It’s not always certain that I’m asleep or awake.
Sometimes, I can be both.
The worst dreams are the ones
where everything’s going brilliantly ... and yet,
there’s a tiny part of you that knows you’re dreaming.
Watching you, judging you, pitying you.
That’s my dream.
I find myself wearing shapeless clothes
And staring out of broken windows
for long periods,
like a Victorian ghost.
I have no idea if this means I’m depressed,
or just a Victorian ghost?
Perhaps I’m both?
I have heightened awareness ... and yet,
I am unfamiliar in my safe space. Temporarily dis-
from the thin sliver of rationality
that glues me together.
My mind is a locked vault.
And I have lost the key.
Time, my old adversary,
is exacting its revenge.
Recent events happened to somebody else
This morning I gave a silent scream
on discovering the label that had been
scratching away at my back for weeks
was actually a cornflake.
I am losing my grip on a suspended reality
that already felt tenuous and shaky.
I am in a dream.
Everything else is hyperreal.
Colours too bright,
sounds too loud,
people too close.
Huge clown-like people with sad faces
under their cartoon masks.
I make sound.
But it’s muffled.
I create pictures.
But I can’t see past the glare.
I doubt everything, including my own existence.
I am perennially preoccupied with fact-checking that I exist.
My psychiatrist also seems perennially preoccupied with fact-checking that I exist.
‘Do you know why you’re here?’
‘I came in for a mortgage and some baked beans.’
I float on a beam to the ceiling fan
and see myself gesticulating madly.
Like a sign language interpreter.
Only much more uncomfortable.
Like a sign language interpreter in a porn film.
I need to focus.
Dial down the potently persuasive prattle
of my polluted, pestilent, permanently ‘on’
But the racing thoughts
competing for my attention
just set up house and proliferate.
Using my mind as a factory,
Establishing their abusive powerbase,
Harnessing my memory’s supernatural resources.
Stamping out counterfeit copies,
Choking out my darkest fears,
Gasping my desires,
Twisting me into a science fiction.
My imagination is shrinking me,
making me subhuman.
I can’t breathe.
So, I slip on my mask and slip out for a run.
The streets of Sai Ying Pun are eerily hushed.
I start to feel a little self-conscious.
A scrum of black kites huddle in a banyan.
They look to me like they’re planning a coup.
Hong Kong shimmers and spins,
but its atoms do not hold together.
They are too bright, immaterial,
and shaking like flip-book cartoons.
I don’t feel real either.
My skin looks garish.
And it panics me to feel the thought
‘Move your hand’ echo cavernously
and then see my hand move in
The whole process is supposed to be
instant, automatic. Untraceable.
My imagination is my own worst enemy,
conducting this orchestral madness.
I melt. I tingle. I go numb.
I lose feeling in my fingers
And in my tongue.
My mind is a conduit of chaos,
of broken logic and eerier realms.
I am wrestling with illusion,
fighting with ghosts,
being defeated by insane delusion.
My thoughts race, swerve
and fracture into rivulets.
Two opposing realities
are happening at once.
My head is a tornado.
Blurred by emotion
that changes so
fast and furiously. Splitting me open,
like a juicy watermelon.
My skull feels too tight
and my hair hurts.
My hands are frozen into claws.
My memories lack vitality.
I’m not even convinced
they are my memories.
I feel a voyeur in my own life.
I see myself seeing out my own eyes.
I hear myself talking to my own brain.
‘Do you know why you’re here?’
It occurs to me
the most unreliable witness in my own life
‘Imagine Nation’ emerged from one of many essays I wrote during group training to be a Mind HK ambassador. I have bipolar and there have been times when I hallucinated at the peak of a manic episode. That sounds scary to most people. They imagine me levitating in a darkened room talking to the Devil. (Sorry to disappoint!) They ask me if it feels the same as the time they experimented with LSD at university. (No idea, mate! As someone who hallucinates naturally, LSD is the last drug I’d take.) So, I was trying to explain to myself and others how a hallucination feels.
Most people view imagination wholly positively as the source of creativity. I love that side of my imagination, too. It’s how I make my living. But there have also been times when my imagination has felt like my enemy.
My hallucinations usually stem from anxiety and I hope anyone who’s experienced a panic attack will be able to relate to my poem on some level. It’s the flip side of my manic episodes, when I struggle to channel hypomanic energy productively. Zero Covid, the duration of it, the claustrophobia of it, and having all my outlets for coping with it closed off during Hong Kong’s 5th Wave, often trapped me in a tangle of self- paralysing racing thoughts that brought speed to my unravelling.
Not all of my hallucinations are scary. Some can be strangely comforting, such as going for a walk and enjoying a lengthy conversation, laughing and joking, with a dead friend. Sometimes, there’s a part of me that knows I’m hallucinating, just as sometimes there’s a part of me that knows I’m dreaming, even if I am powerless to change the channel, fast-forward to the end, or switch the dream off by waking myself up.
Some of my hallucinations have been hilarious. They’ve inspired creativity and felt like a cosmic gift. I peppered my poem with touches of humour to reflect this. Always, they have a positive outcome, causing me to reflect on what might have triggered the hallucination. Sometimes, there’s a simple explanation that hits me almost immediately. Sometimes, it is less obvious and takes weeks or months to figure out. Sometimes, I will never know what triggered the hallucination, but I will almost certainly feel a release when it’s over. A sixth sense that something buried deep inside of me has been freed. Perhaps a childhood trauma that I’ve blocked out so successfully I don’t even recognize it as a memory. Perhaps a sign that I’ve been ignoring my gut about a relationship or situation that’s been troubling me.
Hallucinations bring about a gentle reckoning, and in my case, they don’t last long. They allow me to confront issues that have triggered an episode of mental illness in an abstract way that is a lot less painful than having to confront them in a clinical environment with a therapist. In this sense, I have learned to value my hallucinations and view them positively as a catalyst for renewal.