I was 21 when my eyes opened to how fragile ones mind is. My first ever blog post touched on the chronic battle I faced with panic attacks, anxiety, numbness and insomnia. During that time, I experienced multiple bouts of “Sleep Paralysis”, an eerie state awakened by a “woke” mind and “dead” body.
The first time it happened, I was certain a ghost had slipped in through the gap beneath my door, dragged itself in like that babe from The Ring (2003) and entered my body via the channel of my belly button.
Thank God for Google, is all I can say.
They say you shouldn’t type your symptoms in to Google in the event of amplified or inaccurate diagnosis, but that miraculous little search engine saved my entire sanity. If it weren’t for Google, I would probably be strapped down in Bedlam right now, reciting lines from The Exorcist (1974).
Sleep Paralysis arrives and subsides in a matter of moments, once the body has finally caught up with the mind. Amid these first few seconds (or even minutes), your body is completely paralysed while your mind screams “HELP ME! HELP ME! HELP ME! HELP ME!” It’s super cool, said no-one ever.
During the REM (Rapid Eye Movement) stage of sleep, where our imaginative minds roll out our own movies, our muscles endure paralysis to stop us playing out the scenes. The paralysis itself, is said to be caused by Glycine and GABA, alarmingly not the names of two reindeer, but rather chemicals in the brain.
Even now, with the knowledge that Sleep Paralysis is a non-harmful and temporary state, it never stops being frightening. I don’t think I’ve ever woken up and chosen not to move, to intentionally keep my eyes closed and body still as a form of relaxation. If I ever did? I probably wouldn’t even know the Sleep Paralysis was happening. Freaky!
There are many superstitions around Sleep Paralysis, understandable, given that it literally feels like you’ve been gagged and bolted to a depths-of-hell mattress. Brazil, Kurdistan, Afghanistan; India are just few of the countries spewing folklore: that sleep paralysis is a “force of evil” trying to possess and harm the body.
The first time I told my grandmother about my encounter with SP, she said she knew what I was going through, cradled my neck and started counting rosary beads above my head. She could have just sung me a lullaby but yeah, apparently the condition might also be genetic.
For me, experiencing something like this was like living out a nightmare. The more afraid I became of feeling paralysed, the more resistant I was to sleep and thus, the pattern of chronic insomnia began. I met Doctors who were cold and clinical, widening their eyes at me and writing up drug prescriptions (which I never took).
I found forums online where other people were undergoing Sleep Paralysis and I kid you not, there was even the occasional weirdo who ENJOYED playing Medusa’s “turned to stone”. The more I read, the more I understood that I was somehow at war with my very own mind.
The battle commenced. Lights out by 10pm. Curtains drawn. TV off. Phone silenced. I bullied myself back to sleep. No matter how apprehensive I felt, or how many times I woke with a racing heart and mannequins body, I concluded this chapter as a reoccurring nightmare I’d eventually wake from.
Six months later I was in a completely different space. The symptoms had significantly decreased; I kept a glass of wisdom by my bedside. I removed myself from the “normal” box, because it never existed in the first place. I put the woke into waking up and two years later, I was free.
More recently, I was going through a personal rough patch and despite being able to “hold it together”, my body found an outlet to process the stress. I wasn’t worried – albeit disheartened – so I booked myself a holiday and drifted off in to a slumber of self care, sea and sand.
It was during this trip that I realised I’d been taking my sleeping patterns for granted. I had once lived through months and months of insomnia, SP and night terrors but had been lucky enough to recover. It was in this epiphany that I became deeply grateful for my run of the mill dreams, so I started taking note of them.
Here is a 5 day REM-collection: dreams which have unveiled thanks to mind and body alignment:
1. The Drug Juice, 9/19
Anny and myself are with a big group of strangers, they’ve enticed us to party but have started being strange and controlling. I suspect they’re in a satanic cult but don’t want to offend. They offer us a drink filled with bristly hay and dried stems. I take a sip and now the plants are sprouting out of my mouth and jutting in to my gums. I can tell I’m being spiked. I manage to keep my mind alert by singing in my head, but my body is frozen. Once we come out of the trance Anny says “I think we’ve been drugged” and I agree. We see new faces come and go and plan an escape by wiggling our eyebrows at each other.
