Thursday, August 29, 2013

Hallucinations

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Your mind is a powerful thing.

It's your personality, your spirit, it's every aspect on how you view the world.

It's you.

It's no surprise, therefore, that when your mind gets affected by something and you lose control of yourself, it is often a torturous, traumatic experience.

During my treatment, I had a brush with that kind of mental health. 

I developed an allergy to a drug I'd been taking for a long time for some reason or another that gave me PRES (Posterior Reversible Encephalopathy Syndrome) - a very rare, but luckily, reversible condition, that sends people down into a staggering path of seizures, altered personalities, nausea and hallucinations.

Those 2 weeks I was being treated for it 2 of the worst in my life. 

But looking back I am able to see past that and not let it affect me. It wasn't easy to do so. It took some time, but today I can look back and draw from my experience in a positive manner.

I hope what you're about to read can help others do the same.

The scariest part of my condition was definitely the hallucinations. 
How real your mind can make impossible situations seem and the weird sort of links you see in the world when you're out of your mind can be just plain frightening. But the fact that they are the projections of your inner soul - your inner person - allows yourself to see who you REALLY are deep inside. I was lucky enough to come out of it good...

But not everyone would be as lucky as me, or able to see their way past a mental illness and come out the other end like I had. And their trials aren't limited to extreme things like hallucinations. Things like trauma and depression people face on a day to day basis are even harder to see out of sometimes because it becomes a part of someone. Some of the things I experienced and saw really makes me sympathise with anyone who has to face that struggle every day of their life.

And unfortunately, millions of people do.

Here are a few of the most powerful, moving hallucinations I had. For anyone who's ever gone through anything similar to this or anyone who may be going through a severe issue such as this, I really hope that this helps you get past your experiences and encourage you to talk to someone about your fears and concerns (that someone can be me) and find a way to move past them.


Time travelling

You guys remember the whole Mayan Calender - "The world is gonna end!" - Armagedon sort of event that was predicted to happen on December 21 2012 right?

Well, I experienced it all a few days before you all... 

Let me explain.

During my time with PRES, I was obsessed with the idea of time. I don't know why but things like the clock and the time display on the computer terrified me. 
If I glanced at a clock face in that time, the hands would change directions every now and then, they'd sometimes grow a tail and even flip around, and twist and move in different directions.

One day, I was on my laptop. It was the 12/12/12 and approaching 12am, midnight. My mind in its state, shifted it to 21 though and as time ticked over - I entered Judgement Day 8 days before everyone else.

I was panicking - I knew about the whole Mayan Calendar thing and in my confused, delirious state, really thought that the world was going to end. I started clutching at the straps restraining me, struggling to sit up to look through a window at the sky that wasn't even there in the Intensive Care Unit, and see what was happening to the world.

Well, oddly enough nothing happened. Not even through the day. But I lived a full day - more than a week in advance - all in my head. I actually lived it - experienced everything from the taste of the breakfast muffin dad got me that morning to the feel of a fan cooling my face to even seeing and talking to visitors who never actually came - all in my head!

Even more amazing - I envisaged a whole day's worth of international cricket (a sport we Aussies love to watch) playing on the TV the whole day. Australia had a great days play so looking back at it now, it's made me realise how much pride I have for my country. I even watched a YouTube music video of a "newly released" song by Eminem, Kanye West and Hopsin all in my head. I looked it up a few months afterwards when I was thinking back to this particular hallucination and realised that I had, in the span of 3:45 minutes, made up A WHOLE SONG - chord progressions, beat, lyrics and all WITH music video to match in my head.

That in itself is amazing!

But the next day when I woke up and saw that it was actually the 14th of December - I was shocked. The whole time I was hallucinating, I didn't even know I was. I had lucid moments where I was myself  for a few minutes a day but I don't remember those. So naturally I panicked as I believed that I'd just travelled through time. I lashed out at doctors, nurses, my family - accusing them of making up my whole disease and forcing me through useless treatments, asking questions they couldn't answer like why the windows were open when there weren't any in the ICU anyway in my confusion.

