I am, right now, what one would call—dog tired.
I got no sleep last night.
Snoring didn’t keep me awake, nor did sleep apnea.
I suffer from something much, much, worse.
It is, when you’re not exactly sure what’s happening, one of the scariest things you can experience.
I was about twenty-six the first time it happened to me.
I was going through a pretty rough time. I’d been laid off from work, was living at home, and had just gone through a pretty bad breakup (imagine that). As a result, I began to have difficulty sleeping. Chronic insomnia set in on me in a real bad way. It, in fact, once kept me awake for 76 hours straight hours.
Someone who’s never had insomnia, might say, ”just lay down, close your eyes, and go to sleep.”
Except, it’s not nearly that simple.
Imagine you haven’t eaten for ten days. You’re malnourished, and being the magnificent communicator that it is, your body tells you to eat. You’re doubled over with hunger pangs. And so, you sit down to a smorgasbord of vittles. A meal fit for a king. You muster up enough strength to lift your food-fitted fork towards your mouth. The bouquet of flavorful aromas playfully dance with your nostrils like a dandelion’s florets do when coaxed by the wind. And you can already taste the bite of food on your tongue, before it’s even made it past your chin. A single morsel of the food touches your lips…you’re so close to satiation…so close, and then you put your fork down. You want it. Badly. But, you just can’t bring yourself to eat it.
That is what insomnia is like. Your body reaches a point of exhaustion, and you want nothing more in life than to have sleep, if nothing else, but one bite…just a few minutes of it, would do. And so, you lay your tired bones down on a pillowy palette, close your cumbrous eyelids, let out a sigh, and pray that Hypnos, the Greek god of sleep, hears your labored whimpers.
But he doesn’t, because, well—you’re still awake.
Eventually, you do crash, but it is far beyond your breaking point, and the amount of time you sleep, is usually grossly disproportionate to the time that you’ve been awake.
So, along with all of my other issues, I was dealing with that.
And if I thought that was bad, I was in for a rather rude…awakening.
One night as I laid awake on my back, in the stifling darkness, eyes closed—an attempt on a preceded defeat at sleep—I suddenly felt like someone or…something was in the room with me.
I opened my eyes and saw, well, obviously—nothing.
It was pitch black, after all.
The door to my bedroom was still closed. No one had entered. But I still felt it. And it was getting worse, as if its presence had spilled into every unoccupied space in the room.
I held my breath and decided to make a quick dash out of my bed, and claw my way through shaded obscurity, for the light switch on the wall. Only, I couldn’t move. My legs wouldn’t work. Nor, would my hands. Even my eyes could not be altered from the position in which they were affixed.
Then it got closer to me. I could almost feel its wretched breath on my collar. I opened my mouth and screamed for help, but, no sound came out. The silence was so thick in the air that, were I mobile, I could have reached out and grabbed a handful of it. I tried again. Nothing.
I was sure it was going to suffocate me. I would die at the clutch of its iniquity, and no one would understand what happened. I began to cry at the thought of my inauspicious demise. And then, I began to pray.
I told God that I didn’t understand what was happening, or why, but, that I knew He was there and would not forsake me. I knew He would not leave me to fend for myself against it. As I closed out my inaudible prayer with an,”Amen,” I heard a voice.
“I would never leave you. In your darkest, loneliest hour, I will be the light on your path.” The voice reassured me.
Tears breached and seeped into the crevices of my lips, the way that seawater does sand as the tide breaks on the shore. I could taste their saltiness.
Forgetting that I couldn’t move, I reached up to wipe them away. I could move again. And at the realization that I’d regained mobility, I instantly ejected myself from the confines of my bed and swatted the light on.
It could be argued that, maybe, I’ve read ‘Footprints in the Sand’ one too many times, and was subconsciously regurgitating some varied rendition of it, in my obvious state of anguish. Or maybe I was so deliriously tired, that my mind was playing tricks on me?
I’m aware of the wonder that is the human brain. Trust me, I took a psych class or two in college, I know of its intricacies and capabilities. But, I can tell you with absolute authority—I did not imagine any part of what happened that night.
