Writers With Mental Illness

A Photo Diary of Schizophrenia Hallucinations

Author’s note: If you have experience schizophrenia hallucinations, paranoia, or get scared easily, these pictures might be triggering. I am not sharing this to scare people, but to raise awareness, explain my “odd” behavior, and de-stigmatize my illness. I want others to know it’s OK to share their experiences, too, no matter how odd or scary they may be.

schizophrenia hallucinations

Visual Schizophrenia Hallucinations

I was diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder in 2015 and hospitalized for acute psychosis. Having schizoaffective disorder means I have bipolar disorder with symptoms of schizophrenia. I put these pictures together to create something similar to what I saw and felt so others might understand. I made sure they were different in style because my symptoms of schizophrenia changed faster than I could identify them. One day things were clear. The next, my world was cracked and inaccessible. Life felt fake and forced. I often felt like I was watching everyone else live out in the real world, while I was trapped behind a glass wall, stuck in a bad movie with too many plot holes. Life didn’t make sense.

When I was younger, I was silent out of fear and confusion. Then I was silent out of an inability to put into words what I was experiencing. Now that I am in recovery, I wanted to take a look back at what life was like when I was at my worst. I can only speak for myself. I don’t know what schizophrenia hallucinations look like for others out there. But I do know it can be just as dark and strange…

The first time I hallucinated, I was in fourth grade. I had moved schools, was living in a new home, and I had no friends. The stress got to me. I couldn’t sleep, but this was nothing new. What was new were the shapes and colors that shifted before my eyes at night when my older sister was fast asleep next to me. The bright blurry shapes changed into bears, vampires, and witches. As I grew older, my schizophrenia hallucinations began to resemble the villains in movies and books. My fear attached itself onto the concrete ideas and images in my mind, and my secret world was born.

dark room with ghost's hands

Schizophrenia Hallucinations Are Hard To Understand

I will never completely understand why or how I am the way I am. I will never be able to explain everything to myself, much less to everyone else. And these pictures are not exactly what I see, while these words are not exactly what I mean. The hallucinations are more of a feeling than anything else. The people I see are fragmented and blurry, not clear like these pictures. But it’s an attempt to bring you into my world so you might understand not only me but others who have schizophrenia hallucinations, as well. By high school, my world had completely crumbled and turned into a nightmare. I looked around at the world my mind had created, and I was terrified. I didn’t know what to do. When I found Sylvia Plath at 15 years old, I did not know I was experiencing symptoms of schizophrenia. All I knew was the world was a scary place that made me sad. And I related to Plath’s sadness. Her words echoed in my head then as they do now:

Can you understand? Someone, somewhere, can you understand me a little, love me a little?

The schizophrenia hallucinations began to appear slowly. I would have a bad feeling that someone was in my house. My skin began to crawl. My heart raced. I didn’t feel safe. I yanked back the shower curtain, and there she was.

schizophrenia hallucination
Her name was Martha. She was an old lady, probably a ghost or zombie. Her identity changed. All I knew was that she was seething with rage. She wanted to kill me. She reached out, knife in hand, trying to cut my throat. I could not move. She was killing me right then at that very moment. I could see the blood draining from my neck. The world felt darker and colder. My mind tried to fill in the blanks, bridging the gaps in logic.

I was no longer in my bathroom but in some alternate universe where Martha lived. She lived in my bathtub, but she was from an alternate universe. I could only see her because I was special. She traveled to my world to kill me. She brought my spirit back into her world, and I knew I was dead, dead, dead… I was done for. I knew I was in Hell. I looked around me and knew I was in the alternate universe, stuck with her forever.

I cried and screamed and sobbed and ran. I ran down the stairs outside into the fresh air. My thoughts were racing.

Why did my family leave me home alone again? I know I am 18 years old, but I am being killed all the time. How could they let me be killed like this? Because they don’t know. They don’t understand. I hold the key to the other worlds, and it is my job to keep my family safe from the bad people in these other places. 

