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"Am I going mad?"


This happened all the time in sf stories in the 1940s: the protagonist would see something strange happen, and his (generally his rather than her) first thought would be that he must be going insane. As I noted a few years ago, in some such stories the protagonist's belief in his own insanity even causes him to be unwilling to propose to his girlfriend.

As I think I've noted elsewhere (but can't find it), I don't have a lot of patience for the "I must be going crazy!" trope in stories these days. In 1940s sf, it would often go on for pages; the protagonist would really seriously be concerned about it, and would explore the question in some detail. But pretty much every such exploration is the same, so it starts to feel like a boilerplate section inserted for form's sake into every story in which something strange happens in the modern world. (Much like the boilerplate paragraph explaining the Many Worlds Hypothesis that was required by law to appear in every alternate-history story published before 1990.)

These days, the insanity question in sf is usually no more than a paragraph or two of lip service. But it does still come up fairly regularly. And it makes me wonder about how people really would react to Something Strange Going On in the real world.

So, a thought experiment: Imagine that you're you, living in the real world, and something happens (to you, or right in front of you) that's not possible according to your worldview. Say a plant starts to talk to you, for example, or a person who you're talking with disappears into thin air, or something that seems to be a gateway into another place appears, or a mysterious stranger comes up to you and demonstrates an ability to read your mind, or you encounter a Mysterious Magic Shop that wasn't there yesterday. Or you find a strange glowing orb on the sidewalk that appears to be made of a substance previously unknown to humanity. Or you wake up and find yourself in what appears to be a different time period or what appears to be another world. But don't pick at these examples too much; feel free to substitute anything that's similarly outside of most people's idea of how the world works. Note that I'm talking about encountering, firsthand, something obvious and clear and direct; not just a vague possibility or a rumor.

Now: What's your initial reaction? Are you interested? Curious? Scared? Upset? Do you assume that it's a practical joke? Do you assume you must be going crazy? Do you assume you're hallucinating? A drug flashback, perhaps, or maybe you decide it's time to stop drinking? Do you assume it's magic, or aliens, or the work of a human scientist in a secret lab, or time travel, or psychic abilities, or . . . ? Do you try to investigate (assuming whatever happened doesn't appear to be actively harmful), or do you run screaming, or do you stare blankly at the strange phenomenon and make "buh, buh, buh" noises?

I'm honestly curious about what y'all think your reactions would be. There's no Right Answer, and this isn't a trick question. I'm most interested in whether you would question your own sanity (and if so, to what degree/for how long), but I'm also interested in the more general question of how you'd react.


Crazy. You ever see that John Forbes Nash movie? I would probably carry on talking with the plant, you know, just in case... but in the back of my mind I would be pretty certain that my genetics had simply caught up to me and I was finally going nutso.

And I hear anti-psychotics are No Fun Whatsoever. Boo.

(Though I think the real problem is that too many spec fic writers are starting too many damn stories in the "normal" world.)

(Guess who I'm channeling right now?)

This is an issue I think about pretty seriously in every contemporary fantasy story about invasive magic that I write! And the characters can react very differently, depending on their own personalities, personal histories, etc.

As for how I, myself, would react to -- for instance -- a sparkling fairy thing talking to me, I would assume I was the subject of some sort of elaborate practical joke, probably part of some horrible reality television show. But I know people who would assume they were seeing an angel or, indeed, a real fairy. Thinking about how *I* would react to something magical is only useful if I'm writing some kind of transreal metafiction. The important (and more interesting) question is how the particular fictional character I'm writing would plausibly react in a particular situation. Some do think they're dreaming, or assume they're crazy, or assume god or demons are talking to them, etc. It's a cliche (and not always true) that crazy people don't *think* they're crazy, but it's a fact that many people with mental illnesses completely believe in their strange worldview. I have a character in the novel I'm writing now who suffers from the Cotard delusion, and really does believe he's dead, and rotting, and trapped in hell, even though he's alive and living in the normal world. And there are people in reality who suffer from that condition.

