I had been manic for the past several hours; I could practically feel my brain buzzing. In an attempt to calm myself down, I had sprayed my ritual mist, brushed my teeth, and prepared for sleep. But sleep did not come. Instead, the voices arrived.
It sounded like there was a family of four camped out in front of my closed bedroom door eating dinner. I could hear the clink of the glasses and cutlery, the murmur of conversation. I could distinguish the voice of a man, a woman, and at least two children, but I could not figure out what they were saying. I was terrified. In bare feet and an old t-shirt, I opened the door. The empty hallway greeted me with a sardonic smile. I crept around the house, searching for the source of the sounds. Was my mom watching TV in the guest room? Was my brother playing video games? There had to be a logical explanation for what I was hearing. I returned to bed, troubled and in tears. The silence reassured me and tempted me to back beneath my duvet.
I was in bed less than five minutes when the dinner resumed. I shut my eyes tightly, trying to block the noise out. After a few minutes, it went away. I relaxed, tried to fall asleep again. It returned. This game continued for a couple of hours. I was finally so exhausted that I was able to ignore the sounds outside my door.
This pattern repeated for several weeks. I didn’t always hear the voices. It usually only happened on nights when I was particularly stressed or upset (all of finals week). I didn’t tell anyone about what I was hearing. I was afraid that they would make me change my meds, restarting the lengthy process towards stabilization. I was afraid that they would change my diagnosis from bipolar to schizophrenic. I was afraid that people would think that I was just too crazy.
I finally summoned enough courage to tell Chris about what was happening. He agreed that it was spooky, but he didn’t reject me as I had feared. Confiding in him gave me confidence to tell my therapist and eventually my parents. My therapist reassured me that my medication levels would just be adjusted and that I wouldn’t have to start a new set of pills. She also gave me some surprising information.
Not just people with schizophrenia can experience auditory hallucinations. The phenomenon affects people with bipolar, depression, and anxiety as well.
So why do we label hallucinations as “crazy?”
I propose that there is no such thing as crazy. There is only misunderstood and under-researched. We don’t fully know what causes hallucinations, and I think that that causes fear. My friend, Steven, explained it to me as synapses misfiring in the part of the brain that processes sound (the auditory cortex). Unfortunately, we don’t yet know what causes these misfires. It bothers me that there is still so much about the brain that we don’t know. Everyone has one, yet they remain mysterious.
Right now, I can’t do neurological research. I can’t conduct studies and figure out why some people hear or see things that don’t exist. I can, however, help fight stigma. That’s why I’m writing this blog post. I’m still embarrassed about this most recent symptom. I’m still afraid I’ll lose friends because of it. I’m still worried that it might be a little too “crazy” for people to handle.
But: If this post helps even one person reconsider a judgment they’ve passed, a fear they have, or misconception they harbor, then it’s worth it. It’s worth the temporal discomfort and embarrassment. That is why I blog.