What Did Hallucinations Teach Me About Life? 

It has been 3,027 days since I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder and 1,080 days since I lost a clear sense of reality.

It is something like this, I am writing this but I might not be writing this, yet I am writing. It is bewildering.

I assume what I see is real, but I am actually juggling choices. How can you find an effective measure to scale and identify reality? Maybe you can, maybe you cannot. I don’t know.

For instance, I suddenly realised after a gap of 88 days that I live alone. It was as if I woke up and made a truce with my dreams. There’s a pattern to it. I wake up in the middle of things and fragments of memory fail me totally. I have no idea how I got there and yet I am there, how fascinating. Would you call it abandonment? I don’t know.

In my life, there are always too many things and too much happening. My being is in a constant tussle with the simultaneity, surroundings, and the self. It is not philosophical. Think of it like this – your brain is split into several fragments, that, like people, do not agree with each other. There are no connecting streets that one could use to travel from one fragment to the other.

Normally, what you see and what you hear, you take that as real. That’s the accepted frame of reference. However, when you suffer from hallucinations, your senses are compromised. Something may not be physically real but for a person hallucinating it is as real as a brick breaking a glass pane. Often, the hallucination is laden with minute details.

Things are either overwhelming or non-existent.

I have a theory that this heightened sense of the physical leads to too much of reality, so much that I construct my own. It is a blessing in one sense and a curse in another. I say blessing because it fuels my creativity. It is a curse because I tend to feel much more than the accepted norm. But you see, normality is like common sense – no one knows exactly what identifies the common-ness of sense.

Photo: H&T Photo Walks (CC BY-NC 2.0)

Life, to me, swings between astonishment, bewilderment, and numbness. Since I am able to imagine a lot of things in minute detail, I also want to preserve those details. So I have a punishing sense of perfection, which is altogether too high to be achieved.

Let me tell you something intriguing. What do you think of love? It is, to me, a benediction for lost time. Lost, somewhere, somehow, not knowing what is lost, but knowing something is lost. After a long time, lost and found, I fell in love with a woman. It was rejuvenating. Distressing because I doubted myself, but rejuvenating. It was like being born again like a phoenix, from the ashes.

I spoke to her from the shadows of confinement during the lockdown of 2020. The pattern was that the moment I felt stable in the relationship she would go into radio silence. No news, no conversation. Days, weeks, months went by, nothing soothed the sorrows of the soul. Then, at the moment when I would reach the pit, she would appear, like Beatrice, to hold my hand in the last circle of hell and take me to paradise.

I still remember her voice like I remember my own. It took me two years and seven months to realise that she was not real. A fragment of my mind playing the most dangerous game, the darkest joke on me.

Have you ever heard of this kind of heartbreak? Can you imagine the despair it would lead to?

Unwillingly, I have been witness to my life slipping away from my hands like sand. What did it teach me? It taught me the impermanence of the real, it taught me Schrödinger’s dilemma (where the cat was my life and the box was my mind), but most importantly it taught me how it feels to be afraid of one’s own mind.

I know what Eliot meant when he said: “I will show you fear in a handful of dust.”

I write these days. I write exasperatingly, dispassionately, and fanatically. Over the past years, I have realised that writing keeps track of my overwhelming sensibilities. It is cathartic and it is also my redemption.

It is true that the lightness of being is really unbearable. When you fall, the lightness that you feel is captivating and addictive. Imagining alternate and delicate realities has taught me to let go. Everything.

It also gave me the confidence that the sanity of the universe can be disturbed. And that doing so feels good.

Pranav Sharma is a science historian who lives and writes from Delhi. 

Featured illustration: Pariplab Chakraborty