Charles Bonnet Syndrome and Seeing Weird Stuff
Last updated: June 2023
From my own personal research and experience, I promised I'd share more about my visual hallucinations. So here we go, Charles Bonnet Syndrome or "seeing weird stuff."
What is Charles Bonnet Syndrome?
Charles Bonnet ("Bow" like tying a bow and "Nay" as in "I vote no") was a Swiss philosopher and writer of French descent. His grandfather was visually impaired and started seeing some weird stuff. Charles got interested and wrote about it. Apparently, even named it after himself.
Charles Bonnet Syndrome is described as having visual hallucinations. I really don’t like the word hallucinations in connection with something I have personally experienced. I was not psychotic nor was I on any really good (or bad) drugs. Most people who have experienced Charles Bonnet hallucinations aren’t either.
Charles Bonnet hallucinations
I prefer to believe I was confused. My visual system was getting partial information and misinterpreting what it saw. Filling in the blanks. Period. The end.
According to an article by the Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB), in Charles Bonnet Syndrome, people see things that are not there. It says people see patterns and shapes or complex hallucinations of people, objects and landscapes.1
I saw stuffed rabbits and kitties. Apparently, I was having kinder, gentler visual phenomena. For example, where I saw a stuffed bunny propped up under a tree, everyone else saw a brown grocery bag. Slight misinterpretation.
I agree with the RNIB people that Charles Bonnet Syndrome is short-lived. They say 12 to 18 months. Mine were gone more quickly. Once I realized there were no small children crying for their “stuffies” in my backyard, I checked it out a little more closely. If things did not make sense, I investigated. Adding the logic to the process helped.1
It can reoccur with new and significant vision loss
However, it is possible for Charles Bonnet Syndrome to come back. It can happen when you have another, significant loss of vision. It would appear it can also happen if you are in a situation that makes it hard to see, such as low light.
I have “seen” a “bear” and “coyote” when out at night. Since both are possible where I live, I did not take the RNIB’s advice to walk over and touch them. I shouted and clapped my hands. The neighbors probably think I am a little strange for yelling at the shrubbery but better safe than sorry.1
Detailed and involved visual hallucinations
The RNIB article describes some really detailed and involved Charles Bonnet Syndrome phenomena people have had. They sound all rather entertaining, but I think I will stay with my bunnies and kitties. 1
Apparently, the really involved Charles Bonnet hallucinations come about with severe vision loss. Since there are few signals coming in, the brain is then free to create what it will. According to the article that can lead to, for example, a phalanx of Roman centurions silently marching through the living room. Good grief.1
Tips on distinguishing between reality and hallucination
Other than my suggestion of using logic to determine what you are actually looking at, the RNIB suggests proper lighting and self-care. They also suggest the proper use of magnification and vision aides. The idea seems to be to provide as much real-life input as possible. Less garbage in, less garbage out.1
And that is my take on Charles Bonnet Syndrome.
To give credit where credit is due, my source for this piece was the Royal National Institute for the Blind’s full guide on Charles Bonnet syndrome and my personal experience. Thanks, RNIB folks. You do good work!
Next, legal blindness.
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