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5 Things to Say to a Friend Who Opens Up About Experiencing Hallucinations

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When I told a friend this week that I was having a really rough time because I was having really strong hallucinations, they responded with the oddest comment I’ve ever gotten. They said they were jealous of my brain for “making things up.” And as much as I tried to laugh it off, I knew I’d have to chew on it for a while.

Making stuff up carries with it a meaning that comes close to “using your imagination to create something in times of boredom.” And if that was all it was, I don’t know if I could complain. Because that sounds pleasant, like something a young child does in class when they’re waiting for recess.


When I have to put down my third lunch in the week because there are slugs in it; when I have to look at my dog to see if he can see the mice skittering across the baseboards; when I have to have my husband come with me outside because I can’t trust my own eyes, it’s not because I’m bored.

While some may dream up castles and rainbows or a winter snow, I am left with fearsome battles that shape my reality. And while some are able to snap out of their visions of knights and wizards, I can’t turn anything off. No matter how much I try, these hallucinations are my companions.

So no. I’m not bored. I have a health condition. And that makes me wonder: would you be jealous of a person with a broken bone because they have a fashion accessory? Or a person with asthma because their nose whistles when they breathe? I think not. So why is it that my condition is any different?

I know that friend meant well. And it wasn’t until well after we spoke that I had this response. Perhaps one day, mental health stigmas will be so outdated that when someone says they’re having a difficult time with their brain, the response will be one of informed assistance rather than poorly worded assurance. In the meantime though, here are five responses I would have rather heard.

1. “Do you need anything?”

This lets me know you actually care, and are willing to help me figure out my next steps.

2. “Are you safe?”

Think of this as a code language. It could mean, “do you feel OK where you are?” But it could also mean, “are you in danger of self-harm or suicide?”

3. “Do you need/want to talk about it?”

This should only be offered if you really want to listen. Otherwise, I won’t talk about it again.

4. “Can I help?”

Similarly, only offer if you actually want to help. Usually, the answer is no, but maybe I could actually use your help.

5. “That sounds exhausting. I hope you have a better day/week/month soon.”

This doesn’t require anything else from you. It lets me know you care, but maybe you don’t know how to help or you know you can’t help. It’s polite and it’s like code for, “I’m glad you trust me.”

Photo by Connor Botts on Unsplash

Originally published: September 7, 2018
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