A hallucination is a false sensory perception that is created by the mind and not actually experienced. Contrary to popular believe, a hallucination does not have to be some outrageous and obvious phenomenon. In fact, what makes a hallucination a hallucination is that it is not obvious at all, not to the person hallucinating. It may not even be obvious to the person who hears about the hallucination secondhand. I always associated hallucinations with schizophrenia and PTSD and assumed they were typically along the lines of “I see spies in my window and they are coming after me.” I didn’t realize that hallucinations could be of real people, of real situations, in every day life. I didn’t realize that hallucinations could be auditory, tactile, even olfactory or gustatory. And I certainly didn’t realize that I was having hallucinations, not for months after I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder.
“I went to the gym, the gym I had gone to for years, at a normal time of day for a normal workout. I went with my brother. I saw my friend’s dad, but I didn’t talk to him, I don’t know why, I just didn’t feel like making conversation. I got on the machine, put my earphones in and started moving. I zoned out.
“Then I zoned back in. My ex-boyfriend had just walked into the gym. I hadn’t seen him in years, so I was quite startled, but I tried to play it cool. I turned away from the entrance and ran a little faster. I couldn’t look like I was slacking off in front of him. I even smiled a little bit, just the corners of my mouth, to soften my look, to make it seem like I was truly enjoying the sweat dripping into my eyeballs.
“I couldn’t help myself; I glanced over in his direction. He was talking to my friend’s dad. How strange. I have no idea how they know each other. How would their lives ever have crossed? Whatever, it’s Arkansas, everyone knows everyone. I’m more confused about how he got into the gym in the first place. It’s a gym owned by a private college that he definitely does not go to. He doesn’t even go to college. Maybe he has a guest pass? All I know is that he is here.
“I side-eyed him as he walked past the ellipticals to the lifting equipment. I saw him look my way and smile, just the corners of his mouth. I quickly turned away and blushed. I could feel his eyes on me for the rest of my workout. I kind of liked it.
“I finished and walked over to my brother to ask him if he was ready to go home. I waited for my ex to come over to me, but he didn’t. Not surprising. He was probably just as shocked as I was to see him. He probably wanted to play it cool like I wanted to play it cool. So I left.”
As soon as I get home I text all of this to my friend. I tell her I’m just waiting for him to text me, to tell me how shocked he was to see me. It was the craziest thing! I can’t believe he was there! We have both changed so much; it’s been so long.
Minutes turn into an hour, and I still haven’t heard anything. That’s when my friend breaks it to me; she doesn’t think my ex was ever at the gym. He didn’t walk in, didn’t talk to my friend’s dad, didn’t go lift or watch me or smile. He wasn’t there. He was a hallucination. I made him up. My brain made him up.
At first I insist that he was there, that I know he was, that I saw him. But one hour turns into a few hours, and I haven’t heard anything from him. My friend is gentle with me; she knows how scary this must be for me. To create a full grown human being in my brain and watch him walk around and interact with people who probably were actually there. He didn’t look 2-dimensional. He didn’t have a white glow around him. He didn’t look different from any of the other people there. He looked like a real, living, breathing human. He looked like himself. Exactly like himself.
I don’t know how to feel about this. I am sad. I am mad. I am confused. He was there. He was. I swear.
Except he wasn’t.
He was a hallucination. I was hallucinating.