I See Dead People… AMA.

July 6, 2011

This is my first actual post on reddit. While it certainly doesn’t define me, it has probably significantly shaped some aspects of my personality. Everything I’m going to write here is true as I have subjectively experienced it. Objectively, I’m in no position to say.

For as long as I can remember, I have seen people who don’t actually “exist” in any meaningful use of the term. It’s difficult to describe my general impressions of these people in a few sentences, because my experiences of them have been so varied and because they themselves have been quite varied.

I’ll begin by describing my first memory involving such a person. When I was very young (approximately 3 or 4), I would be sitting in my room playing with toys, and would occasionally be greeted by a visitor. He was a small child around my age. He seemed normal in every aspect, except for two things: 1) he would never walk – only crawl, and 2) he had an abnormally large head, and odd features. Children generally have larger heads relative to the rest of their bodies compared to adults, but this was different. At least bigger by a third than it should have been, and he seemed to have trouble holding it up. When he visited me, I would hear thumping on the staircase leading up to my bedroom. I would peak toward the stairs, and each time would be greeted with the emergence of this large head, with eyes spaced just a little too far apart and a saggy mouth. He would crawl toward me very slowly, but intently. When he got to my room, he crawled toward the closet and sat in front of it, watching me play. Occasionally, he would make a noise, or even laugh. But most of the time, he was totally silent. I nicknamed him “Bop” for reasons I no longer remember. I was never afraid of him. “Bop” stopped visiting when I was 8 or so. He didn’t ever seem to get any older.

Since then, the encounters got stranger and sometimes more disturbing. I could fill a book with each individual memory, so I’ll spare you every little detail. On some occasions, they will stand motionless in a room, paying attention to nothing in particular. Sometimes they’ll aimlessly pass through a room. Most of the time, they take no notice of me. But occasionally, they’ll stand watching my every move, and sometimes they’ll even follow me from room to room. Sometimes, very, very rarely, they’ll speak to me. One of my worst memories is of having walked into a family member’s garage to one of them holding a chair and a rope, threatening to hang himself. Another particularly bad one is of a woman crying about having lost a baby. Very important to note, however, is that with a few exceptions (like “Bop”), I tend not to ever see the same one twice. They seem, by and large, to be just average human beings (some, very few, have been slightly physically misshapen like “Bop,” but it’s nothing you wouldn’t write off as a conceivable physical deformity).

But they can’t be real. No one I’ve told has ever seen one – even when I have pointed in the direction of one that was standing in the room with us. However, a few individuals have mentioned feeling odd, or hearing something strange in conjunction with one of my reports. This is obviously not evidence, though.

One thing I have developed over time is the ability, for whatever it’s worth, to detect when one is around. It’s more a feeling than an objective marker, but it’s reliable enough for me. You know that feeling you get when you’re looking at another person? You wonder what they’re thinking, where they’re from, what they’re feeling, etc. With my “people,” I feel no inclination to wonder these things. I can look at one and know that they aren’t real human beings. Something about them just feels distinctly separate from experiencing the presence of a human being. Occasionally, I just feel uncomfortable for no apparent reason. This usually coincides with one of them appearing in the area.

I don’t see them only at night, nor do I see them only when I’m alone. I could see one walking down a busy street, or I could see one while alone in a restroom. This is what I live with, and what I’ve gotten as used to as I can manage. It still does creep me the hell out on occasion, but I’ve never been physically harmed.

Feel free to ask me anything you want. I’ll try to answer to the best of my abilities. But know now that I have no proof. No odd photographs, no creepy recordings, nothing. I’m not even claiming that these are ghosts. Quite the contrary, I don’t really believe in ghosts. It’s far more likely that I have some sort of mental illness. However, I’ve been to several psychologists and neurologists, and I don’t appear to exhibit enough (or a good enough combination) of any sort of symptoms to land a diagnosis.

