My first hallucinations began appearing when I was 5 or 6. They started when the lights went out at night. I’d lay in bed and go back and forth: first straining my eyes to see in the dark, then forcing them closed to convince myself to fall asleep. Often on these nights, I chose to stay awake because I feared my nightmares, but I knew in doing that, I was inviting Annie to appear.
That’s what I named her. The girl, or perhaps more accurately, the series of girls, who appeared fully formed at the foot of my bed on many nights when I went through this childhood ritual, fighting sleep and forcing wake. I thought Annie was real, and I assumed she meant I was crazy. She had few features, but dark and faceless, she stuck around, startling me when she first appeared and frustrating me until I fell asleep. I kept Annie to myself, a secret.
To distract myself from Annie, I came up with a game. I’d try to think of everything that made me happy, and I’d recite these things as a list, using this exercise to knock Annie out of focus and back into the black. After a while, my recitation fell into a cadence, and on these nights, I quickly repeated this series of words so often that I still remember:
“Puppies, grilled cheese, rainbows, root beer floats, going to the moon, mountains, sunsets, ice cream, my bicycle, when things come in the mail … .” Years later, I learned from Oliver Sacks that, yes, Annie was a hallucination. And more importantly, that hallucinations are normal.
“After being initially startled, the subjects tended to find their hallucinations amusing, interesting, or sometimes irritating (‘their vividness interfered with their sleep’) but without any ‘meaning.’ … The hallucinations usually disappeared when the subjects were asked to do complex tasks like multiplying three-figure numbers … .”
(excerpt from Oliver Sacks’ Hallucinations)
Read more: The Hallucinations of Didi Frances