For a child, wonder and amazement is a gift and there is little distinction between fantasy and reality. Time can stand still, a girl can have underground adventures and a rabbit can sing.
For some children, however, reality can take a cruel form that rivals fantasy. I saw little people.
As a child I took it in stride when the world around me suddenly shrunk and moved away from me while sitting in our living room. Everything I saw became tiny and far away. This happened quite often in my childhood and usually while I was watching television with my brother. I came to look forward to these episodes as an enhanced dimension to my tv-watching experience. It was Ding Dong School with a Lewis Carroll twist.
During these periods conversations with my brother usually went something like this:
Me: “Well, here it comes again. Superman looks really tiny and so does mom.”
My Brother: “How ‘bout me?”
Me looking at My Brother: “Yep, you’re about the size of a hamster.”
My Brother: “Go get some more popcorn. I’d go but I guess I’m too small.”
To anyone that would listen I compared this to looking through the wrong end of binoculars.
These occurrences diminished as I grew older but lasted through early adulthood. I’ve had no symptoms for nearly forty years.
While in my early twenties Cindy and I took a long road trip with her parents. We did a lot of driving at night so we could enjoy our days. One night while I was driving between two small Maine towns I began to feel a familiar transformation. Everything began to shrink. My tiny wife was sleeping next to me and my own hands that tightly gripped the steering wheel looked like they were twelve feet in front of me.
What had been for me a quirky but pleasant hallucination as a child quickly became a terror as an adult. Trying to reconcile what I saw with what I knew to be fact made me feel like I was threading a needle with a Buick at 60 mph in the dark.
My initial thought was to wake up my wife or even my in laws in the back seat. I needed some help. But what would I tell them that could possibly make sense? How could they help?
It seemed like a good idea to pull the car over and ask someone else to drive. I thought that would be an easy solution. I would simply say that I was tired. But that wasn’t going to work. No spot on the side of the road was nearly big enough to park what I knew was a very big car in what I saw was a tiny space.
I realized even when I was a child that these episodes were only about perception, not reality. My brother was not really the size of a hamster and the car really could fit on the side of the road. Seeing isn’t always believing.
Then I drove by a small strip mall with a good-size parking lot. Nope… not big enough.
At this point I was sweating pretty heavily and my grip on the steering wheel was causing some serious cramping. I was certain we were all going to die.
Then I remembered something from my childhood. I had developed a way that I could sometimes undo the hallucination or “break the spell” as I called it. If I illuminated the room in which the aura was taking place, everything would begin to return to normal.
I turned the dome light on in the car. Within two or three minutes my perceptions were normal. That also woke up my wife who turned to me and said, “I’m glad you’re driving. I’m so tired!”
Just a couple of weeks ago I was watching an episode of House, a television medical drama that features rare and quirky maladies. It featured a man that had episodes quite like my own. At one point Dr. House looked through the wrong side of binoculars and said, “That would really suck.”
It turns out that the man had Alice in Wonderland Syndrome, a rare form of migraine aura that can present with a number of body image disturbances. Lewis Carroll probably had this and I probably did too.
As a photographer I am in the business of creating and sometimes altering perceptions. I can assure you, however, that I will always do so without the aid of a fish-eye lens.