– I’m a neuroscientist in training, so I definitely understand. My initial impression was schizophrenia as well, but the sensory aspect doesn’t quite add up. I’ll go over a few specific instances of conversing with them (sorry if this gets a bit long):

One of my first memories of a talking one occurred in the middle of the “Bop” period (he never actually talked, per se). I was somewhere between 6-8 years old. An older man walked into my room from the hall, walked over to me, and asked me if I would drive him to the grocery store. I told him I didn’t know how to drive, and he asked what I meant. I told him I was too little to drive, and he laughed, said “okay,” and walked out. I was pretty open with my folks, and told them about it. They thought it was funny, assuming I was daydreaming I guess (admittedly, I did have a pretty active imagination). I was still pretty creeped out, so I asked if a guy had come into the house. They said no, and told me it must have been a dream. For some reason, I never told them about “Bop.”

Another memorable one, years later (mid teens), I was in my high school’s theater department running the light board for a play rehearsal. I was relatively isolated there, but not by much – there were people approximately 30 feet away from the light booth. A girl ran up the steps toward me, and slowed down as she got nearby. By this age, I could tell she wasn’t “real,” so I got nervous. She came up and stood in the doorway (the door was never closed except during an actual show). She asked me where “Dave” was. I told her I didn’t know of a Dave that would be there at the time. She then told me that her sister was in love with Dave. I got really confused at this point, and asked who her sister was. She sounded confused, and replied that she didn’t have a sister. I was getting really unsettled, and turned my head away and tried to concentrate elsewhere. A few seconds later, I heard her whisper a few times. I turned my head back around, and she was gone.

On a few occasions, I used to be the one to initiate dialogue. One of the creepier ones involved a woman who at first seemed to be one of the ones who didn’t care much about me. However, I had left and re-entered the room several times, and she was just standing there near a wall, motionless (this often can be more unnerving than the ones that move). It got to be very late, and I was very tired. Out of frustration, I yelled at her and asked her to go away (peppered with profanity, of course) so I could sleep. She then looked right at me, and said “Fuck your mother to death, you little shit. Fuck you.” I was in my second year of college at the time. I left my dorm room and walked until the sun came up. I can still remember that voice. I’m 22 now, and this was three years ago.

– The deal with schizophrenia is that it very seldom involves visual hallucinations. Contrary to what movies such as A Beautiful Mind suggest, schizophrenic hallucinations are by and large auditory. Additionally, the auditory hallucinations tend to be very repetitive – phrases, speakers, tonal sequences, etc. As my hallucinations involve ample visual information and varied types of stimuli, it doesn’t quite fit the bill.

– Ohhhh, fMRI is my shit! I’ve actually thought a lot about that. I wish (not really) that I could cue them somehow so that I could make one be present during a scan. EEG wouldn’t be much more helpful, I guess, since you’re still there for a set time under certain conditions.

However, I’ve done some work in my lab with GSR (skin conductance), which can respond to stress and emotional fluctuation. I wonder if I would show electrodermal responses when one is around.

– Take the details of this one with a grain of salt, because I was a sleep-deprived at the time (I have occasional insomnia). I’ll try to be as accurate as possible, though. I was lying on the couch in my house the summer before I left for college reading a book, when I heard a weird noise outside. It sounded like a series of really nasty coughs. I went to the window and saw a very old woman walking up our driveway, toward our front door. Maybe because I was so out of it due to being so tired, I didn’t get any of my usual cues about her. That is, there was a chance that she may have been real and needed help or something. I watched her through the window until she got to the door, at which point she stopped, stared at the door, and did nothing for a minute or so. At this point, I knew she wasn’t real. I backed away and went into the living room. A few minutes later, I began to hear this absolutely horrible wailing outside. She sounded like she was in a great deal of pain. I was both horribly creeped out and morally ruffled: someone (real or not) was seemingly in pain, and I wasn’t doing shit about it. I was afraid to go outside this time, so I lit up a joint, called my girlfriend, and talked to her about nothing in particular until I just passed out from exhaustion.