The delusions explained the hallucinations. It was a cycle I could not think my way out of. One justifies the other. Outside, I sucked in air. I did my mental routines to close back the gap between Martha’s world and mine. Counting, praying, stepping in a certain place, again and again, tapping my teeth together.  The OCD and symptoms of schizophrenia played off each other. Then I began rewinding time with my mind. Back, back, back up the stairs to the shower. There, I killed Martha with my eyes before she could slit my throat. I stared her down until she was gone. I repeated it out loud like a spell, whispering, “Gone, gone, gone.”

Now I am alive again. I have saved the world. I have saved myself.

Schizophrenia Hallucinations With Delusions

Weeks, months later, I was hanging up my clean clothes. All at once, there was a dead little boy standing in my closet. He was murdered. By who? Did I kill him? I think I did. He was mad I killed him. Now he wanted to kill me. I pleaded silently. I pray. I gasped. Tears squeezed their way out of my eyes. I trembled. I spoke to him with my mind. I don’t remember killing you! It must have been an accident! Please! Please! I didn’t mean to. I didn’t mean to. I didn’t mean to…

schizophrenia hallucination of dead boyHe turned me into stone. I could not speak. I could not think. I was frozen in time and space, invisible to the naked eye. He killed my physical being, and now I could only exist as a shadow of who I once was. I am dead. I am gone. I am dead. I am gone. I knew what I “had” to do next. Dead people are supposed to be buried. I had to bury myself.

I looked around me, and I was covered in darkness. The boy stared at me. He stood tall and proud. He knew he had killed me. And I knew I must bury my body if I was ever going to make it to whatever lies beyond death. I walked down the stairs into the garage. I looked for a shovel.

I heard a car door slam. I looked out the garage windows and saw my family was home. I should have just gone to the football game with them. I hate football, but I should have just gone with them. Now I am dead. My world was dark. I could smell my corpse. I panicked. My eyes were scanning the garage for a shovel when my mom found me.

Hey, we brought you some lunch home. What are you looking for?  Your bike?

She looked at me, and the world was getting lighter and brighter with each word she spoke. I saw more clearly. The air felt fresher. The brain fog was lifting. I knew I was safe now. I was alive. I was here. I was whole. I am not dead. What a silly thought. The boy was gone. The lights were on. I felt calm and safe. I looked at my mother, and I wondered if she could ever understand me and my dark, secret world. But I just say, “What’s for lunch?”

Recovery From Symptoms of Schizophrenia

That is how life was for me. I kept the world turning on its axis by counting and praying in my head. I concentrated as hard as I could to keep the world going. It was all up to me. I locked the doors between alternate universes by closing and re-closing the kitchen cabinets until the world felt right again. I was being killed all the time, but I came back to life. I knew something was wrong, but I didn’t know what it was exactly.

I look back now and wonder how I hid it so well. I wasn’t in any real danger, but my mind and my body reacted like I was. I had severe anxiety and still do. My eyelids twitched from stress. I had daily headaches that turned into weekly migraines (I still get those). I washed my hands until they were cracked and bleeding. I bit my nails and could never kick the habit. I couldn’t control the world I fell into when I was alone, when I was stressed, or when the sun went down. Darkness enveloped me and my mind. They were my triggers that transported me into my dark and terrifying world.

lights through a forest

I did not know what was happening at the time. And it got worse and worse until I was no longer hopping in and out of the strange world my mind created. I was stuck there. And the dead people multiplied until they followed me behind me wherever I went like I was Queen of the Dead. The schizophrenia hallucinations stood around my bed while I tried to sleep. They sat behind me in class and watched me cook dinner until I couldn’t hold this secret world upon my shoulders any longer. I collapsed. It was only then that I was diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder.

Not all my symptoms have gone away completely, but I am in recovery. When I am alone, scared, or stressed, sometimes I still experience schizophrenia hallucinations, but I understand now that they are not real people. When stressed or upset, I have trouble remembering words and articulating my thoughts when I’m speaking. But it’s manageable most of the time. My biggest accomplishment had always been hiding how scared I was because I didn’t want people to know. I was ashamed. I didn’t want others to be uncomfortable or think that I am a freak. But I am past caring about that now. It’s time to speak up. Those who don’t understand don’t matter.


About The Author:

Audrey Sloan is a writer with panic disorder and schizoaffective disorder. She is working on a collection of poetry and a memoir. She enjoys eating candy and frowning. You can find her having a panic attack in a fast-food restaurant.

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