I see more than dead people....
March 14, 2010 5:20 PM   Subscribe

Why is my brain deceiving me?

Last week I went to the store and wanted to buy bananas, but realized I had already done so. When I thought it through I guess I hadn't.

I looked down and saw the robe I'd worn all day. But when I got up the robe was hanging up where I'd left it a month ago. And I hadn't touched it for weeks.

I'm seeing a lot of things like this lately. Instances where I remember events happening, but they didn't actually happen. Where I very clearly remember things happening, and those things affect my current state.

Then, when I look around I realize that due to the state of things (i.e, no bananas in the house, the robe where it was before) those prior events could not have happened.

I'm in my mid 30s, an otherwise a normal, healthy individual. Have a good job, great family, etc. Just unsure why my brain shows me things that clearly aren't in tune with reality.
posted by krisak to Human Relations (27 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
I'm no expert, but I think its time for a trip to the doctor.
posted by julie_of_the_jungle at 5:26 PM on March 14, 2010 [8 favorites]

If this is something that's only started happening recently, go to your doctor and have it checked out. Could be anything from a mild virus to a stroke to a brain tumor to early-onset Alzheimer's, and the earlier you find out what you're dealing with, the better off you'll be.
posted by flabdablet at 5:27 PM on March 14, 2010

This is one of those doctor things. The memory thing is probably relatively normal. If you are seeing things, you may be having some type of hallucination, or something may be wrong with your sight,blood pressure, etc that is making you see dots or shapes in your vision that you just interpret to be a robe on the floor rather than something pressing on a nerve in your head. Get it checked out. If you leave it a small problem could turn into something worse.
posted by Yorrick at 5:27 PM on March 14, 2010

We all do this to some extent. Our brains create continuous narratives by filling in gaps in logical ways. Since our memories are pretty inherently flawed, this happens a lot more than you might think. I don't think it would hurt to talk to your GP about it if it concerns you, though.
posted by emilyd22222 at 5:28 PM on March 14, 2010

If this happened to me I would go and see a doctor. It sounds like your brain isn't working properly, and the brain's at the top of my list of 'things that I want to work properly'.
posted by twirlypen at 5:29 PM on March 14, 2010

The mind is a curious thing. Sometimes you work yourself into such a frenzied froth of anxiety about buying some bananas that, sure enough, you're pretty quickly under the impression that you already have, and especially with bananas unless you're making smoothies with them every day a bunch is going to last you a fair while because they get kind of annoying after a while, and just sit there in the bowl, so bananas you actually bought a week or so ago come to resemble bananas that you believe you bought yesterday, in your mind. Sometimes I sit there happy because I figure I've got plenty of booze in the fridge but - oh no! - turns out I drank it all already. Or because I went into the place where I normally buy tobacco, and I'm running out of tobacco, I figure "Man, I must have bought some tobacco" but turns out I didn't. Perhaps it has something to do with familiarity or repetition manufacturing shortcuts in your brainmeat synapes. Relax, you're not mental. Don't wear the bananas.
posted by turgid dahlia at 5:33 PM on March 14, 2010

Response by poster: Thanks for the responses. I guess it's clearly more than a random thing, and clearly not normal, I'll discuss it with my GP when I see him next (my regular appt is in about two weeks).
posted by krisak at 5:34 PM on March 14, 2010

I'm going to suggest that this may not be a serious as you think it is. It could be a memory or stress related thing going on (as opposed to the sort of hallucination situation you describe)... But... I could be dead wrong on that, I just wanted to present a less troubling reason for what you're experiencing.

First step....Take some deep breaths, set up an appointment with your physician... we're not going to be able to help much here...

posted by HuronBob at 5:34 PM on March 14, 2010

It's not clear to me whether you hallucinated the robe. If so, doctor it up.

If not, I think this is normal... buying bananas and wearing a robe are tings that you have a real memory of. It's happened to you uncountable times, so it's understandable that you could misremember the timing of the last one. If it's worrying you, go see a doctor anyway.
posted by cmoj at 5:35 PM on March 14, 2010

Response by poster: Thanks HuronBob. I think your response works well... It may or may not be something serious, but I need to talk to my GP about it.

Could be I'm just a bit stressed out and manifesting it in odd ways. I certainly am stressed a lot lately.

cmoj - thanks. I'll discuss it with my GP in a week or two.
posted by krisak at 5:45 PM on March 14, 2010

I wouldn't get too worked up about it, but it's good to mention it to the doctor. This is one of those things that happens to everyone occasionally. But a continued pattern (especially one of escalating frequency and severity) can indicate problems.

A few years ago, I developed an odd mental blind spot such that every time I went to the store I thought, "Oh that's right, I keep forgetting to buy tampons. I shall buy another box." And then I would get home and find that no, I had bought a box after all. In other words, I had forgotten not having forgotten!

The boxes kept piling up until at one point I calculated I had approximately 18 months' worth! That is a lot of absorbency. I fixed this mental tally in my mind, and was successfully able to break the chain of forgetting having forgotten.

Then guess what? That's right! One day, 19 months later, I discovered that I was out of tampons, and had to make a late-night trip to the store. Le sigh.

I'm sure everyone here can think of a similar incident, if they ponder it a bit!
posted by ErikaB at 5:57 PM on March 14, 2010 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I tried to make coffee out of baby formula once. A few days later I put orange juice in my coffee. I was exhausted at the time (see baby formula) and that went on for months. Are you sleeping okay?
posted by A Terrible Llama at 5:58 PM on March 14, 2010 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: A Terrible Llama - no, I'm not sleeping well... It's been at least 3 months since I had more than 4 hours of sleep a night.

