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I was 17 when I had my first ‘weird feeling’. It was breaktime in a school music room. A friend had been teaching me Robbie Williams’s ‘Angels’ on the piano. After practice and out of the blue, my mode of consciousness was transported to another place. It was like a dial on my neurochemistry had been turned, shifting my perception of reality to a totally altered regime. It came with a profound and paradoxical sense of familiarity, what I’d later describe as, ‘déjà vu, only magnified a thousandfold’. The episode lasted about 20 s, ending as quickly as it had started. I was to have hundreds more.
The next ‘weird feeling’ wouldn’t be for a month or so, but over the next 2 years the episodes grew in frequency. They became routine. It was perhaps for their initial rarity, and then their familiarity, that I didn’t seek medical attention until I had started university, studying computer science at Imperial College, London. By then, I reckoned I was having 10 episodes a day. They became a personal puzzle to solve, each event providing more data—of such direct, subjective, quality—but all the while remaining fundamentally mysterious.
I relayed this history to my GP. She explained that she wasn’t sure about the episodes. She first referred me to a counsellor to explore how I was coping with university. This didn’t seem to unlock an answer. She next referred me to a psychiatrist. It felt like he was on to something when he asked, ‘Do you know what I mean by déjà vu?’.
It was while waiting for his referral to a neurologist that a diagnosis came. …
Contributors GS wrote the manuscript.
Funding The authors have not declared a specific grant for this research from any funding agency in the public, commercial or not-for-profit sectors.
Competing interests None declared.
Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed by Mark Manford, Cambridge, UK.