I know what you mean, though, and I do get impatient with the "Am I crazy? Is this a dream?" thing, though I understand why authors feel moved to do it. The key is to write it without it seeming rote; making it an important part of the character's development and the movement of the plot. (That is of course easier said than done.)

I used to call it "the blot of mustard factor" -- the necessary and perfunctory expression of disbelief before the character could go ahead and start believing and allow the story to move forward, like Scrooge wondering if the apparition of Marley is caused by a blot of mustard or a bit of underdone potato giving him bad dreams. It's one of the first things I wrestled with when I started writing contemporary fantasy, and I honestly never came up with a perfect universal answer, just various individual reactions for various characters.

Sometimes I just start the story at a point where they've already come to terms with the existence of the magical.

The books I'm writing now are about immersive, rather than invasive, magic, so it's not an issue lately. Almost all my characters are well aware of the existence of hidden magic, and the characters who *aren't* aware of the magic seldom have cause to discover the truth. (With some exceptions.) But it's an interesting problem, and there can be interesting solutions.

I am not surprised to hear this was a popular 1940's phenomenon, because that is exactly the time period when the general population was becoming interested in the fairly new field of Psychology. It does not surprise me that writers back then would explore questions like "am I sane?" in detail because there were new way to think about sanity and people were interested in reading it and learning about it.

I think the reaction a person has to a reality-bending experience is completely dependent on personality. It is very believeable to me that someone could rationally question their own sanity, in much the same way that many teenagers rationally consider suicide at some point. But I think I would personally respond in one of two ways. If the phenomenon was not threatening, I would explore it and try to understand it - the response of a tinkerer who likes to take things apart and put them back together. But if it was threatening, I would be more likely to act - fight or flight - than to think much about it at the time.

I have had two events in my life that come close to shattering my expectation about how the world works.

The first was the realization, and almost immediate acceptance, of the fact that the car I was traveling in as a passenger was about to slide off the road due to black ice, a reality that I had read about but never before believed actually happened to people (I was 23 years old at the time). I did not question my sanity. I felt a surge run through my body, and my thinking processes speeded up by a factor of ten, so that I was able to wrap my arms around my head for protection. This was not reflex - I can remember the thought process. "We are heading off into the ditch. We're probably gonna roll. I'm not wearing a seat belt." I blacked out as the car began to roll and woke up on my back in the middle of a snow covered pasture with some torn connective tissue in my chest and some nasty scratches on the back of my neck - I still have the scars. So in short, I responded in a semi-rational manner, self-preservation being the upmost priority. Even today, looking back, I am astounded at how quickly I was willing to accept the inevitability of my situation.

The second occurred when I was sitting zazen with a group in Seattle. In the middle of this long sit, I could hear the sound of the traffic outside, and at the time my mind was so empty of thought that the sound of the passing car became my thinking. It was the only mental sensation passing through my brain and I understood that this sensation was really no different than any other kind of thinking. I have always believed that this is what Buddhists mean by "becoming one" with something external to the self (small s).

My reaction would be "that can't be real". I'd start looking for the hidden camera or trying to figure out how the trick could have been done. I'd be looking through the plant for electrical wiring or checking to make sure I hadn't left my name badge on where the 'telepathic' stranger could see it or trying to remember what new movie was opening that the 'Mysterious Magic Shop' might be promoting or looking for the projector that makes the sparkly fairy appear. It would probably take a fair bit of effort to convince me that there wasn't a tricksy FX explanation for something that appeared to be otherworldly.

Well now, I'd think it completely depends on what the bizarreness is. A strange shop that I could swear wasn't there yesterday is not going to make me question reality. I get lost all the time and could NEVER swear that "it wasn't there yesterday!" A glowing orb that I don't know what it is, isn't going to make me question reality--I pick it up, play around with it, show it to all my friends until we find someone who can say for sure that it's "not from this earth"--and by that point, I have too many confirming witnesses. Someone on the street claiming to read my mind--I've seen too many of those on TV who are downright freaky, I'm going to assume it's a trick.

