Sleep paralysis is a devil that I’ve dance with a few times in life. It isn’t that uncommon, as I know several people who have experienced it as well. Although each experience is unique, there is the general consensus that sleep paralysis is just a way for your brain to take advantage of your body when you are most vulnerable.
So here’s my experience:
It started when I was probably nine or ten, which was pretty shitty considering I was a feeble minded child who had no idea what was happening to me. Before I was thrust into the actual paralyzed state, I would have this horrific nightmare over and over again. Some background info: back when I was in middle school, my mom would come into my room every morning to wake me up. She would turn on my lights, tell me to get up, and then leave to wake up my older brother.
My dream manifested from that, I guess. It would start with my mom knocking on my door, but she did not turn on the lights. She would walk into my room and say nothing before leaving again, shutting the door. I remember being confused at first, but then terrified. You know how in dreams there’s an invisible force that controls your emotions? Like you could be dreaming of something perfectly normal, or even comfortably absurd, but inside of your dream–nightmare , I should say–you can’t shake the utter terror from inside your soul? Yeah, that would happen as I lay unmoving in my bed and wondering why my mom didn’t say anything, and why she didn’t turn on the lights. The fear would start eating at me, provoking me to scream. Which I did, calling for my mom to come back and turn the lights. I would scream until my voice stopped working, or until I was so afraid that I didn’t dare to move.
Then the shitty thing happened.
Claws from a large creature that I could not see would dig into my back, and I swear to any gods up there that the pain was real. To make this experience even more despicable, whatever the hell was attacking me from behind would release this shrill screech that was violently disarming and unrelenting. It was beyond unpleasant, and monstrously loud. I’m not sure how my brain orchestrated this sound, but it ten times worse than nails on chalkboard.
I would try to squirm and get out of the creature’s grip, but every movement just made it dig its claws further into my spine. In my dreams I would be sobbing, still crying for my mom to come help me. She never did.
I had this dream every night for a prolonged period of time. Eventually, I began to become aware that I was dreaming so I would try to wake myself up; this consisted of me trying to open my ‘real eyes’. Obviously, in my dream I could see what was around me in that dark room (never the creature, however; it always attacked when I was lying on my side and would come from behind me) but I grew an awareness of my actual, physical body and could attempt to force open my eyelids.
Sometimes I would open my eyes and think everything was okay. I quickly realized that things were not okay when my mom knocked on the door, walked inside of my room wordlessly, and then left without turning on the light. I’d realize that I had not woken up, but simply somehow pressed a re-play button in my subconscious. The dream would start over. I would try to force myself awake. The dream would start over.
This painful cycle continued for too long. I stopped sleeping some nights. I told my mom that I was sick some days, never truly explaining why I looked and felt like shit.
Sometimes I could genuinely wake myself up, but that posed a new problem. I woke up, yes, but I couldn’t move and I still felt scared. It’s a challenge to breathe, and you can’t do anything other than stare hopelessly at the ceiling and wait for your mobility to return. My body would tempt me to fall back asleep, but I refused. I knew that as soon as I closed my eyes that the dream would return, and I refused to deal with that.
It’s usually your fingers or toes that you can start moving first. You feel like something awful is sitting on your chest, pinning you down. If I were religious I would blame the Devil himself for playing an cruel trick on me.
Sleep paralysis occurs while your body is moving through different stages of sleep, so your brain is still extremely active. Because of this, many people experience hallucinations during sleep paralysis. It differs for everyone, but I still vividly remember what I saw.
I could see the computer desk in the living room from my bed, as I kept my door open. I would see two demon-like figures at the computer desk, whispering to each other and pointing at me every so often. Needless to say, it was very unsettling. A complete and utter sense of terror would overcome me, and there was literally nothing that I could but wait it out and pray that my brain would stop trying to fuck me up soon.
The mornings after I would be angry. Angry because I had had not control over my mental or physical state, and because I knew rationally that I had been in no danger whatsoever. I couldn’t understand why my brain would play such tricks on me, or what purpose it could possibly serve.
I don’t get sleep paralysis as often anymore, and it doesn’t occur as it once did. Now each hallucination is unique, but no less frightening.
If any good was to come from those god-awful nights, it was the stubbornness I developed when it came to nightmare. I became a Lucid Dreamer, which goes beyond awareness. Once I recognized that I was in a dream, I could alter the events and matter around me. It’s hard to explain to those who have never had a lucid dream, but basically when the screaming demon attacked me I would form a mental ‘fuck off’ and make something nice like a puppy appear and force the bad shit out of my dream. I felt pretty cool some nights, like I had my own little superpower in the dreamscape. For awhile, I took complete control over most of my dreams. It was like being able to create my own little movies in my head, and events would transpire as I wished them too. As I grew older, I had less lucid dreams, but also less nightmares. Bittersweet, I suppose.
Lucid dreaming does’t have to be extravagant. One time I was dreaming about climbing this enormous mountain, and realized I was dreaming. My thought process was basically ‘hey, I can’t die! I’m going to jump off this mountain!’ And I did, so I just free-fell for a while and it was a splendid time.
I don’t believe anyone truly understands why sleep paralysis, nightmares, or night terrors occur. The brain is still a confoundment in many ways to specialists, despite the numerous studies and dissections that have occurred throughout time. I like to think of it as glitch in the human condition, an inclusion in our code that shouldn’t be there but some how slipped its way in and now causes intense disruptions throughout the duration of our existence.