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04 September 2010 @ 08:58 am
Things That Go Bump in the Night  
The subject came up in the comments of nhpw's latest story, in which young David Sheridan wakes up from a nightmare, and John must comfort him.  David asks if the monsters are real, and John finally has to admit that they are, but that he will protect his son from them no matter what.  Very poignant and lovely, as always.  nhpw said something about never believing in monsters herself, so she was improvising about how that kind of scene would work.  I admitted that not only did I believe in monsters as a kid, I did until I was in college, and that I thought she'd nailed the scene.

And she was like...really?  You believed in monsters until you were in college?

And I was like...yeah.

So I have always had this wonderful thing called sleep paralysis.  If you don't want to read the link (or you don't have time to do the Wikipedia Link Dance today), here's the summary: when you sleep, your body locks down so you don't act out your dreams.  Some people's bodies lock down before they fall asleep (my sister has this), and some people's bodies remain locked down after they wake up (my dad and me).  Which would be bad enough, you know - waking up in the middle of the night, especially after a bad dream, and being unable to move at all.  But there are some other fun things associated with sleep paralysis.

One - a sense of dread.  When I talk about incidents, I rate these things on a scale of one to ten.  One is the simple kind of oogy you might have after any nightmare.  Five is a very serious feeling of incipient danger; something's wrong, and you don't know what it is.  Ten is when I wake up and I know I'm about to die. 

Two - a sense of a presence.  You know that feeling you get when you know someone's in the room with you, or you can tell someone's looking at you?  That.  I will wake up and just know there's someone in the room with me.  Someone who shouldn't be there.  I generally don't have low numbers on the scale with this one, although occasionally I will think a family member or roommate is in the room.  Usually, this is an eight through ten - I know someone's in the room with me and I know they're evil and they mean to do me harm.  This is almost always combined with the sense of dread, so I imagine that I'm in danger and I'm going to die because of the presence in my room.

Three - hallucinations.  I think that a lot of the time when people think about hallucinations, they think about someone being on drugs and it can be all very ha-ha.  Or they think about Wayne's World, and those wavy lines, and everything's trippy and funny.  Instead, I tell people to think about Morpheus in The Matrix, explaining how it works to Neo.  All sensations are just electrical impulses interpreted by the brain.  When someone puts their hand on your arm, you may feel the sensation on the skin of your arm, but you only do so because your brain is telling you the sensation exists.  Hallucinations are missing the actual physical part of the equation, but the brain part is just the same.  So I have awakened and felt someone's hand on my arm, or my leg - it's real.  I feel it.  There's no "this is just pretend in your brain yay!" component to the feeling at all.  It feels exactly as if there were actually a hand on my arm or leg.

The hallucinations are the worst.  I primarily feel things and hear things; my sister sees things.  So I have awakened in the middle of the night, unable to move, unable to open my eyes, and experienced the following: someone sitting on the edge of my mattress, sitting on my chest, sitting on my back.  Someone touching my arm or leg, or pulling on my hair, or pulling on my ankles to pull me out of bed.  Someone tugging on the collar of my shirt.  My bed shaking, my bed being dragged out of the room, someone underneath my bed pushing their fists into the underside of my mattress.  I have heard the following: knocking on my door, knocking on the wall, knocking on the ceiling as though it were coming from the attic.  Someone screaming somewhere else in the house.  Someone screaming right next to me.  People talking to me, in gibberish.  The sound of my door creaking open.

As you can imagine, especially as a kid, I interpreted all this in a variety of ways.  It depended on whatever I was afraid of most at the time.  And I couldn't really go to my parents and expect to be comforted, because my dad went through the same thing, and I think he was just tickled that he wasn't the only one.  "Dad, I woke up last night and I couldn't move and there was a ghost shaking my bed."  "Yeah?  A couple nights ago I woke up and couldn't move and I could hear one of you girls screaming in your bedroom and I finally just went back to sleep.  Did anything happen a couple nights ago?"