I'm wondering what it would take for me to be convinced a plant was really talking to me, or that someone really did disappear without it being a trick.

Now, I wake up in ancient Rome for no reason at all I can figure out, and yeah, I probably won't deal well with that. I'd be stoned as an outcast and a witch in no time (if the ancient Romans dealt with loonies like that, I don't know).

I pull a quarter out of my pocket and it has my picture on it--THEN I might question reality. (that was PKDick scene that drove me nuts, don't remember the novel.) A picture of Queen Elizabeth on it, though, and I just get pissed that someone passed me a Canadian quarter without my noticing. :) But there are times when I wonder what universe I'm in, when something I thought I was absolutely sure of turns out not to be true--when I walk out of a door at an unfamiliar place and the parking lot's in the wrong orientation from where I thought it was or something. That happens. A momentary glitch, though, and then we're back on track.

I have a sneaking suspicion, human consciousness being what it is, that even if a plant started talking to me or I walked through a wardrobe into another world that wasn't there when I took my sis back to show her, I'd figure out a way to reclassify that as "normal" and keep going, rather than questioning my sanity. Small deviations we can handle, incorporate into our models. Waking up in another time period, though, with a complete severing from the world I know, and no explanation of how I got there or how I get back--I might lose it. Or at least not come to grips with it fast enough to survive. (ok, walking through the wardrobe might be a problem too.)

I am so very willing to suspend disbelief that I would be more concerned with not realizing that I might actually be going crazy. To incredibly simplify psychosis, all I would need is for my brain to throw the wrong mental post-it onto something -- for instance, that's a 'daffodil' asking me for directions, not a stranger on the street -- and phoof! I'm down the rabbit hole. Would I question? Probably. Would I object? Probaby not.

Wow -- I wasn't expecting so many great comments so quickly on a Saturday night. Thanks, all! Too sleepy to comment further myself now, but I'm reading everyone's comments with interest. Keep 'em coming!

I think that a lot more people would think there was something seriously wrong with them than would assume the plant is actually talking.

But I also think this is one of those things that you waive in stories because it does get boring/monotonous. There is very little entertaining about watching someone doubt their reality for pages. When you're writing something fantastical, your aim is (usually) to encourage suspension of disbelief. If your character spends too long fighting it, everyone gets tired.

That's my experience, anyway.

First of all, like a lot of people, I would spent a lot of time looking for a trick before I started either doubting my own sanity or believing in the impossible. On the other hand, I might well play along with the trick, possibly for long enough to get the plot moving. And, of course, I've never seen anything I thought was impossible that wasn't presented as a technical trick already, so it's hard to know.

In a story, though, I would rather waste time with a perfunctory "Am I going MMMmmad?" scene than a perfunctory "This is a joke, right? Eddie? Is this Eddie?" scene or a perfunctory scene where the protagonist looks behind curtains and into wardrobes for wires and projectors. As a matter of taste.

Another question (as Matthew indicates above) is how somebody reacts to something that is not only possible but not all that uncommon in the grand scheme of things, but that they don't expect ever to happen to them. Being jailed for a crime I didn't commit. Being bombed from airplanes. Being shot. Winning the lottery. Do people think they've gone mad, and that it's all a delusion?


I would keep looking for the trick until I found it.

In a tangential response, this question has sort of been answered countless times by people on hallucinogenic drugs, not the least of which was our father, who told me several times about his use of the drug DMT (dimethyl triptomine) (sp?). Peter told me of being on DMT and having the sensation of curtains opening across the back of his head and then having 360 degree vision...and he said that he was aware of how improssible it was even while he was on the drug, but yet at the same time he saw people approach him from behind, etc. Whacked.

