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Hallucinations Can Affect All Five Senses in Schizophrenia

A Personal Perspective: How I experienced five types of hallucinations.

Trixieliko / Pixabay
Source: Trixieliko / Pixabay

My life suddenly began to fall apart when I was an honors student at the University of Southern California studying biochemistry and molecular biology. My grades dropped, and I withdrew from a laboratory where I had been a successful student researcher. Slowly, I became paranoid of friends and family, not knowing that schizophrenia, a neurobiological brain disorder, was slowly distorting my mind.

In 2003, as my schizophrenia progressed, I officially dropped out of college. This was a few months before I was expected to graduate. That March, I began living in a university library, afraid of everyone I could have contacted to ask for help. Confused and unable to concentrate, I could no longer work and soon maxed out my credit cards.

For the next three years, everything in my life deteriorated. I slept in lounges, empty buildings, or a library to hide my homelessness.

In January of 2006, I began to experience hallucinations. These hallucinations overtook my perception of reality, and I gradually experienced them in all five of my senses.

Auditory hallucinations

On January 28. 2006, in the early afternoon, I was sitting on a park bench on my former university campus resting and enjoying the cool weather when, suddenly, I began to hear a chorus of voices inside my mind.

At first, they sounded like students, but young students. In real life, I was somewhat afraid that students noticed me sleeping in the school library every night. But, in reality, I had never been approached and questioned by a student or insulted by a student. All of the insults I would experience were happening inside my mind.

When I was growing up, I knew about people with schizophrenia hearing voices, but I could never imagine what the experience would be like.

When it actually happened to me, it was different than I expected. In fact, I did literally hear voices inside my mind (including the students), but I was somehow aware that others could not hear the voices. Looking back, the voices were like laugh tracks in a sitcom, such as "Seinfeld." The audience hears the laugh tracks, but you assume that Jerry Seinfeld, Elaine, and the other characters do not.

After the voices began, I had some insight into the hallucinations, realizing that not everything I heard was real. I could not always tell if voices or noises were hallucinations. I remember hearing three men making fun of me while I was showering at a friend’s house. I was certain they were real until I realized that the bathroom had no window.

With time, my hallucinations became more intense and began commanding me to do things that did not make sense, such as to hit myself or shout profanity. At first, I tried to ignore these hallucinations, but they became louder and louder until I felt powerless. They eventually took over my behavior.

Visual hallucinations

I remember looking up at a librarian who walked by, and his face was mutilated and deranged. Although I knew what I was seeing was not real, it didn’t make much difference, as it deeply frightened me.

I went to a library one day, and the name on the sign was changed by one letter and misspelled. I looked in the mirror but saw a reflection that looked more like a character from the show "The Simpsons." My visual hallucinations quickly became something I experienced daily.

Taste and olfactory hallucinations

I was given a plain coffee at one point. It tasted intensely minty. I remember sitting down on a couch in an academic building when I noticed a foul smell, like sewage. The area was clean and well cared for. I realized that the smell was also not real, but the realization made little difference, as the smell would not go away.

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Painful tactile hallucinations

In October 2006, about eight months after the voices began, tactile hallucinations became a part of my life. I remember walking through a bad area in the Los Angeles downtown when, suddenly, it felt as though I had been jabbed by a knife in the dead center of my back. It was one of the most painful things I have ever experienced. I knew it was not real (which is why I did not call 911), but, again, this knowledge did not lessen the pain.

The first painful tactile hallucination was not my last, though the tactile hallucinations I suffered from the next few days were not as painful. But I would feel stabbed by knives all over my back, usually down my spine. After a few months, I began to feel pain in my hands, feet, and head. The voices told me that the pain was going to get worse.

In late February of 2007 and early March, the painful hallucinations became so severe, I considered approaching a police car or ambulance and asking for medical help. Fortunately, I would soon be picked up by police on March 3, 2007, and taken for an involuntary psychiatric assessment anyway.

Getting help and looking back

Looking back, I notice a few things. One, even in the depth of severe psychosis, I thought nothing was wrong with me. This lack of awareness of being ill is very common in schizophrenia and is called “anosognosia.” It prevents many persons with severe hallucinations and delusions from seeking help.

It is important to recognize early symptoms of schizophrenia for early intervention and the best outcome. Medications can be highly effective for treating schizophrenia. For those who are difficult to treat, clozapine is indicated for refractory hallucinations and delusions. I have taken it for 16 years, and I remain fully recovered and living a full and productive life on this medication.

Hallucinations are hard to explain, and I think it is hard for others who have not experienced them to understand. But, today, there is hope, even for people with the most severe hallucinations. I am deeply grateful that hallucinations are now a distant memory.

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