Wednesday, September 15, 2010

The Horror of Sleep Paralysis

Most paranormal enthusiasts have read about sleep paralysis, or, at least, they've read about "Old Hag Syndrome" or one of the many names it goes by outside of the medical community.  Colloquially, these stories span cultures and centuries but are all basically the same.  The sleeper awakes to find out they cannot move.  This is accompanied by an odd sense of danger and the frightening image of something staring at them in the darkness.  Some describe an old woman staring down at them, others a shadowy ghost, and others a demon.  All of the descriptions seem similar, though.

Medical science brought us closer to understanding this after discovering REM atonia.  This is the "override" switch in your brain that keeps your body still while you sleep.  After reading about this, I thought an episode of sleep paralysis would be a fun experiment and hoped it would happen to me.  I came to regret that.

I had long forgotten about REM atonia by the time it happened.  In the middle of the night, my eyes opened and I didn't know why.  Surely, I had heard some sound or some noise in the apartment, but I couldn't remember.  Something had startled me, however, because I was frightened.  Very frightened.  Had I heard someone break in through the window?  Or did I hear someone yelling?  No, I couldn't remember anything at all.  I just knew this overwhelming feeling of dread like I had not ever known.  I've lived in bad neighborhoods and been through some rough scrapes, but this feeling of fear was much worse than anything I had been through.  For the first time in my life, I was certain that something horrible was going to happen to me and that I was powerless to stop it from happening.

Then, I saw it.  Someone standing right in front of me.  Had they been there the entire time?  I couldn't see them well in the darkness, but a person was standing just a few feet away and staring at me while I laid on my side.  I am normally very calm under pressure, but I wanted to scream.  I stared in horror at the thing that stared back at me.  I couldn't see its eyes, but I could feel it looking at me in the dark.  What was it doing?  How had it gotten there?  And why did it awaken the darkest fears within me?

And why the devil couldn't I move?  I just laid there in my fear thinking that I was paralyzed out of horror.  I don't know how long it lasted, but I must have finally fallen asleep.  When I awoke I had vivid memories of the thing and I looked around the room for signs of an intruder.  I knew I wouldn't find anything, and I didn't.  I sat up in bed thinking about the horror for a long time.  Finally, from the recesses of my mind, I remembered sleep paralysis and REM atonia.  I breathed a sigh of relief.

It might sound silly, but these happenings are very frightening, and I now understand why someone might need therapy after such an experience.  As for the medical explanations that I turned to for comfort, why does every victim of sleep paralysis see the same ghastly shape before them?  What causes the inexplicable feelings of dread?  Is it impossible that this is the way certain metaphysical creatures terrorize us?  Could it be that demons walk among us and this is how they interact with us?  Or is it just the way chemicals in our brain react when our REM cycle is off its axis?  I don't know, and no one seems to have answered this mystery completely, yet.  But if this happens to someone I know, I'm going to be very understanding - it is a horrifying thing.

1 comment:

  1. I have had the paralysis happen to me, except I was wide awake. Everyone tells me I was dreaming, except I wasn't. I was wide awake, and in fact had just taken a drink from the bottle of water I keep by my bed. As I was going back to pick up my book I was reading, I felt my arms and legs being pushed into the bed. I turned my head to say something to my husband, and felt the pressure on my chest so I couldn't say anything. My struggle to free myself woke my husband, who SAW me struggle to free myself. He knows I was wide awake as well...... :(