– A relatively recent one that stuck with me was an older middle-aged black lady. She had very dark, wrinkly skin with large bags under her eyes, and a very wide-set nose. She was missing a few teeth, but it didn’t look all that bad. She actually had a bit of a smirk on her face, though she wasn’t paying particular attention to me. Her hair was tied back, and her clothes seemed to be very old.

– Most of the time, if they stay long enough to really start freaking me out, I’ll just go take a walk. They’re almost never still there, and they tend only to follow me for so long before I finally turn around and don’t see them anymore. The attentional aspect is one thing having me lean toward a neurological problem.

On a handful of occasions when I didn’t feel like going for a walk (e.g., exhausted or sick) and couldn’t ignore one away, I’ve just gone to sleep with it around. Obviously, I very much prefer not to do this. It’s one of the worst feelings I’ve ever experienced, but when you get desperate enough for rest, it starts to matter less and less. I’ve always woken up with nothing there, thankfully. I don’t know what I would do if I woke up hours later to find one still there. Fingers crossed on that one, man…

And it’s interesting you bring up their seemingly being aware of their surroundings. I sometimes get this impression, and sometimes I don’t. I’m not sure what to make of it, really. I guess it depends on your interpretation of what’s really going on.

– I’ve asked a few times [for their date of birth] when I worked up the nerve. Several didn’t respond and some others just spit out info that wasn’t relevant to my question. One gave the name but no DOB, and another other gave a name and DOB. Oddly, the DOB it gave was about two months later that year. I was pretty confused and freaked out.

– I probably downplayed just how afraid I get sometimes, but I’ve come to ignore them more often than not. It’s the more vocal ones, or the ones that seem interested in me that are hard to deal with (but fortunately, those are far less frequent).

There have been only three repeats: “Bop,” some middle-aged man in the neighborhood where I grew up, and a blonde woman. “Bop” always came up the stairs and into my room – I never saw him anywhere else. The middle-aged man just walked around the neighborhood aimlessly. I deduced he wasn’t “real” by a combination of others being unaware of him and of that feeling I started getting. And the woman has popped up in all sorts of places, though she’s never too unpleasant. She never seems to care much about me. There have been hundreds and hundreds of others, though, that to my knowledge I have never seen another time. Regarding the repeats and otherwise, I’ve looked out of curiosity, and have never found any correlation between who/what I saw and any sort of past happening.

Interestingly, the clothing style varies. Mostly, they seem to be modern enough, but once in a while one of them will be dressed very oddly, as if from a past (or even perhaps future) time period. The worst is when one if them is in a costume of some sort. Fuck everything about those.

– Thankfully, never a clown (I don’t have clown-phobia, but fuck if I wouldn’t after seeing one like that). One guy was in a tux with a mask on once, though. I actually dropped my coffee in response to that one.

One acted like it was going to touch me when I was in elementary school. I ran away and it didn’t follow me. They’ve never walked toward anyone I know, but friends/family have walked toward them. They just step out of the way, sometimes just wandering away after that.

On one occasion, my father and I were watching a basketball game on TV in the living room and hadn’t spoken for a few hours. Out of the blue he asks me if one is in the room. I look around and sure enough, there were two of them. That’s probably the closest I’ve come to realistically suspecting that there may be some objective basis for them. (I’m a fledgling scientist, though…so it isn’t quite enough.)

– I’ve tried here and there [to see if they need help], but I never get that impression. If they do ever ask me anything, it’s never for a favor. In fact, it’s usually something that’s either incredibly simple (e.g., my age) or so out of context that it’s almost incomprehensible (e.g., where the Smiths live).

– Yeah, that’s the big hitch in the whole “talking to the dead” (or even that they’re deat at all) position: most of them don’t seem to want anything. And they never, ever seem dead.

Another important factor is that while some have asked me to share particularly scary instances, the vast majority of these aren’t scary, per se. It’s never exactly pleasant, but I’ve gotten to where I can ignore a lot of them and they’re gone in seconds.