I’ve tried explaining this phenomenon to others before, and have almost always received the same feedback, “oh, you were having a bad dream.”
I would tend to agree with them, had I actually been asleep. But, I was sure, in each instance, I hadn’t been. I’d been wide awake. And surely, as an adult, I could differentiate between being asleep and having a nightmare, and being awake and not being able to move.
It happened a few times more while I was still living at home. The second time was no less frightening. But by the third time it happened, I was able to remind myself that I was awake, and if I kept calm I would be able to move again after a few minutes. I taught myself that Jedi-mind trick, and thereafter, it seemed to help make the experience slightly less traumatic.
Then suddenly, for a year, my sleep issues subsided. I thought, time had cured my disease.
It had not.
It was after I’d moved into my place, back in October of 2008, when it happened again. There I was laying on my couch. I’d apparently drifted off, but something woke me up. It was back, and my Jedi-mind trick wasn’t working. And this time, not only could I not scream, but worse, no one was around to hear me, even if I could.
I panicked again. The attack seemed to last longer than usual. Then I remembered—I remembered The Voice. I began to calm. And soon, the Jedi-mind trick was working again. I could move. And I hopped off the couch, and not only turned the light on, but went and sat on my doorstep. And there I sat, for an hour, at 3am, until I’d calmed all the way down.
It was then that I Googled, “awake, can’t move” and came across a Wikipedia article about Sleep paralysis.
From Wikipedia: Sleep Paralysis
Sleep paralysis is paralysis associated with sleep that may occur in healthy persons or may be associated with narcolepsy, cataplexy, and hypnagogic hallucinations. The pathophysiology of this condition is closely related to the normal hypotonia that occurs during REM sleep. When considered to be a disease, isolated sleep paralysis is classified as MeSH D020188. Some evidence suggests that it can also, in some cases, be a symptom of migraine.
Physiologically, sleep paralysis is closely related to REM atonia, the paralysis that occurs as a natural part of REM (rapid eye movement) sleep. Sleep paralysis occurs either when falling asleep, or when awakening. When it occurs upon falling asleep, the person remains aware while the body shuts down for REM sleep, and it is called hypnagogic or predormital sleep paralysis. When it occurs upon awakening, the person becomes aware before the REM cycle is complete, and it is called hypnopompic or postdormital. The paralysis can last from several seconds to several minutes, with some rare cases being hours, “by which the individual may experience panic symptoms” (described below). As the correlation with REM sleep suggests, the paralysis is not entirely complete; use of EOG traces shows that eye movement is still possible during such episodes. When there is an absence of narcolepsy, sleep paralysis is referred to as isolated sleep paralysis (ISP).
Mental focus varies between the two conditions; paralysis sufferers tend to fixate on reestablishing operation of the body, whereas subjects of out-of-body episodes are more occupied by perceived non-equivalence with the body.
Some reports read that various factors increase the likelihood of both paralysis and hallucinations. These include:
- Sleeping in a face upwards or supine position
- Increased stress
- Sudden environmental or lifestyle changes
- A lucid dream that immediately precedes the episode
- Excessive consumption of alcohol coupled with lack of adequate sleep
Check. Check. Check. Nah….and, meh, check.
And welp, that explained EVERYTHING. So I guess, technically, I was awake while my body was asleep. Or, vice versa.
Either way, it happened once or twice more over the next couple of months, and then, once again, stopped—cold turkey. And hasn’t happened in over three years.
Until last night. It stopped in for what I guess, was an overdue visit. Except, I couldn’t attribute its visit to any of the aforementioned factors. I was laying on my side. I’ve only been slightly stressed, but don’t recall being overly bothered by anything yesterday, no lifestyle changes, and I haven’t had a drink since…Friday, and that was just a couple of beers.
I don’t know why it is back, but that bastard better not come knocking on my door tonight.
Until next time…
[ ♥ ] . Peace. And Bacon Grease.
Oh, and …