Very interesting question. Depending on the actual situation, I think there are some steps between "this is real" and "I'm going mad" that don't involve someone playing tricks. I mean, I can distrust my perceptions without thinking I'm going mad. I do it all the time when I hear someone say something weird and then I ask them to repeat and it turns out they actually said something perfectly natural. Or I'm looking at a picture that doesn't look like anything, and then suddenly something shifts and I see that I'm supposed to be looking at the light parts instead of the dark parts and it makes sense.

This is probably the explanation behind all the people in fiction who see something really strange (say, a centaur), and end up believing they've seen something more normal (a boy on a horse). I usually dislike this when reading (because words are so cut and dry and the reader knows exactly what's happening -- it's easy to forget how much reality is subject to interpretation) but I think it's probably pretty realistic and understandable; it's probably what I would do if I had a glancing encounter with the strange.

Of course, an actual prolonged, unmistakable encounter with something strange and unbelievable would be different, but it would probably start out the same. What is that? No, that can't be right. Blink, blink, hmm. I think that starting out with the assumption that strange things could potentially make sense would keep me trying to understand instead of assuming madness.

From there, it depends on how irreconcilable the perception is with my model of the world. I mean, if I was perceiving two dimensional cartoon characters walking around in the real world, I would tend to doubt myself much more than if I were perceiving solid ordinary objects mysteriously floating for no reason I could perceive.

If I were still my rational self, I'd pretty quickly assume I was having mental problems -- it's just the most likely explanation.

Actual fantasy world: extremely unlikely. Elaborate hoax, other forms of 'trick': also extremely unlikely, as there is no one in my life who would have any impetus to do such a thing. Mental issues, however, are common in the general population in a variety of forms, and therefore by far the most likely explanation. Possibly abetted by accidentally ingesting some sort of hallucinogen.

That said, I think after a reasonable amount of time, if the fantasy element did not go away but everything else seemed to function normally, I would start tentatively assuming that magic did actually exist, and that my understanding of the world previously was simply lacking. Not sure how long it would take for that transition -- a couple of days at least, I think. Though I'd probably provisionally 'act as if it were real' a lot faster.

I don't think my first reaction would be whether I'm going mad--my first reaction would be to double-check and see whether I hadn't just imagined the phenomenon. After checking, if it still doesn't vanish, I'd kneel and try to see if I can take it apart to see if it's for real (engineer training coming to the fore here...).

Interesting discussion. (Sidenote: I'm not the Jacob that regularly posts here, hence the 'B.' added to my name).

In fact, I am often worried or scared how easily many people seem to accept the supernatural in real life. Here in the Netherlands there are several TV shows with psychics who claim to be able to talk to deceased relatives. It's your personal opinion whether you think that is actually possible, but one of the psychics was throuroughly debunked a few years ago: it turned out he got his information on dead people from Google searches and made photographs of 'glowing spirits' with simple camera tricks. But even after that there are people convinced of his supernatural powers! I think many of those people wouldn't question their own sanity for a second if confronted with something truly paranormal.

That being said I think the human mind has an amazing ability to rationalize things, mainly because we so often have short moments of 'crosswiring' when you think you hear or see something else than is actually there. If I myself were confronted with stuff that I thought was impossible, I would first assume I didn't hear/see it right. If the phenomenon persisted, I'd either think it was a trick or think I was hallucinating for some strange reason (someone slipping something into my drink maybe?). Still, I'd probably 'play along', mostly trying to not make a fool of myself if it all turns out to be a hoax (I think the desire to not look foolish is also quite strong in most people). Interestingly, I actually found it quite difficult to imagine what I'd do if confronted by something truly supernatural, since I so firmly believe that it could never happen (I love stories about magic and SF but I'm quite convinced magic doesn't exist).

As for waking up in a strange world/time: that happens often enough when I'm dreaming, and then it usually seems like the most normal thing in the world (gotta love dream logic). If it happened to me for real, maybe my mind would also conclude 'hey, this must be a dream' and find it completely normal in the same way, without even the conscious realization of 'I must be dreaming'.

