My Battle with Sleep Paralysis

A while ago I was asked a relatively simple question.

“What are you afraid of?”

The person who asked me this had incredible patience as I took my time to respond.

“Feeling helpless.”

I vaguely described the reasoning behind my response, but feel the need to go into a little more detail today.  So in light of that, I have chosen to take a break from my more formal essays in order to discuss the root cause of my fear; Sleep Paralysis. For those that perhaps are not familiar with the term, allow me to explain.

Sleep Paralysis occurs when an individual is unable to move while half asleep. It typically is followed by vivid hallucinations, anxiety, stress and helplessness.

I’ve never been one to talk about personal mental struggles, yet I think today’s little experiment may allow for some much needed personal therapy.

A BRIEF HISTORY…

I first experienced Sleep Paralysis at 8 years old when I was sleeping opposite my brother. At one point, however, my eyes were open staring at his curled up body opposite me. Not only that, I found myself unable to physically move.

I remember thinking in my mind “What’s going on? … Move! … Move!”. Nothing. My breathing became significantly laboured. My eyes seemed to scan the room begging for my brother to wake up and get help. Then it was over.

What followed next was akin to those scenes in movies where the main character abruptly wakes up from a nightmare yelling. My brother merely turned over and continued to get his deserved shut-eye. I took several moments to catch my breath before also heading back to sleep.

Since then I have, inconsistently, experienced Sleep Paralysis. In 2017 I counted between 40 to 50 attacks grouped in chaotic fashion. It varied between occurring weekly, every two days, or every once in a while. Either way, I found it difficult to talk about. Sure I mentioned it to people, “Just had a paralysis attack”. The typical response was either, one of mild sympathetic tone “Oh really? That sucks man.” Or one of a more dismissive tone “Oh really? It’s not dangerous don’t worry” It was only after an attack last May that I came to terms with my fear of helplessness.

This particular attack shook me for several days after, making me afraid to even close my eyes for fear of experiencing it again. The truth is I felt as if I had had an encounter. Not a physical encounter, rather a vivid experience of metaphysical proportions.

THE ATTACK

I, unfortunately, am unable to recall the time I fell asleep, or the day, or my activities preceding the event. I do however recall the consequences of the attack.

At first, it all seemed normal. I was stiff, lifeless and bloody helpless. I struggled to even move my eyes, let alone a finger. I remember thinking “Breath, you’ve done this before.” Within seconds of these words sinking into my mind, a dark shadow appeared before me. It had no face, no feature, no physical appearance. It was simply a shadow.

Before I knew it my surroundings had changed. I was still in bed, but my room was different. The thing had gone and I was left alone facing a bright white door in the dark surrounding. I do recall dismissing this as a pure hallucinatory experience. Yet I couldn’t help but feel as if I had indeed transcended into a different dimension. Pure horseshit if you ask me, excuse my language.

Within moments of realising my different surroundings a being, different to the one before, had appeared. It faced me motionlessly from a seating position. Nothing was said, heard or done. I simply remember it staring at me. For a moment I forgot my fear. I forgot my surroundings, and sensation of helplessness. I felt at peace. This serene feeling did not last long. Before long I was back mentally fighting my immobile state, eventually waking up for it to be morning.

I have had several attacks since that day, none come close to causing me such anxiety as the attack of last year. Usually, the attacks now last between (what I believe to be) 3-5 minutes. Thankfully the number of attacks this year are more sporadic than they are regular.

I have never really believed that my attacks are anything but a manifestation of personal stress, and lack of sleep. I have, however, come to marvel at the power of the mind. Whatever I saw and experienced in my room that day simply reinforced an already universally accepted notion: We have barely scraped the surface of our understanding of the brain’s capabilities.

Although my attacks now are less pertinent than that of the one last year, I do still struggle to remain calm. I have, however, found an effective method of escape. So if anyone out there has experienced a Sleep Paralysis attack and/or is just simply curious, would like to effectively escape this sensation here it is:

  1. Focus on three deep breaths
  2. Force your eyes shut
  3. Count to three with as much emphasis as you can.

That’s it. So far this above has helped me contain this uncomfortable and scary experience. I struggle to see a future attack, like the one I explained, occurring again. I think I had just had an off day.

The attack on me epitomises my fear of helplessness. Being unable to even try to change your surroundings, the situation is something I find difficult to accept. Of course, I am realistic as to what one can control. One can’t change the weather, or how someone will react to something you say. But feeling helpless to alter personal circumstances, albeit physically, is a great fear of mine.

 

7 comments

  1. Dear cousin,
    Thank you for sharing your experience with sleep paralysis; even though I have never experienced an event as extreme and frightening as the one you describe, I also suffer from these sporadically. My strategy is to focus on moving a foot or a hand until my body starts responding again. Not fun at all, but I am glad to know that you also have found a way to deal with it. Hugs from Colombia!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I read this EXCELLENT description of the experience of sleep paralysis with some sadness knowing how horrible, distressing and terrifying this disorder can be (particularly at the early age of eight!!). I wished you would have got help very much earlier in your life. Therefore you could have included at the end of your article the advice not to carry on with the suffering for years and years but to get help immediately. Thank you very much, it is a great article.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Anxiety can drive our mind in extraordinary directions. There are strategies to respond to it which you suggest. Good. But anxiety is derivative; it is a symptom. In your fully waking hours, when your intelligence is at its most brilliant, try to walk through the patterns and locate the cause. When you’ve done that, your sleep paralysis and its varied attendants, will gradually disappear. Bringing it into the light as you have in this piece is a very fine starting point. We can talk when I come to NZ later this year. Kimete

    Liked by 1 person

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