It was my family who got me through it all - who grounded me every time - sometimes even playing along with hallucinations and withstanding the tempers and tantrums that came with them. What I was going through was hard enough - but I can't even imagine having to watch someone you love go through all that pain. My brother in particular had to focus on this AND his final years' exams too - how he managed to do as well as he did still astounds me! They kept me laughing, kept me as sane as possible - something I can never be grateful enough for.

Something that I now realise countless carers and supporters do for people with mental illnesses every day of their lives!


Kill me.

It started off a normal day. I had just started losing my hair again after chemotherapy actually and in my almost deranged state - was scared out my mind by visions of floating strands of hair entering my central line - an exaggeration of how germophobic I get when my immune system gets killed off from chemo.

In any case, my doctor came into the room and I had a sudden vision. The light shifted and it was as if all those hair particles were emitting from HIM and coming to almost attack me.

The scary thing was the sense of doom I got from it. I connected his presence with the reason for me being attacked and infected by all the bugs I was getting sick and I found myself shouting at him to get out of the room.

What I did next I can't even believe. I reached for my central line and was seriously contemplating pulling it out. It wouldn't be lethal if I had done it, but I had just been overwhelmed by my circumstance and had made the conclusion that the hairs were going to cause an infection and kill me.
I wanted out.

Nurses came running in and I was asking about euthanasia and if they could do it for me. To be asked that question by someone who only days before had been smiling and genuinely happy must've been terrifying - but as usual, they did their job well and grabbed the doctors. I suspect I was also put on suicide watch or something like that too. 

What I did later that night though horrifies me to this day.

I was suddenly pulled out of my reverie before I started sleeping and saw small chunks of hair entering my central line again.

I grabbed my mother's hair and screamed at her, "KILL ME NOW! BEFORE THEY DO!" I pointed at my line again, urging her to see the clogged up chunks of possibly lethal shavings running into my veins. 
"PLEASE!"

To be asked that by someone you love is horrifying. The way she managed to calm me down with the help of the nurses and remain smiling in front of me astounds me to this day. I can never thank her enough for all she's done for me - but that one night in particular stands out from the hundreds she spent running back and forth from home to hospital, 45 minutes away, cooking and preparing meals all the time and sleeping on a too-small couch in that dreary hospital room for months on end.

It made me really appreciate the support I had behind me and it made the horrifying experience just bearable for me. Her support, her courage, is why I can write this today without being affected by it.

And there will always be someone who can do that for you in your time of need - whether it be someone, like my amazing mother in my case, in your family, a friend or partner, me even (feel free to comment your own experiences anonymously below) or best of all - a professional. Do not feel ashamed or weak to do so. In truth, if you take a step back and ask yourself why you shouldn't talk about it - you'll see it's only an excuse to not get better and taking that first step and confiding in someone is actually the most courageous thing you can do.

Though the first two may seem otherwise, not all of my hallucinations were dreary, dark things with little hope. In fact, most, though scary or confusing at the time, are actually quite funny looking back at them now and there are a few that I as exalting, inspirational revelations rather than something to feel down about. Hopefully by reading about this one you can see that any issues you may have - any trials you may face in your future - can ALWAYS be seen in another, more positive way.


The Most Amazing Hour Of My Life

This one started not too long after the last one. 


A few days prior to this particular hallucination, I'd had an episode of cortical blindness - a weird kind of blindness where your mind refuses to register images that you see but you're still able to walk around without falling over things and are still otherwise aware of your environment  For some reason I was suffering from extremely blurred vision for the days after that too.  

It was 7:30pm on Sunday night - and my favorite show was about to come on - "Extreme Fishing Adventures with Robson Green." My elder cousin - a really good friend of mine - had come in to sit down and chat and I hadn't seen him in weeks so I was glad to have him there and Dad was there too - he wouldn't miss that show unless he absolutely had to!

But for some reason, I was getting a really weird vibe from them both. The way they'd look at each-other every now and then with solemn looks and then turn away when I caught them looking made me think something was afoot. And I was getting an odd feeling in my chest - a little tightening maybe - that was bugging me.