I really don’t think I’m brave at all – I have my scared shitless moments. There just really isn’t a whole lot I can do about it, so the best thing to do is just deal IMO.

– I haven’t seen one manipulate the physical environment in that way. The most they seem to be able to accomplish is footsteps. Closed doors can be comforting…while it doesn’t prevent them from coming around, seeing them walk toward me is never fun.

I’m trying to remember if they’ve ever left marks in grass or carpet or anything, but I have no distinct instances that I can recall.

– [Do they respond if you try to talk to them?] This is kind of complicated, but I’ll be as brief as possible. Short answer, kind of. I’m not entirely sure.

The ones who pay me no attention seem to carry on doing that irrespective of my actions. However, the ones who seem interested in me appear to respond sometimes, though the “how” of it is inconsistent. Some will simply continue to look my way, but a little more intently. Some may move a little, or make a relatively small noise.

This is another place where the talkers get to me. They very much do seem to respond, though it’s really puzzling. Some seem to answer directly and relevantly. For instance, I may ask one’s name, and they will sometimes reply with a name. Other times, the responses take a turn for the what-the-fuck. I once asked a woman who was watching me and muttering something her name (I grew fond of the name question for whatever reason). She started yelling about “the kids” and paced around a good bit after that.

I’ve tried to resist the temptation to speak to them for the last few years. Makes them easier to ignore.

It’s difficult to pick a “scariest,” because a lot of what makes a particular incident scary is context. For example, as you mentioned, waking up to one in the room is never fun. I’m not sure how accurate it is to say that they “visit” me – a lot of them don’t seem to care whether I’m there or not.

The old woman at the door that I mentioned elsewhere ranks way up there. Another particularly bad one happened when I was in my early teen years (13ish, if I had to guess). I had a nightmare (totally unrelated – it was something really ordinary like getting in a car wreck or falling off a bridge or something) and woke up a little shaken. I noticed some other weird feeling in addition to the whole “bad dream” malaise. I was afraid to scan the room for several minutes, but it turns out I didn’t have to. I heard a gutteral noise in the bathroom connected to my bedroom. A rather big male walked out pretty quickly and seemed to stare right at me. This was one of those few moments where I was actually worried that it was going to hurt me. This went on for a good while, and I pulled the covers over my head and started crying. I thought I heard it coming closer, but that could be chalked up to fear and imagination. My mother must have heard me, because she came in the room to check on me. I took the covers off, and there she was. The man, on the other hand, was gone.

The ones I wake up to suck in particular because I don’t have any time to prepare.

– [If they asked for some kind of information and you were able to respond what happened?] A few would get disinterested and either stand there or wander off, and some would just keep on asking questions. Some of the questions followed somewhat logically (e.g., age, favorite color, what I’m doing, etc.) and some weren’t very sensible (e.g., where something is, what my brother thought of his fiancee when I have no brother).

There really isn’t a pattern to very much if any of this, which ups the frustration a bit.

They often look quite real and physically there. The main difference is, as I mentioned, the subjective experience of being near them. It’s as if you can’t quite empathize with them, like your Theory of Mind doesn’t apply to them.

With respect to their solidity and physicality, I have, to this day, never had one interact with the physical environment. There is an odd level of disconnect there. They can occasionally cause noise other than speaking, but I have never seen one pick anything up or open a door.

Yes, they do in fact speak languages other than english. Though I’m not fluent in another language, I can recognize other languages and have a limited understanding of a few. I’ve heard French, Spanish, German, and a few Oriental dialects. A few have even spoken what seems to be gibberish, which is pretty disturbing actually.

The thing with my dad, while intriguing, could be rather simply explained by my behavior. I had spoken to him about this before. If I begin acting tense or nervous out of the blue (as previously mentioned, I can sometimes become aware that they are around before actually seeing them), it may be a logical connection for him to make. In any case, it was years ago, and the details of what exactly I was doing are long gone at this point.

– Posted by br4in5; Nosleep

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