Finally, regarding the 'strange glowing orb on the sidewalk': I'm amazed any of you would actually pick that up and show it to friends. My first reaction would probably be that its some kind of radioactive waste (I know, I know, we shouldn't pick at the specific examples, but people picking up glowing orbs from the sidewalk really should be protected from themselves ;)

I'd totally pick up the glowing orb. Because I may not know a lot about radioactive waste, but I know that it's a lot more likely to resemble ordinary scrap metal than a Hollywood special effect. (And if it's so radioactive that it's visibly glowing, I'm probably screwed whether I pick it up or not.)

I nominate Susan (who's probably not listening) to tell us what it is about the history of psychology in the English-speaking world that made this such a popular meme in the 40s.

I think actually going crazy isn't very much like the experiences of these characters, and I think on the whole the average reader or writer knows crazy better than they did back then, or thinks they do. As a result, "I must be going maaaaaad!" doesn't cut it any more, but heading down to the main library to look your symptoms up in DSM-IV is a character note.

I think I'd doubt my perceptions, but not my sanity -- I'd want to take a closer look, to try to figure out what was going on, but my first reaction wouldn't be either "this must be supernatural" or "I must be going crazy". More like "huh, what the heck is (or is causing) that?"

At the risk of going hopelessly off topic: the case of the GoiĆ¢nia incident is a real life case of squatters finding a container with material 'emitting a deep blue light', which did turn out to be medical nuclear waste which killed several who came into contact with it...
I wonder what those guys thought when they first saw that glow.

Back on topic: How about stories where a character _does_ assume the supernatural phenomenon is totally real, but in the end it turns out he/she was crazy all along? Or would that actually disqualify a story as fantasy/SF?

I think my basic response would probably be to go into deep processing/WTF mode. I think when something really random and inexplicable happens, unless it seems actively dangerous (at which point I think the basic human instinct is to run first and ask questions later), I feel like I have to at least have a hypothesis as to what it might be before I can even respond.

So, you know, if it's inactive (glowy light thing), stare for a while. Then maybe poke it with a stick. Then pick it up (which is the part where I die from nuclear radiation, re: Jacob B.'s comment). Take it and show it to other people.

Originally I was going to say that if it's something obviously fantastic ("There is a dragon sitting on that Starbucks"), then people have access to all the fantasy narratives where the characters express disbelief, etc, and so you'd get meta-responses ala Buffy. But then reading everyone else's comments reminded me that, given today's media, what you'd probably *actually* get is everyone thinking it was part of a reality TV show.

Still appreciating all the comments, still no time to respond to anyone in detail. A few quick thoughts in passing:

1. I didn't think to include three of the perhaps most common reactions in sf: "I must be dreaming" (which a couple of you touched on), "I must be going senile," and "It's a miracle!" I suspect that the first and last of those might be common reactions in the real world--certainly we see plenty of real-world situations where people react to the apparently impossible by deciding it's the work of God. (Generally those are certain types of situations, though.) ...I guess the miracle explanation per se doesn't come up so often in sf, but the related "Are you an angel?" is pretty common.

2. The glowing-ball example was really kind of a private joke (sorry about that); it was mainly because I've seen a fair number of stories lately in which someone encounters an item which they immediately describe (on first sight) as being made of a substance unknown to human science, or beyond human technology, when they have no way of knowing it's not made out of (say) plastic or steel. In fact, of course, there are plenty of glowing orbs of various sorts available for sale in a variety of real-world venues; I own some glowing poi (not to mention a few light bulbs) myself. Which is one reason I didn't want to put too much emphasis on any particular example.