When I was younger, my sister and I shared a bedroom.  It was always really, really great when we had an experience the same night.

Me: Last night I woke up and someone was laughing in the corner.
My sister: Last night I woke up and saw a man standing in the corner.

And I had no explanation for any of this.  I didn't read about sleep paralysis until I was in college, and the sense of relief I felt that night, when I spent about six hours searching and reading, I don't know that I can adequately explain.  By that point, I was pretty much secure in being a very rational atheist, and it bothered me that I continued to have these unexplainable things happen.  I especially had a bad time after I watched The Exorcist for the first time.  The next incident I had after that involved a ten on all three of the aspects - I woke up, couldn't move, knew I was going to die, and knew exactly who was in my room.  It was Regan, the possessed little girl.  And I could feel her sitting on the edge of my bed, right next to me.  I could feel the mattress dipping under her weight.  And I knew that even though her back was to me, her head was turned around, and she was smiling down at me, just waiting for me to open my eyes - she wanted me to see her first, and wanted to see my terror, before she killed me.

I was sixteen years old.  I was so absolutely terrified, beyond rational thought, that I ended up climbing into bed with my parents, just sobbing.  And as much as I came to stop believing in vampires and ghosts and werewolves, there is something about demon possession that even today I find myself susceptible to.  There's nothing scarier than waking up and absolutely believing that there is something evil in your bedroom with you, and you know it because you can feel it crouching on your back, and you can hear it muttering to you in some kind of dark language you don't understand.  Rationally understanding what's going on during the day doesn't help much in those moments.
(Deleted comment)
Shannon: b5 candlekungfuwaynewho on September 4th, 2010 03:58 pm (UTC)
It never occurred to me when I typed this up that someone might NOT believe me! Ack, that's potentially embarrassing. But yeah, that's one of the reasons I linked to the Wikipedia article on it - it's totally a real thing. And another reason I decided to write about it was that it was while reading a post just like this that I learned about sleep paralysis in the first place. I have had two people in my life that I've talked about this with who have gone, "Oh my God. That's a real thing? That's what's been happening to me?" Because it's not the kind of thing you hear about much.

It's not that bad anymore; the worst years were from 6-16 or so. I actually haven't had an incident in two months, and the last one wasn't very scary. I woke up and was like, something's on my back. There's a cat on my back. Why is Mr. Phoenix on my back? Oh no! I can't move! I can't...oh, I can move. It was just sleep paralysis. There's no cat on my back! And then I fell right back to sleep.
vjs2259: cm_reid_b&wvjs2259 on September 4th, 2010 05:40 pm (UTC)
I have extremely vivid nightmares and always have, so I can sympathize, if in a minor key.
Shannon: cate bwkungfuwaynewho on September 4th, 2010 05:55 pm (UTC)
You know, it didn't occur to me till I read your and ufgator1977's comments that this might have come across as "let me tell you about this horrible thing in my life," when really, it's not. It's more, "let me tell you about this thing in my life." I mean, I've always had it, so it's just...there.

I was just happy to know for sure that I wasn't really being visited by aliens or demons, you know?
(Anonymous) on September 4th, 2010 06:25 pm (UTC)
It does seem a bit horrible, but then we're on the outside, imagining it through your words. And you describe it so well, too. It made me wonder if Fox Mulder had this condition...it would explain a lot.
Shannonkungfuwaynewho on September 4th, 2010 07:28 pm (UTC)
Mulder, no kidding. Actually, if you look at the show as a firm skeptic, he probably did; researchers think most reports of alien abduction are just incidents of sleep paralysis. Waking up and being unable to move? Sense of a presence in the room? Seeing something bizarre and unexplainable? Feeling strange sensations?

Poor little Mulder. He just needed someone when he was twelve telling him it was just his dumb brain making shit up.
xphilehb: XF - Brainxphilehb on September 4th, 2010 09:00 pm (UTC)
Wow. Forget aliens. Mulder has sleep paralysis. I will never look at The X-Files in the same way again. :)
Shannon: xf bw dynamic duokungfuwaynewho on September 4th, 2010 09:05 pm (UTC)
Aw, that icon is so cute!