In the next part of my dream, I’m sitting ’round a table with my older brother and a family friend, Ted. My brother expresses his sadness around seeing our dad get older and how different he is to who he used to be. I agree with him and tell him I feel exactly the same, but that I’m happy we’re talking about it.
2. She’s a Peng Ting, 9/19
Vera has decided to leave our place of work and it’s a nightmare. Thunder and lightning has struck and I am drenched from the rain. She passes me a ring and asks to keep it safe for her. I agree, but feel as though the world is ending.
Suddenly, it’s summer and I’m lounging by a pool with Anny. A guy I went on one date with appears and walks straight over to Anny. Ignoring me, he holds his phone up and takes a selfie yelling “WOAH! SHE’S A PENG TING!” I feel an overwhelming surge of jealousy and cannonball myself in to the pool, in a desperate bid for attention.
3. Do It For The Gram, 10/19
I’m partying with friends, who are all having a much better time than me. I begin to sulk and start guzzling a large bottle of wine to catch up with them. Now drunk, my friends are screaming at me for following them around and filming them.
I make a lucky escape from the hecklers and am now at the top of a large, straight slide. I shoot down it alone, landing in Joanna’s front room. I’m left to babysit Amelia, who I decide to take for a meal but we end up in a theme park. She goes on these high swing chairs and seems to make a friend. As she gets off, she’s shouting at me for filming her. I lie and say I want her mum to see it, but immediately upload the film to Instagram.
4. Sequined Mammals, 10/19
I’m in a lift with Adey, which is plummeting down at high speed without stopping. I’m not afraid in the least and decide to do some yoga stretches.
I end up on my bed and have an amazing idea for a magazine. I take a nap and have a dream within dream, where I see lots of bright animals who have all swapped skin. Elephants have bright sequined fish scales, birds are glistening leopard print and monkeys are covered in peacock feathers. I wake from the dreams dream and decide to call the magazine “The Other Side”. It seems like a genius idea.
5. Man on the Loose, 10/19
My aunt Carla* (who keeps turning into my aunt Rosa*) has newly bought a house in Brighton. Something bad has happened and all the houses are sinking into the earth at a slant. Whilst on the phone, Carla looks across the harbor and says “Oh my god! That’s my house”, which continues to sink along with other buildings and modes of transport.
My phone rings and I’m given the news that my dad has run off to Pompeii. Everyone but me is delighted, and I’m panicking because he doesn’t have his medication or wallet on him.
I’m now on a fast train to Pompeii and navigate my way to the very last carriage. An old lady is laying in bed with tubes coming out of her. I smile and sit on her bed and she says: “A beautiful girl like you, single?” I reply “I’m not that young anymore”. The lady laughs and suddenly a handsome man is in the room, who she gestures to with her eyebrows. The man looks disgusted with me. He leaves, wearing a white vest and showing muscle. The lady complains that nothing good is on TV, so I say “Don’t worry, I’ll find the channel you’re looking for”. I crouch down on the floor and as I’m changing the station, I realise that the lady is my late grandma. I gasp in delight and say “Nana!” and she giggles in a very familiar way.
Dreams are fascinating, because they take us into a world inside ourselves. While we sleep, we process memories, love, fear, jealousy, anger and also the unknown. We heal and restore within this paradoxical universe, where things shouldn’t make sense but do. I find a lot of resolution in dreams, often reconciling with lost friends, defying gravity and facing fears.
After my chronic Sleep Paralysis episode, I’m still not exactly a sound sleeper. I toss and turn throughout the night and wake a couple times. That said, I’m grateful more than anything for rest, because I know that each sleep is a way to recharge before meeting a new day of consciousness.
2 thoughts on “Sleeping With The Lights On”
This is so interesting, I’m glad that you’re sleeping better these days! I’ve had a few bouts with sleep paralysis myself and I wouldn’t wish it on anyone.
I know right?! Super scary! But shows us how powerful our minds are and how important it is for them to work with our bodies! Thanks for reading! Xxx
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