By: Erika Shevchek
“It feels like only in my nightmares will I see my own body, dead and still. But when sleep paralysis cross-pollinates what is dreaming and what is real, the fears of seeing my own body frozen and corpse like is unfortunately so realistic.” My nightmare showed my body in the exact position it was in my bed, and it was all from a birds-eye view. However, I wasn’t breathing in this image, my body was lifeless and I wasn’t asleep –– I have now seen what I will look like when I die.
Sleep paralysis can be briefly described as a moment when the body cannot move in an attempt to wake up. As someone who suffered from chronic sleep paralysis, and after hours and hours of research, I finally have a decent explanation for what’s happening in my body during sleep paralysis. And it’s hauntingly fascinating.
For more scientific info, click here (also includes the same image Gina put on the class syllabus titled “The Nightmare”!).
My anxiety comes from many places, but lack of sleep is the main catalyst for my anxiety, and of course, for sleep paralysis. I lie in bed, unable to move and usually unable to speak, but there is the window with light and sound of the cars rushing by outside. It’s all there (my reality) but my muscles and senses that are under voluntary control, like getting up out of bed, are not available. I’ve woken up before REM is over; I’m paralyzed and it’s freaking terrifying.
I’ve suffered from sleep paralysis quite a few times in my life, starting in my adolescence and going into high school. But with the social, academic, and emotional stress of college, and my anxiety, sleep paralysis has found a relevant place in my life. Last semester, I had about 5 major episodes. Since then, I’ve learned how to tame my anxiety, prioritize my sleep schedule, and prevent myself from having these hellacious episodes.
Like the opening passage, the following passages were written immediately after my worst episode. The language may sound funny, and the grammar might be totally off, but hey, I just woke up from sleep paralysis and my mind was tired and confused.
“Flashes of black and white light, strobe and seizure-like lights came where my left eye began to twitch (or once again, felt like twitching. Forever unsure of what is really happening on my body and what my mind is telling me is happening to my body). Both eyes begin to flutter, seeing fake and real images … combining both of those gives me the raw fear that I don’t know what is reality, or if my reality is now a wrapped package of all my REM cycle sleep paralysis dreams. Finally, a huge gasp with almost a dog like whimper comes out of my mouth, body shooting upward in an exorcism-like action, my body slowly regains feeling, like feeding water into a tube of what all I could feel were pins and needles. The water –– my blood –– moving around in my veins from my toes where I can feel it in my fucking eyelashes, my body becomes ‘feelable’ again but my eyes are so blurry because they have worked so hard they want to rest again but the little part of my conscious knows that that is too scary and we worked too hard to get out of that so we cannot close our eyes again…
“So now it is time to find my feet to the floor, go to the bathroom, sit down to pee while the sink and the towels move and shift like seeing them when you are high. I look in the reflection of the doorknob where suddenly I see a “Scream”- like figure move from the shower, past the toilet, and stand to my right. I looked to my right where I saw only a toiletry shelf full of girls’ bathroom items … I have officially hallucinated.”
To be quite honest, I thought the death nightmare was the worst part of it all, but man was I wrong. The moment I woke up from the paralysis and hallucinated a daunting black figure in my bathroom was something I had never experienced before.
The scariest thing about all of this is the utter lack of control that you have. Every day, we live in control of our minds and our bodies; every choice we make, every motion we do … that’s all up to us. And the instant we lose that ability to be an autonomous human is a fear that many, if not all of us, would not want to encounter.