jump to navigation

My sleep paralysis isn’t always wholly unpleasant – I’m not lying or ignorant about sleep disorders. 21, May 2012

Posted by Iphigenia in Sleep Paralysis.
add a comment

Warning: Some descriptions of sleep paralysis episodes may be triggering. Also may qualify under ‘too much information’

I try not to let patronising anonymous Internet comments get to me. However, I just can’t let this one go. It seemed to imply that I’m stupid because I don’t always experience a common sleep phenomena in exactly the same way as described on Wikipedia. There’s a lot of things where I probably don’t know what I’m talking about. What goes on in my own brain isn’t one of them.

This all came about because I stated that although I get horrible episodes they’re sometimes borderline pleasant, even to the point of fantasy fulfillment. Yes those kinds of fantasies. I don’t really get them anymore but when I was younger they were quite common. This anonymous dickhead decided to reply: “I get sleep paralysis regularly. You obviously have no idea what sleep paralysis is,” IE. my experience invalidates yours – so you’re obviously ignorant.

Excuse me but, does anyone truly one hundred percent understand sleep and dreams? If we had this whole thing wrapped up why would anyone still bother to study it? Maybe my brain just works slightly differently. I don’t know. But the basics are there. I can’t move, I feel like I’m awake, I can see my dreams happening in the room. Sometimes there’s a weight on my chest. Sometimes I struggle to breathe. Just because anything else isn’t textbook doesn’t make me a fantasist. Or an idiot.

My first attack was very much textbook. I was around 17 years old and going through a depressive state. When I wasn’t at college I’d spend a lot of mornings in bed drifting in and out of consciousness. One morning I suddenly felt a presence in my room. I could see the outline of a person but they weren’t completely assembled. I couldn’t see any detail. There was a problem though. I couldn’t move. I tried to speak but even though I imagined my lips moving there was no sound. Then the presence climbed on top of me. The weight on my chest made breathing feel difficult. I tried to gasp but there was the same problem as trying to speak. It felt like the presence tried to nudge my legs apart. I don’t know what it’s like to be raped in reality, I won’t pretend to know. But this felt like how I imagine rape.

When I woke up properly I was confused and scared. I also felt really drained, like all my energy had left me. I knew it was obviously a communication malfunction between my body and my brain. I knew about the Incubus of folklore but I don’t believe in demons, or ghosts, or alien abductions. Having experienced sleep paralysis episodes several times since, I can understand why some people believe they’ve had a ghost in their bed. It’s very vivid and feels very real. I looked up Incubus on the Internet and that eventually led me to pages about sleep paralysis and hypnagogic hallucinations. I was relieved there was a scientific explanation and that I didn’t suffer alone.

My attacks over the years have had varying levels of frequency. The only constant is sleeping on my back, or on a few occasions my side, at a time of high stress or exhaustion. I’ve had goblins and witches pop up at the side of my bed, or flying out of my window. I’ve had the sensation of something hitting me or clawing at my throat. Sometimes I only hear someone, like my mum calling for me and when I try to call back it doesn’t happen. Once I was sleeping on my side on the sofa at a friend’s house and someone from her then boyfriend’s social circle who I’d only met a couple of times walked into the room. It wasn’t really him, and I knew it. I felt like I had a long conversation with him until he shoved his hands into my chest. Then I woke up.

Then there are the attacks that at one time were believed to be caused by the demon Incubus. For a man a similar attack was believed to be caused by a Succubus. In both cases it was thought you were die soon after. My Incubus-style episodes seem to have evolved into something slightly different. I sometimes feel as though something is touching me intimately but like a gentle and attentive lover. I’ve felt the sensations of fingers running through my hair, down my throat and along my side. Sometimes I dream I’m able to touch hair or skin even though I know I can’t really move and there is nothing there.

Sometimes all these sensations have an unfortunate and inevitable side effect. Of all the things involved this is the part that still feels like a violation. Waking up to your body reacting so physically without any prompting is a frightening experience. I almost fee like my subconscious didn’t ask for my consent. It’s so spontaneous and unexpected that for a few months it’s like waking up from a nightmare. The kind of nightmare where you gasp for air an hear your heart pounding in your ears.

You probably know more than you wanted to about my sexuality already but I couldn’t leave this detail out. Somehow over the years my subconscious has learned how to turn a horrible experience into one where I’m dreaming I’m at least partially willing. In the strongest hallucinations I can sometimes see another person in detail. It’s never anyone I know in real life. It’s always a musician, actor or even fictional (but human) character. I don’t always have any particularly strong feelings towards them. My brain just seems to conjure whatever has been dominating my consumption of pop-culture at the time.

Even this doesn’t always result in something pleasant. In fact most of the time it is still disorientating and a little bit scary. Not being able to move, even if you sort of like what’s happening, is still not very nice. It’s still borderline Incubus-attack. My second ever episode, for example, was similar to the first. Only this time I could see an entity that resembled a then favoured musician. His features seemed to appear and disappear at will and the body didn’t look complete. It certainly felt complete. This manifestation tried to enter my body wholly. By that I mean I felt as though some ethereal presence was forcing its way into my mouth and nostrils. It was digging at my chest as it pushed down on my body. Saying I was terrified is an understatement. I’ve had similar sensations since but I’ve learned to control the dreams a little better.

And that’s the thing. Someone once said that my more pleasant episodes sounded like lucid dreams. I’m actually not sure how much control I have over my sleep paralysis hallucinations. I have thought that I’d like to to go away, and they do. Eventually I can force myself to wake up. It could be that my brain is attempting to make the hallucinations less traumatic. Maybe that’s why sometimes they’re almost enjoyable? I say almost because I still don’t like the total loss of control over my body.

Another anonymous weighed in on the discussion and said: “my episodes are always horrible. Jealous. Your subconscious must like you” – I don’t understand why the first person couldn’t have done the same and acknowledged that though their experience was different, mine was still valid. The second person was a lot more decent about it. They didn’t imply I’m a total moron for a start. I’m intelligent enough to Google ‘sleep paralysis’ – it isn’t difficult. I know the symptoms and I’ve got some of them. It’s not a competition to see who best matches the common markers. I’m led to believe sleep and dreams don’t work like that.

I don’t fully understand what happens during my sleep paralysis and why but I am certain what isn’t happening. I don’t seem to suffer so much since permanently sharing a bed. Occasionally I will get minor attacks while my boyfriend is lying next to me either asleep or reading. But because I can see that he’s there and I know he’s there, it lessens the severity of the episodes. I had an attack about a week ago but can’t remember anything other than trying to speak and not being able to move. It helps that I was feeling fairly relaxed at the time.

Once I knew what was happening to me I found my episodes less frightening. I am also fascinated by what my brain manages to come up with, especially because hallucinations in this way seem to be such a constant human experience. There’s references to demon visitations across all cultures. A reason why I am interested in history is because I like knowing how people interpreted the world around them.

So unlike anonymous up there, I’m actually interested in different sleep paralysis experiences. I don’t care if yours don’t match mine. Everyone is different.