The episode began with the these song playing and it was like a veil being lifted away from my eyes for the first time in years. 
The blurriness, the weird flashes of light that kept coming up and annoying me as I tried to see things shifted in an instant and I could see perfectly again. Everything was well defined and clear as if a group of electricians had come in and with pit-stop-team efficiency changed my television to the most high-tech, advanced HD possible and left without me noticing.

I exclaimed "This is amazing!" and Dad and Manik, my cousin, looked over questioningly, with slight, almost knowing smiles on their faces.

"What's up?" asked Manik.

"I can see everything... better than I have before. The TV, all the posters in the room - I can see people's faces on the street!"

"That's good man," he said, calmly.

"Yeah, it's cool isn't it," said Dad.

I was a little confused at their lack of excitement at the sudden reversal of my symptoms, but the show that was on was so beatific I soon found myself entranced by it. One of my greatest hobbies in life - fishing - was being displayed in the most perfect way possible. The host, Robson Green was sitting at a spot not too dissimilar to one of my favourite places of all time, a little lake surrounded by trees and sand and wading out to mid-ankle level and casting at fish he could see  and - more importantly - catching them too.

My conversation with my cousin was one of the funniest and one of the best I'd had ever, as we relived all our old experiences of playing basketball together, of holidays we'd gone on years in the past and laced it with exaggerated, mostly made up references of our conquests and the prowess we displayed in dealing with the fairer sex.

As the show ended, everything became even more surreal than before. 

Breathing was getting harder - but not painfully so - just requiring a little more effort than usual.

"How are you feeling," asked Dad, concern showing clearly on his face.

"I dunno but I'm feeling a little slow I guess, but it's probably me just a little tired. How good was that show?"

"Yeah it was good wasn't it," he agreed, "Your timer's getting low, might wanna buzz the nurse in soon."

Sure enough, my medication pump started beeping and in a few minutes the nurse came in, checked my medications and put on the 5 minute, post medication flush, nodding at my father and Manik as she left the room.
I gazed at them questioningly but was distracted again by the show.

It was as if everything had shifted. Robson - the host of the show - talked and it was as if he was talking directly to me.

"The end is near. And it will go off with a bang." he pronounced, gently caressing a little trout he'd just pulled in. "Don't worry - don't be afraid - it won't be hard, in fact, it will be beautiful. I present to you Extreme Fishing, the Movie."

A sense of finality came over me. But it was peaceful - soothed by the smiles of my father and cousin and made happy by the montage of scenes of his upcoming movie playing in the background.

I was starting to get a little scared and glanced anxiously at the timer on the pump as it ticked down closer to 0.

I thought I was going to die.

"Don't worry, Nikhil," assured Dad. "It'll all be over soon. And it won't hurt"
Robson's voice called out, breaking the little silence, "It will not be sad, it'll be over quickly. And it's coming soon."

"Dad, what's happening? Why are you guys acting so weird."

The pump started beeping.

"Don't worry, Nikhil. Press the silence button. Trust me - you'll be fine."

I glanced over him and at Manik tentatively. I looked at my pump again and the time was out. I suddenly realised they must've rigged the "Silence Buzzer" button to release a medication that would end it all peacefully.

I glanced at them, tearing up a little. But they glanced back, solemn looks on their faces, and nodded for me to continue.

I looked back to the button and slowly extended my finger outward. It would all be over soon. I could feel it. But I wasn't scared. 
I trusted them and knew they'd know best of what was to come. Though I was shaking, tears streaming down my face, I slowly found it in myself to extend that finger and closed my eyes as I pressed the button, leaving us in silence.

I waited - knowing it would take a while for the medication to take effect.

After a few minutes, however, I opened my eyes, and blinked a few times. 

Nothing had happened. I turned my head back toward my cousin and father to my right and saw them beaming at me - grins stretched across their faces and eyes shining with the making of tears.

"What happened?" asked Dad, struggling to hold back a smile.

"I don't know... Why did you do that to me? I was so scared!"

"Why do you think you're going to die! Son, you've made it. You're fine!" he said, choking back a sob.

I sit here now, crying in joy as I write this, and am still astounded by that one moment of pure joy, of pure ecstasy that my mind had made me experience.

Can you imagine the utter joy that experience brings me?