3. I think one reason that the "I must be insane" idea tends to bug me (when it does) is, as David M pointed out, that there are many forms of mental illness that don't involve combined-auditory-and-visual hallucinations of things the hallucinator believes to be impossible, and I think people don't normally react to situations related to those illnesses and disorders by assuming they've suddenly acquired those illnesses and disorders. They may joke about it, or talk about (say) "my obsessive-compulsive tendencies," but that's usually a shorthand, not a serious fear that they're (out of the blue) developing a serious mental problem. That said, hallucinations are linked with insanity (as well as with drugs, and dreams, and so on) in the popular imagination, so the idea that someone might think they could be "going crazy" if they think they're hallucinating isn't much of a stretch. But I've had plenty of experiences in which (as Jacob B and others noted) I thought I was awake when I was really dreaming, and plenty of people have had experiences in which they had drug-induced hallucinations; and as several of you noted, most people have had experiences where they thought something had happened, checked again, and realized it hadn't. Whereas I personally have had no experiences in which I thought I must be developing something like the hallucinations John Nash had (thanks for the example, Jackie!), so I think that I would be less likely to assume that I was becoming delusional. But again, I didn't ask this question as a trick question; this paragraph is mainly about how my history and experience shapes my reactions to this issue when it comes up in fiction, but I'm still plenty interested in what other people think their real-world reactions would be, and in how writers handle the issue for their characters. (Also, I recognize that I'm probably taking phrases like "I must be going crazy" more literally than they're probably intended.) (Also, I realize in retrospect that this paragraph is kind of muddled, mixing two or three different arguments that don't quite connect. Sorry about that. No time to fix it.)

More later, I hope.

I, too, have a sufficiently underdeveloped sense of geography that I wouldn't ever feel qualified to classify a Mysterious Magical Shop as such. Other weirdness would fall on a sliding scale, with the closer to mundane things written off as reality TV or another sort of hoax, or a case of poor eyewitness processing. For more obvious manifestations of the fantastic (like the dragon in Starbucks), I think I'd be inclined to deal with the symptoms (e.g. avoid being charbroiled) and worry about the larger metaphysical issues later. The method of dealing with said issues would probably depend to some extent on whether or not everyone else in Starbucks behaved as though they also saw the dragon.

Touching on your point #3, I don't think I'd frame the question in terms of my craziness, because I'd feel like if I had to ask then the game was over. I'd be more likely to adopt a (possibly) more nuanced and (definitely) less alarming line of questioning that would start with what might be wrong with my senses, and eventually wind back to what might be wrong with the gray matter.

David, of course I'm listening! If you're talking about the late 1940s into the early 1950s, I have an easy answer off the top of my head. (Subject, as always, to possible revision if I put some actual research into this.) Psychology and psychiatry gained a much larger public profile in the wake of the second world war, at least in the United States. There was a heightened public awareness of shell shock (PTSD), which made everyone very conscious of the fact that mental illness wasn't necessarily congenital, and the widespread use of psychiatric counselling of soldiers in the war led to a diffusion throughout the general population of the idea of non-catastrophic mental illness. It's the first appearance in American culture of the idea of someone who has a mental illness but isn't, like, an asylum-bound raving lunatic. Seems as good a reason as any for this to pop up in pulp fiction.

I was about twelve or so when a newly fallen stump in the woods on the walk home from the bus-stop looked exactly like a giant wolf to me. I kept walking towards it, even though my heart was pounding and my throat was dry. "That can't be a wolf. Is it a wolf? It's going to eat me if it's a wolf. But a wolf wouldn't be so still." All this in my head until I walked closer and saw it was a stump.

And no, I didn't think I was insane, even though I knew enough about wolves to know there wouldn't be one in suburban North Carolina (didn't know enough to be confident that it wouldn't eat me!). I think that reaction--the "am I sane?" reaction--isn't native to the crisis, so to speak: you deal with the thing, whatever it is... but later, when you are coming out the other side, you might wonder. Particularly if it was a one-time thing and you now have no proof of the incident, or particularly if you acted in a way that seems strange to you now. (Heck, thinking about relationships I've had, I've wondered if I was insane. Did I imagine that awful thing he said? Was I crazy for staying with him so long?)

Does that make sense? That it's an after-the-fact observation.

