A common symptom of schizophrenia that I've not really written about before is visual hallucinations, AKA seeing things. I've written about auditory hallucinations (voices) numerous times before and even created a YouTube video on the subject, which can be found here, but never really touched on the visual hallucination topic before.
Seeing things that aren't there is a very scary experience at first and there are those who find that the fear never really fades away. During my first psychotic episode (between 2006 and 2011), I didn't see things very often, so when I did see something that wasn't there, I was terrified. I would usually see faceless people dressed in long black robes, people I called 'demons'. Seeing a demon always left me fearful and even a short hallucinatory experience would leave me shaken for days.
During one incident while I was at university, I saw a 'demon' standing by the front door of my flat. I became rooted to the spot for a few moments, before I was able to get my bedroom door back open. I ran back into my room and locked myself in the en-suite bathroom. I’ve no idea how long I sat shaking in the bathroom for but when I finally stood up, I was very stiff. With shaky hands, I unlocked the bathroom door and peered around to my bedroom door. There was nothing there. I looked all around my bedroom for the demon but couldn’t see anything. I sat on my bed clutching my duvet as protection and stared at the door.
When it came time to go to work, I was still sat on my bed staring at the door. I knew there was no way I could open my bedroom door so I phoned in sick. I stayed on my bed the rest of that night. When I started getting tired, I changed into my pyjamas whilst staring at the bedroom door to make sure nothing came in. I was scared to go into the bathroom again in case the demon would somehow know and would then come into my room. But when the call of nature became too strong, I quickly ran into the bathroom and left the door open. This was the way I used the bathroom for the next few days. I had to contact work again after a few days to tell them I would be off work for a little bit longer. I didn't tell them the real reason why - that I was too scared to go anywhere near my bedroom door.
At night, I would end up lying in bed, staring at the door. I couldn’t take my eyes off the door at all and would only manage a few minutes of sleep at a time. I would jolt awake shortly after I fell asleep and would start staring at the door again. After a couple of days, I was too tired to really get out of bed and just continued to stare at the door until I was able to sleep for a few minutes.
Another problem I had was hunger. In the mini fridge I kept in my bedroom, all I had was a jar of strawberry jam, a jar of mayonnaise and a nearly empty bottle of barbecue sauce. I looked on my shelf where I sometimes kept food to find an unopened bag of sugar. I'm sure Heston Blumenthal could have made a delicious lasagne with these ingredients, but for me, it was my breakfast, lunch and dinner for about a week.
The strawberry jam was eaten first. After living off the jam for about a day, I moved on to the sugar, which lasted for about two days. When my stomach was telling me to feed it, I looked at the mayonnaise with hungry but squeamish eyes. I felt like I had a choice of either eating mayonnaise on its own or opening my bedroom door. I really didn’t want to eat the mayonnaise so I decided to shower and go out to buy food.
I had the quickest shower in history and dressed. I again grabbed my debit card and keys and ventured towards the bedroom door. I got as far as holding the door handle but I was too scared to push down on it and open the door. I took a deep breath and willed myself to push down on the door handle. I failed. Reluctantly, I sat back down on my bed and opened the jar of mayonnaise. It was disgusting.
The mayonnaise lasted two or three days. I had completely lost track of the days and how long I had locked myself in my room for. It didn’t help that I didn’t and still don’t know what day I had seen the 'demon'. By this point, the last item of food I had in my bedroom was the nearly empty bottle of barbecue sauce. I looked at it with the same look as I had given the mayonnaise but squeezed a small amount of it onto a spoon.
Finally after a day or two of barbecue sauce, I was fed up of condiments. I decided the best thing to do to start getting over my fear of opening my bedroom door would be to shut the bathroom door. I locked myself in the bathroom and had a shower. I dressed quickly and then used up all my courage to open my bedroom door. There was nothing by the front door. With the voice I was hearing at the time shouting random things at random intervals to make me jump, I managed to open the front door. There was nothing and nobody else there. I bought some proper food at last, and my first meal after just condiments was amazing!
Currently, I do see things on a fairly regular basis. I'm not as scared of these as I was with the 'demon' I've just written about, but I believe this is because I see them on a regular basis. When I first started seeing the things I currently see, I was terrified again, like I had been at university. But now that I see things so often, it's not as scary anymore.
Seeing things is very different to hearing things, but they are equally difficult to live with. The coping strategies are different too, but both types of hallucinations are treatable. Talking therapies helped with the voices I heard during my last episode, but I'm still experiencing the voices and seeing things in this episode. I've had medication (which has sometimes helped) but not talking therapy. I'm not sure if I'll get talking therapy this time around, but I'm hopeful that I will.
Visual hallucinations/seeing things are terrifying experiences for many, but with the right treatment and support, a sufferer can still live a peaceful life. Seeing things is quite common experience, so if you are someone who lives with this type of hallucination, don't feel alienated. It is common, treatable and doesn't mean that you're crazy. Visual hallucinations can be a sign of an illness but it doesn't make you mad, bad and evil. It's just a symptom, like a runny nose is a symptom of a cold.
The bottom line is, no matter the severity of a hallucination, it is treatable and doesn't make you 'crazy'. Don't give up hope or stigmatise yourself!