It let me know that deep down, in the core fibres of my being, my inner soul - I was so sure, so CERTAIN I would be fine, that I would be happy - despite all my struggles and pain, despite being told I had only a 10 - 20% of surviving twice and despite all the doubts I had along my journey. That I could envision something so uplifting, so motivating, so beautiful in a time where I was at the lowest in my life amazes me. And I thank my experiences, the attitude I'd developed with the help of my family, doctors, nurses and friends and myself every day for allowing me to experience such a thing in my life.

*****

The mind is a power thing.

And when something about it goes wrong, it can be a harrowing, life changing experience.

I am lucky enough to be able to have a healthy mind now (though I'm sure my brother would dispute this claim) and am so much more aware and sympathetic of the struggles people face on a daily basis in their battle with mental illnesses.

It affects a lot of us - depression will hit 1/2 people during their lifetime, dementia and Alzheimer's are on the rise along with many other mental disorders and people face trauma and struggle to deal with pain every day of their lives.

I hope that my story of my own experience can help you to see that it isn't something you should be ashamed about, or something that has to take you down. Give it time, do talk to someone about your problems - if possible a professional - and I hope that you do get better.


I know that each and every one of you can have all the happiness in the world.

All you've gotta do is give it some time and you'll realise that YOU have the power to control how you feel. 

https://www.facebook.com/musingsofamedstudentpatient <-- If you or a loved one needs help or if you enjoy my blogs or if you're interested in medicine, like my page on facebook =]

13 comments:

  1. Life is too short and too unpredictable, appreciate what you have and live each moment to the fullest. Yes those days were the most horrifying and we are blessed to have you Nikhil back as your usual self.. Nikhil Keep sharing and Keep inspiring others..
    Peeps help is available from the doctors, nurses, family and society to get you through some of the darkest experiences... please seek out. My heart and prayers go out for all those who have to live with difficult times for days, months and years at end...

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  2. I literally had chills reading this. I always have tears in my eyes from absolute awe whenever I read your posts. A lovely distraction from PBL :p

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    1. ALSO, I seriously think you need to publish a book.

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    2. Thank you very much =] And that book thing is possibly there in the future haha - though I like writing these sort of length pieces too because though they're short - they're powerful in their ability to get people to read them and relate... at least I hope they are haha.

      Thanks again for the kind words =]

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  3. Nikhil, you are an extraordinary young man! To share your experiences like this is such a brave and generous thing to do. I wish you all the best in your journey. Your family and friends are blessed to have you in their lives!

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    1. I am blessed to have my family in my life - they are amazing, kind, funny, awesome people =]
      Do share this around if you really liked it - hopefully it can help somebody - even if they're not a patient but just someone going through a little rough patch in their life!

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  4. I don't know what to say - keep writing - someone will benefit from it. But as I always say, the mind is an amazing thing..................if you can become its master, that will be gold.

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  5. Hi Niklhil, Keep writing your blog! it's touching and powerful. Sharing your honest experiences helps so many people.. great work! I know you'll get better and become a great doctor.

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    1. I will do and thanks for the words of encouragement! Do share it around if you think there's someone you know who may benefit - even if it's just a facebook share or whatever - because it really helps me get my message out there and it's really helping people from all the messages of personal thanks I've been getting.
      I will keep writing them for sure! Make sure you subscribe so you can see thme promptly!

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  6. Nikhil, I's so glad you wrote this! Purely by coincidence, I read this a few days before I found myself at a family members bedside, as he went in and out of delerium. I can't tell you how much it helped to have read this. Thank you.

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  7. It's not an easy time for that person. The few weeks or months afterwards are often very hard on people too if they pull out of it - post hallucinogenic perception disorder was sometimes just as scary as the hallucinations themselves.

    1 system me and dad had (that I couldn't even remember due to the memory loss until Dad reminded me about it) was that he'd wink at me if I was in a lucid state. It wouldn't help during a hallucination when I wouldn't have the mental capacity to even think of that, but when I had those moments of clarity between them, that little wink helped to ground me.

    If not a wink, just remind them of who they are and ask them where they are - that too helped ground me in problematic times and may just help them too. Hoping your family member gets past their problem or at the very least is as comfortable as possible - Nikhil

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