What it’s like to hallucinate tiny people in the...
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Mar 07, 2016  |  Vote 0    0

What it’s like to hallucinate tiny people in the night

Star reporter David Bateman learns he has a syndrome related to vision loss that explains why he sees imaginary wee people in his room.


It’s 3 a.m. I should be asleep. Instead, I’m wondering why there’s an infant-sized man with a wafer-thin body and a wrinkled, withering face reminiscent of baby Benjamin Button perched at the end of my bed.

One night at a Chicago hotel, I woke a friend to ask if he could see the short fellow standing at the door, with enormous eyes like a Margaret Keane painting.

I’ve repeatedly gone scurrying through wardrobes to uncover where the eerie, motionless figure in the corner of my room has gone. One minute, glaring eyes are fixed intently on me. I move closer and they vanish without a trace.

Roughly once a month, I sit bolt upright in the middle of the night, staring into a fictitious face that’s very real to me.

These wee people don’t do anything. They don’t move, do a little dance or make cups of tea. They just sit and stare intently.

This has happened for at least 10 years and I’ve never known how or why.

Sometimes, I chalked it up to one too many whiskies. Mostly, I made sure there wasn’t a pint-sized intruder in the room and went back to sleep.

I had no idea what caused this until I read Diana Zlomislic’s Toronto Star story on Charles Bonnet Syndrome, a common condition where people who have vision loss — I’m partially blind in one eye — see vivid hallucinations.

The story opens with a description of a hallucination of a little man holding an umbrella.

I read that sentence and immediately thought, “Wait a minute … I’ve seen him before. I have this syndrome.”

When I realized this was actually “a thing,” I messaged Douglas Barrie, a Scottish journalist friend. I told him that maybe it would be worth looking into across the pond, since the Star’s story quoted another Scotsman with this condition. Could it be genetic?

His response was predictably befuddled: “You see … wee people?”

It sounds ridiculous.

I told my mum, who had to put up with a frightened, restless young version of me coming to her room in the middle of the night.

“Be serious, dafty,” was my dear mother’s first response. Once she’d garnered I was indeed being serious, her next reply was: “I’d say it’s the whisky.”

Finally, she asked why I’d never told her.

It’s not really the kind of thing you bring up in casual conversation. Imagine someone telling you they see wee imaginary people in their room about once a month. You would worry for their well-being and sanity.

I didn’t worry for my own, but thinking back, I probably should have. I treated it a little like a bad dream. When it happened, I wanted to get back to sleep as quickly as possible. By morning, it was a hazy enough memory that I didn’t feel the need to dwell on it.

Having done some Google investigating, it’s clear this isn’t a mental condition and that my “good eye” is just playing tricks as it struggles to comprehend what it’s seeing in the dark.

It’s reassuring to know there’s not something more malicious at work inside my head. I get to keep this quirky information in my back pocket to tell down the pub.

I’m able to treat this as something comedic because I’m only 26. If I was elderly, I’d imagine it would be quite terrifying. I can’t fathom the frustration and exasperation grandfathers and grandmothers must feel when trying to convince their kids they are not losing their minds. There are few things scarier than your eyes inventing things that don’t exist.

I’m lucky. I now know why I see wee people. My only problem is going to be stopping my friends doing impressions of The Sixth Sense.

Toronto Star

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