Reading the obligatory "was I crazy?" moment does feel rote to me quite often, but just as often, if there's too-quick acceptance of the extraordinary, I don't feel connected with the characters. There has to be some moment of doubt or denial, or I can't buy it. (Unless it's one of those characters who has been looking for the magic door for ten years.)

I've had a strange life by anyone's standards. I think my reaction to strange events depends on whether the event is pleasant or unpleasant. I initially react to unpleasant events with disbelief and shock for a moment. If something needs to be done about said event then I immediately switch into dealing with the situation. For pleasant events I just accept it if it seems to fit with things around it. The events you describe just don't seem real to me so I have a hard time picturing my reaction to them but then they are not described as real. For example I don't think plants can communicate that well with humans. But a talking cat? Maybe? If I had a relationship with said cat. I think humans are great at rationalizing things.

I know a couple people who have mental illnesses that include delusions. The way they describe things is that there is no line between reality and delusion. I hear voices inside my head sometimes but I know they are me talking to me. Insane people hear people talking and they truly hear it as if someone is talking to them just as if I was sitting next to you talking to you.

I remember waking up one morning when I was in high school. My bed was shaking, and, in my sleepy state, I assumed it was my dog shaking the bed. Mind you, our dog was no giant beast able to rock metal and foam, but I made it make sense to me. Another time, I remember thinking that someone must be playing basketball in front of our house since there were reverberations inside. It took a moment in each of these instances to look past the initial clues and cues and realize that the dog wasn't shaking the bed, the neighbors weren't playing basketball; we were in the middle of two rather benign earthquakes.

My point is simply that I know that I would try to make sense of what was happening, even if there was no sense to be made of it. I think I would look externally before I questioned my own sanity.

Depending on the circumstances of the event, I might be delighted, hopeful, alarmed, curious or terrified. Likely, some combination! It would probably not occur to me to question my sanity; it would occur to me (even if terrified) to delight that there "is more in heaven and earth", and I might assume I was hallucinating.

My first actual response, assuming I'm not perceiving something as life-threatening, is to go along with it, explore the circumstance. In the sense of transport to other worlds (voluntarily or not), I'd probably also be looking for a way back/to communicate back...

OK, if you're hallucinating, are you insane? I would say "Not necessarily" but that brings up a lot of questions, doesn't it. Heh.

Well, I really doubt I'd assume I was insane, since I've seen lots of insane and it doesn't start with a full-blown detailed hallucination that seems strange to me and bears continued scrutiny (either I'd fully accept the reality of the hallucination, or it would begin with gradually increasing glimpses of psychosis -- voices which are hard to make out, or seeing things wrong or out of the corner of my eye). Still, I'd probably start with the basic reality-check -- look for someone else to confirm that they can see or hear what I did.

As for a reaction to what's actually there, like many others have said, it depends on what I'm seeing. If it's threatening, I'd first act to protect myself and others. If benign, I think I'd be very predisposed to believe it's real -- I'd love to live in a world filled with magic and mystery, so any indication that I really do would be welcomed.

One recent event showing my actual reaction: I was in the yard, admiring the morels (we have morels growing wild in our yard!), when the chickens (we have chickens growing domesticated in our yard!) suddenly exploded in a squawking rush from the roses in front of me. They flew and ran across the yard, pursued by a grey furry animal rather larger than a cat, carrying a soda can (in its mouth, not its hand -- this was reality, after all). I tumbled backwards, and rather than taking the traditional animal response of "cool it! a human!" it continued to rush at me (still carrying the soda can). I discovered that in such a situation, I respond in complete, even compound sentences: I yelled "What are you, and why are you still coming towards me?" It then dropped the can and ran off. It returned a few hours later and chased the chickens a bit. I grew increasingly worried that we might have a rabid groundhog (aka woodchuck, leading to abundant musings about how many chickens could a woodchuck chuck...), until I checked with the neighbor and learned they'be been feeding him for years. Moreover, he hasn't been seen since, and may have died under their shed.

I'm not anonymous -- I'm Bhadrika. And it's not 9.53; it's past midnight. I shoud go to bed.

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