I think maybe you've hit upon the crux of the problem.
posted by krisak at 6:03 PM on March 14, 2010

Yeah, sleep is needed for memory. Get to doctor!
posted by Maias at 6:20 PM on March 14, 2010

The sleep hypothesis seems likely to me, reminds me when I have had an entirely convincing semi-lucid dream involving getting up getting dressed etc. only to wake up fully and be shocked to find I'm still in bed. I can't even imagine myself on less than 4 hours for 3 months. You're plan to buy bananas probably turns into a weird awake slash dozing off dream of buying bananas that then gets stored in you memory.
posted by 12%juicepulp at 6:22 PM on March 14, 2010

Response by poster: 12% - makes sense. I've had a few of those, and they were the least of my worries. I think we've hit upon the real issue - lack of sleep due to stress.
posted by krisak at 6:34 PM on March 14, 2010

Yep, n-thing the lack of sleep as the source of the problem. The semi-lucid dreams that 12%juicepulp mentions have caused me trouble in the past. I once was convinced for months during university that my family pet had died, and was ecstatic to see her when I returned home. Lots of other small problems, too, that I don't have good memory of once those periods are over. After catching up on sleep for a month life is normal again.

You may also want to see a doctor if the reason for lack of sleep isn't plainly obvious.
posted by FuManchu at 6:47 PM on March 14, 2010

yeah, lack of sleep will fuck up your brain.

since you've already got an appt set up in a few weeks, try to start logging these kinds of incidents. what happened, when, etc. that way, you can go into your dr's appt armed with more information. it might also help you to realize "oh, hey, i had this problem on friday, and thursday i didn't sleep well. huh."
posted by rmd1023 at 7:21 PM on March 14, 2010 [1 favorite]

It's been at least 3 months since I had more than 4 hours of sleep a night.

Yeah, that can mess you up in a series of cascading ways. You lose cognitive function and emotional resiliency, which ironically might make it harder to deal with the stress that's keeping you up at night.

It also makes you feel like eating garbage, so if you're walking around with a Lay's potato chip bag strapped to your face, that's probably why.

But I really want to emphasize how chronic sleeplessness can make you sort of psychotic. It took a long time and looking backwards before me and Mr. Llama realized that we were functionally deranged for months. It's like when you don't realize how drunk you are.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 7:33 PM on March 14, 2010 [1 favorite]

Yep, as many stated, the lack of sleep will do some seriously messed up stuff. I have had all kinds of sleeping problems, mostly a lot of sleep paralysis, reeeally bad episodes with the really bad hallucinations. Anyways, for a long time, I would actually be afraid to go to sleep and much like you was surviving on less than 4 hours a night.

It got to a point that I had a horrible time differencing dreams from real events. More than once I would 'remember' a conversation that never took place, or doing things which I either dreamed or simply didn't happen.

The lack of sleep became a self-feeding loop. I would have horrible sleep-paralysis episodes, or just horrible nightmares so I would sleep less (avoiding it actually,) making the whole thing even worse.
Regardless, it would be a good idea to see a doctor and make sure everything is alright, but making sure you have plenty of sleep is a good start.
posted by AnOceanAboveMe at 8:03 PM on March 14, 2010

Get ye a sleeping pill. Or therapy. Whatever it is you need to sleep- There are some hilarious/terrifying studies done of the effects of sleep deprivation. Most of them turn your life into a kind of creepy fun house. See a doctor, explain the lack of sleep and symptoms, go from there.
posted by GilloD at 8:53 PM on March 14, 2010 [1 favorite]

If I get under six hours of sleep a night for more than one night in a row, I start seeing flies all around me. A couple more nights like that and I start seeing cats in my peripheral vision. To me, when I start seeing flies that I can't hear or catch, it's like a big flashing neon sign that says, "Get more sleep or here come the cats."

It's very, very normal for your perception to go bonkers when you aren't sleeping enough.
posted by little light-giver at 10:32 PM on March 14, 2010 [7 favorites]

Adding to the chorus, I've had very similar things happen when I've had insufficient amounts of sleep for a few days in a row.

If this is what's causing your problem, it will only get worse unless you take action:

1. Get more sleep, whatever it takes. Quit a job, take a sick day, take daytime naps. Sleeping pills. Anything.

2. Bear in mind that it will take a week or so to return to normal.

3. For God's sake, DON'T DRIVE. You're risking your life if there's even a small chance that you'll swerve to avoid a hallucination.
posted by mmoncur at 11:20 PM on March 14, 2010 [1 favorite]

Nthing the sleep thing probably being the problem. If you want to read more about how important sleep is to memory, SuperMemo.com has several articles on the subject.
posted by Nattie at 12:20 AM on March 15, 2010

I just wanted to second mmoncur's points. When I was younger, I used to deprive myself of sleep trying to fit too many things into my schedule. Looking back, I'm really lucky I didn't kill myself or someone else while driving - sleep deprivation can make you very unsafe behind the wheel.
posted by tdismukes at 2:39 AM on March 15, 2010 [1 favorite]

....and joining the chorus: lack of sleep once got me arrested and involuntarily admitted to psych ward. Sorry I didn't raise it as a possibility straight away; I was misled by "normal, healthy individual". Stressed-out, sleep deprived wrecks are not normal, healthy individuals.
posted by flabdablet at 3:26 PM on March 15, 2010

When I had awful (and still occasionally recurring) bouts of exhaustion due to insomnia and more recently just being too damn busy, this stuff happened to me a bunch. It felt kind of like waking dreams, which is maybe the opposite of lucid dreaming? Like, you're standing at the stove waiting for the oatmeal to cook but you 'dream' you walked into the bathroom and brushed your teeth? Get sleep. Now. Take a day off.
posted by SassHat at 11:23 AM on March 17, 2010 [1 favorite]

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