“Are you hallucinating?”
It sounds like such a simple and important question. But there are several catches that people don’t realize when they want to hear yes or no.
First question: do I know I’m hallucinating? I usually have a pretty decent grasp on that for the big stuff, but not everyone does. Corpse, not there. Dog I don’t have, not there. Hallucinations.
But is that flash of light in the corner of my eye from traffic out the window, or my own mind? Is it just a trick of the light? Is staring at a trick of the light unsurely for way too long a hallucination?
What about changing real objects? Is that cup upside down on the counter, or right side up? Well, if I just confirm: is there a glass? That’s not useful. Sometimes it is Alice in Wonderland like distortions, larger, smaller, some more subtle than others until your fingers flit through the top of an object that doesn’t quite reach there.
Is there a slight aura around that lamp, or just me? Is the cat messing around upstairs making hard to describe noises, or is it in my head? Neighbors talking indistinctly, or just me?
Should I start describing everything in the room to you to make sure we see all the same things? Hear? Smell?
What about the fact that my sensory processing issues mean I frequently hear very real sounds that other people don’t pick up on until they really listen for them? What then?
I remember in a bad psychosis phase putting on noise canceling headphones and realizing how much noise I still heard. But it was just that: noise. Like a white noise machine. Like very steady running water. Like the sound of a crowded restaurant when no table is drawing attention in particular. Like the cats making a ruckus upstairs. It just kind of added mental decibels to what was really going on around me (which, as someone with sound sensitivity, is its own very real issue). But how to describe that?
Also consider that my line between reality and hallucination, or even fantasy, is jagged and thin and I’m highly suggestible in that way. If you say, “Are you seeing Farrah right now?” Well, I wasn’t. Until you said her name. Now I kind of got a flash of her, my little recurring golden retriever, like a mental flashback. But is that the normal helpless visualization that comes from people talking? What if, three minutes after you said that, she hasn’t quite gone away yet, flickering in and out, under a real chair in the room? “Ah, now I am. Nope, not anymore—wait, there it is! Oh—nope. Hold on—ah, there—no.”
Is my daydreaming over the line of hallucinating when it sometimes slips a few seconds ahead of my actual thoughts? When characters can do things unexpected? When I can’t snap back out of it?
Is seeing a blur out of the corner of my eye that’s never there when I turn a hallucination? Is it a hallucination if I sense something that isn’t there, but don’t strictly see it?
What if the real issue is delusion—times I think I’m hallucinating something that’s very much there—like the person asking the question?
“Are you hallucinating?” It’s not really a yes or no question. No is a simple, soothing answer, if temporary by nature. Yes means something definable has gone wrong without doubt. But it’s not really hallucinating or not hallucinating—or, for my Hunger Games fans—real or not real.
The answer for me, sometimes, is pretty definitively yes. But I’m not sure I’d ever give a definitive no—because what do I know? Who am I, the schizophrenic one, to answer that? I don’t trust my perceptions any longer. And how long do you have to think you’re not hallucinating for before it counts? If Farrah was here three minutes ago and isn’t now, can I say no? An hour? A day? A week? Ah, gerunds.
I don’t really have a better question to propose. Just some things to keep in mind. It’s tricky in a lot of often overlooked ways. That’s the thing with schizophrenia—it’s not a real or not real game—even when it is mostly episodic, you are always questioning. Every flash of light, every distant conversation, every dog, every bump in the night.
Real or not real?
Might want to ask someone else.