Wednesday, June 15, 2011

A Reliable and Replicable Hallucination

Over the last six months I have come to notice that I experience a specific hallucination more frequently if I am stressed.

The sink in my bathroom makes a high-pitched humming sound. I think it actually vibrates at more than one frequency, creating a phenomenon known in acoustics as "beats." Anytime I turn it on, the sound seems to waver back and forth between two high notes, like the siren of a cop car.

Once, after a few days of intense stress, I was absolutely sure that the sound of the sink was actually the sound of my home alarm and I ran from the bathroom to the alarm console to turn it off. Of course, the console display showed me that there was no activity and I was alarmed to realize that I had experienced a very convincing hallucination. The following days, while washing my hands, I marveled at how I could actually mistake the sound of the faucet for an alarm. They did sound similar, but when not stressed, I felt like the two were distinctly different. I wondered about the neurological state that stress must have driven me to for me to miss the clear distinction in acoustic properties.

As you might have guessed, this misperception has occured over and over during the last few months. Anytime I am stressed, I begin to make this false interpretation and feel startled and momentarily fearful. The worse the stress, the more convinced I am that I am actually hearing the alarm. This phenomenon has, for me, underscored the reliable clinical relationship between stress, dopamine dysregulation and hallucinatory and delusional experiences.

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