The mind is a mystery, and it can play tricks on us, some more cruel than others. In my case, things started to take a strange turn around the time I was age of 13, when I changed schools and started to become bullied. Bullying is a tough thing for anyone to go through, and while I can never know if that was the trigger point, I started having nightly occurrences of waking up and being unable to move, sensations of probing, being held down, and choked. As frighting as that is, this was all overshadowed when I started seeing strange things in my room, ranging from alien like creatures, bats, floating horses’ heads, to hooded men looming over me. With such vividness that I could sketch detail drawings of these nightly visitors.
Even after the bullying stopped, thankfully, these occurrences continued to happen at random. Like any typical, rational, young child, I thought I was being possessed by demons or ghosts. I was quite terrified of what I was seeing and experiencing, but I didn’t bring it up to my parents, since I was afraid of their reactions. This fear of talking about one’s personal problems, for fear of judgement and disapproval, is common for many sufferers of strange ailments.
When I entered University, it became a frequent thing, 3-4 nights a week, with increased vividness of hallucinations, hearing voices, clicks, growls or grumbles. The worst episodes was the sense of being raped. Increasingly alarmed, I had to figure out what was going on. Knowing at that point, not being 13 and actually being rational at this point, that this must be something going on with my mental psyche. So I told my father, a psychiatrist, who set up for overnight sleep testings to be done. I found out I wasn’t possessed by ghosts or demons, I simply had sleep paralysis syndrome, what a relief.
Sleep paralysis can be triggered by anxiety. And dating back by to my high school days, I had plenty of it, over worrying about grades, friends, family issues, and the occasional boy, (I realize there are a lot of worst issues people are facing, but try telling a self-centred 15 year old that.) The doctor who performed my testing pointed out that the brain waves and my heart showed ones of panic and alarm, even whilst I slept. This sense of panic and dread when people wake up to a sleep paralysis episode is understandable, if you can’t move or even talk, it’s a conscious nightmare.
When I told my friends and my family, there was a bit of shock, confusion over what sleep paralysis is, and responses of sometimes laughter and being quite literally told ”that is fucked up.” And sure, I laughed it off as well. But really, being terrified of sleeping I would average 2-4 hours a sleep a night, which ruined my health and general level of anxiety. However, there were some positives, I found out doing grocery shopping at 4 a.m at the 24/7 Metro is relatively line free. I enjoyed breakfast at dawn on numerous occasions, and if you wanted someone to talk to all night and ditch sleep, I was your gal.
Cutting to the chase, it is estimated 4 out of 10 people will at some point in their life have isolated occurrences of sleep paralysis. Sleep paralysis is problems with the transition of NREM and REM cycles, REM cycle as some may know, is when you are dreaming. To more easily illustrate, think of a light switch, your body tends to not move around a lot when you’re dreaming, even though you may be fighting, flying, frolicking, fleeing etc. in your dreams. Your light switch is turned off. People with sleep paralysis, they interrupt their REM cycle by waking up, now that light switch hasn’t turned on so your body is immobilized. And sometimes people may wake up to seeing, pardon my french, some fucked up shit. The paralysis can last seconds or minutes, while one mentally tries to will itself to move.
Ways to deal with it is not sleeping on your back, avoiding naps when possible, and trying to decrease stress before shut eye such as working out, meditation, eating well, and all those sublime things that doctors tell you to do anyways. I personally avoid naps and have found having someone to cuddle with in bed helps, since cuddling usually calls for sleeping on your side. (It’s a great excuse to get some spooning action.) Sleep paralysis really only becomes a problem that needs medical attention is if it’s happening on such a frequent basis that it is affecting your waking life. One can take sleeping pills or antidepressant medications, which is more extreme routes.
Another extreme route was thinking that your neighbour was a witch and proclaiming that she must be burnt at the stake, or that aliens were abducting you. Sleep paralysis has been thought of a possible reason for even the salem witch hunts, as well as connected to beliefs of demon possession and succubi.
Luckily for us, the only real demons and monsters are the ones that live in our heads.