Over the past year, I have experienced hypnagogic hallucinations with increasing regularity. Initially, I found these experiences unnerving, but I was not nearly as disturbed as the people I told about them. Several of my best friends grew upset, frenzied even, when I shared what I saw at night— namely skeleton cats, bubbles, OBEs, fractal paint on the walls, levitating orbs of light, gibberish scrawled in condensation on the bathroom mirror. I always mock my friends’ concerns. They call me pathological, I call them squares.
Predictably, delusions of any sort are concerning given a family history of schizophrenia. Months ago, I hypothesized these events were a hereditary proclivity catalyzed by certain Keyseyian molecules. After a strenuous month of testing, my neurologist pinpointed narcolepsy. Naturally, comes the question of what to do when your hallucinations are “normal,” and not the onramp to highway psychosis.
At this point in the narrative, most friends ask what I do to suppress these experiences, knowing their cause. And I contribute to their “pathological” hypothesis when I tell them I do nada, zilch. I watch, I listen, and generally enjoy the spectacle.
Why are depictions of psychosis and hallucination in the west unfailingly nightmarish?¹ Probably a multivariate equation of American exceptionalism, dry-ass, ghost-free (or lame-ass-ghost-only) Judeo-Christian belief systems, a total dearth of shamanic practices, a collective affinity for violence….
I grew up with with Hawaiian folklore, which hosts a multicultural roster of supernatural entities. We’ve got ghosts of every Polynesian and East Asian origin. We’ve even got the aforementioned lame-ass white ghosts. And I don’t believe in any of them, but they’re also totally real. The point being, aside from a few more teen-urban-legendary stories, anecdotes of Hawaiian paranormal activity are greatly informed by East Asian and oceanic spiritual lineages- cultures that embrace the unseen. Even the most frightening of these ghosts are rarely malignant. The Faceless Lady at KC drive-in combs her hair while you take a piss after a waffle-dog. A giant Hawaiian man who smells like piss might approach your grandpa on his Lana’i one afternoon, then dip when he gets board. Should you find yourself in the path of night-marchers, piss on yourself and they’ll leave you alone. (Can someone account for all this urine? Maybe the president?)
Before I was diagnosed with narcolepsy, a psychologist I trust chalked up my experiences to nothing more than Hawaii’s rich astral plane. This pissed me off, she should have pointed me to the nearest neurologist, but her attitude is noteworthy. A sort of “they don’t bite, so who cares?”
To boot, I am seldom unable to identify my hallucinations as such. The other night, I was 70% sure classical music was playing, though Alexa informed me that there was nothing to pause. That’s pretty much as bad as it gets. Even my OSA-induced sleep paralysis, from which I’ve suffered for years, is oft-framed by a comical causality: a fat guy sitting on me, a t-shirt that’s too tight. (These jokes do not ease the migraines).
As far as I’m concerned, my hallucinations will only be getting “worse” in the years to come. They will likely be exacerbated by an affinity for certain amines and -amides, prescription GABA-agonists, amphetamines, a cyst in a particularly sensitive lobe. I’ve got the works here. Narcolepsy symptoms are known to intensify in late adolescence, too. What to do?
Bring it on, ghost fuckers. In fact, drop by anytime you like (I’m talking to you skeleton-cat). What’s inherently terrible about seeing things that aren’t there?
Julian Jaynes posited that early humans were unconscious beings, slaves to schizophrenic command hallucinations that dictated every action. He cites Odysseus’s lack of individual autonomy. This is not a credible theory by any measure, but evidence is mounting that Jaynes may be onto something. I’m sympathetic to him— certainly our hallucinatory capacity has served some evolutionary benefit. At the least, it is an innocuous inconvenience, akin to the integration of our sexual and sewage hardware.
What I’m getting at, here, is that I enjoy the occasional hallucination. To me, they bring much needed decorum to a crude world. I am grateful to Miyazaki, Chicken Skin, and even the surrealism of Louis CK, to all of which I attribute my embrace of the uncanny. As I struggle to conclude here, the text is beveling gently. It’s hard to imagine a distortion any spookier than the “queer, self-obliterating²” humanity we share.
1. This is not to discredit the many truly psychotic individuals who experience immersive waking nightmares. I have nothing but empathy for these people. (Though I wonder if our culture has conditioned their hallucinations.)
2. David Wallace, Infinite Jest.