of having loved ones who don’t let on if they think I’m crazy. They listen intently when I tell them Aslan has rabies and he’s at the back door, and that unquestioning understanding has really helped me be open about it. The hallucinations and PTSD symptoms in general are decreasing in frequency and severity and for the most part I am functioning well alongside them. Give it a few more months and I’ll be missing my constant menacing companions. For now though, thank you for taking the time to read about this aspect of PTSD and I hope you took something from it.