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My experience of altered visual perceptions (long)


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Heya! I used to post on the old boards as “pyramidic”. So I thought I would use this space to tell of my experiences.

Aged 17, I took LSD a couple of times. The second time was a very difficult experience, and left me with lasting altered visual perceptions. I was terrified and thought I had fucked my brain up; I was paranoid, anxious, insomniac. Parts of my senses became hypersensitive; every time I looked at someone, or even a picture of a face, I could feel all their alienation and pain. The world around me seemed unreal and at times I started to seriously consider whether my thoughts were mine or being put in my head by aliens.

I stopped taking psychedelics and cut down on my weed intake as it made my altered vision more intense. I slowly began to adjust to my perceptions although they still gave me a lot of fear, and I had serious issues with anxiety which I mostly dealt with by alcohol.

Over the next 10 years or so, I continued to use a lot of cannabis and alcohol. For a couple of years I was very into ecstasy and would take it once or twice a week. These substances did not really alter my visual perceptions once they were out of my system. Although I did not use psychedelics I was interested in them.

About 10 years after my LSD use, I still had serious anxiety issues, mostly unrelated to my altered vision. The majority of the time I coped with my altered vision but it sometimes made me uncomfortable to think about it. By this time I had heard of HPPD and diagnosed myself as having this disorder. At this time psilocybin mushrooms were widely and legally available; I very cautiously experimented with them, taking low doses, mostly recreationally, but this also helped to stop thinking of ‘visuals’ as something that were harmful and a reason to stress out. There seemed to be an increase of my altered perceptions for a week or two after the experience but this faded, and I became to feel more comfortable with my altered perceptions and could for example, actively watch my ‘static’ without it causing me anxiety.

I met my current partner and love of my life and settled down, cutting down my use of alcohol and cannabis. I still had a lot of anxiety issues and this came to a head (perhaps without use of booze to keep it hidden), leaving me in a state where I was unable to work. Around this time I began reading about traditional and psychotherapeutic use of psychedelics, and had started to experiment with low doses but for ‘exploration’ rather than recreationally.

Amongst many other changes to my lifestyle, these substances helped to open me up spiritually, and set me on a path where I tried to acknowledge and heal my psychic wounds. One example of this was that I began to see that labelling how I visually perceived the world as a disorder was very damaging to me; it increased my feelings of dissociation from the external world and from my own perceptions. I had studied psychology at university and learned the damage that the medical model of mental illness caused, yet without realising I had given myself a label of HPPD and willingly signed myself up!

I decided to own my perceptions and my thoughts; how I perceive the world is MY reality, not a symptom. My vision now is no more or less representative of any supposed ‘objective’ reality than it was before. My visual perception, like other parts of me, such as my bisexuality, is not the norm; being outside the most frequent range of experience is not a sign of disorder or mental illness, despite all the social stigma attached. I no longer consider myself to have HPPD and I think that medicalising and demonising this experience can have very harmful effects

It seems to me in retrospect that when I began to suspect my thoughts were not my own, this was because I was in a hypersensitive state following my LSD use; I was picking up on emotions and having thoughts way outside my previous experiences. I had no context to understand them, no knowledge of peak experiences, spirituality or the immense power of psychedelics, and so I rejected them. The only way I could understand them was through my vague ideas of ‘going mad’; so that is exactly what I experienced. I now try to accept all my feelings, even though sometimes they are weird and scary and difficult.

When I look at the wall ahead of me and see patterns of swirling dots and colours I do not see the symptoms of HPPD; I see infinity right there in front of me; chaotic, beautiful, indescribable – WOW! Although I have had years of distress resulting from my altered vision, I would not change it for anything, it is part of me, and the process of understanding and accepting it has made me the person I am happy to be today. I have a job, a relationship with a wonderful person, and I am studying to be a counsellor. . I continue to use small doses (I am very sensitive/total lightweight!) of naturally occurring psychedelics on an infrequent basis (ayahuasca, san pedro and psylocybe mushrooms); this is of great benefit to me. It is hard to gauge exactly but I think it is quite possible that over the last 5 years of using these substances my vision may have altered further to a slight degree. Then again, maybe this change has been of quality rather than quantity. In any case, I monitor it carefully but it causes me no distress.

Thanks for reading this very long post! Comments are welcome, but please note that I am not advocating use of psychedelics as a “cure for HPPD”, simply recounting my own experiences.

Peace and love :)

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Good to hear the visuals no longer cause you any distress. If you can, or any of us, put them aside into the background with ease, to focus on things more important, then they're not much of an issue. Easier said then done of course, but it can be worked at.

For me, I don't think it would be as easy as just accepting them as non-threatening to put them aside. It seems like the whole thing is just this automatic process a lot of the time. If I'm reading something for instance, unless I've very focused, I can get easily distracted by the letters swaying. Hppd is kind of like sitting in a room, nothing is moving, then a mouse runs across the floor, welp, my attention will fixate on the mouse since it stands out. So it's like I have mice all over my vision and I have to be doing something more attention grabbing then all the dang mice, hehe...... But, I have worked on the fixation, and seen improvements.....

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