I remember when I first watched XF as a teen, just identifying so much with Mulder, and now that I'm an adult, I'm always on Scully's side. It's funny how that happened.
there's coffee in that nebula: x-files mulder boredun_crayon_rouge on September 4th, 2010 10:06 pm (UTC)
I think that icon is so cute, too! It kind of wakes the shipper in me, I always thought that scene was extremely adorable, with him telling her she has "manos de piedra" and her tickling his nose and whatnot.

Also, it's really sad that I remember this scene so well even though I haven't watched the episode in years.

xphilehb: XF - Mulder Deskxphilehb on September 5th, 2010 03:08 am (UTC)
It is cute! One of my favorite icons.

And look, I have your icon too. :)
nhpw: sheridanconfusednhpw on September 4th, 2010 05:59 pm (UTC)
That really sucks. I'm sorry :( I'm glad it's seemed to subside as you've gotten older.
Shannonkungfuwaynewho on September 4th, 2010 06:02 pm (UTC)
Nah, it's no big. I mean, I'm pretty boring, and this at least is kind of a cool story to tell, you know? I don't have many cool stories. But every now and then I get the opportunity to be like, sometimes I hallucinate in the middle of the night! I hallucinate monsters! And I can't move!

It's a pretty good anecdote, all things considered.

(Hee, hopefully you don't think I'm a lame-o anymore. But that is why a little part of me believed in monsters until I was way too old to do so!)
nhpwnhpw on September 4th, 2010 06:17 pm (UTC)
FWIW, I never thought you were a lame-o :P Was just surprised, is all. Probably sort of the same reaction I get from some people when I say stuff like, "Um, so. I don't want to freak you out, but I sort of have a history of seizures and, yeah. Just so you know." *shrug* It's all good.

Shannonkungfuwaynewho on September 4th, 2010 07:26 pm (UTC)
Whatev, you know you closed that browser window last night all, "Shit, I didn't know she was a freak."

History of seizures, now, that sounds serious. That sounds like something that people should actually be like, "Sorry to hear that; that sucks." You know? I feel weird about everyone commenting with sympathy because it was not my intention to elicit it when I posted, and I don't really feel like I need it - sleep paralysis sucks, but unless you're one of the very, very few people who suffer from it every time you sleep, it's really not that big a deal at all.
xphilehb: LMS - Pretend To Be Normalxphilehb on September 4th, 2010 08:59 pm (UTC)
HA! That GIF made me laugh. Oh Arrested Development. And Jason Bateman. *sigh*
Shannon: ad buster boobskungfuwaynewho on September 4th, 2010 09:35 pm (UTC)
I have so many AD gifs on my computer; one of these days I'll get around to uploading them all. We're just about to start S3 on our tri-annual rewatch.

I can never tell what's funnier; her wink, or his reaction.

I miss that show. ;_;
nhpwnhpw on September 4th, 2010 09:48 pm (UTC)
it's really not that big a deal at all. Funny, I feel the same way. I haven't had one in several years. But, you know, every now and then it's pertinent - like at work, because "just in case" - someone should know. But mostly I feel like... "Dude, everyone has their little oddities. This is mine. It's a bitch, but it's life, and I can deal with it."
mac_beth13mac_beth13 on September 4th, 2010 08:56 pm (UTC)
Damn, but that must have been disturbing to have when you were younger. It must have been such a relief to have written medical evidence to back up your stories and feel a little more normal. I'm also thanking you for posting this piece of your life because it answers a lot of my own questions. It's always fascinating to learn new things as well. *hugs*
Shannonkungfuwaynewho on September 4th, 2010 09:06 pm (UTC)
Ooo, now I'm curious as to what your questions were.

mac_beth13mac_beth13 on September 4th, 2010 09:17 pm (UTC)
To know that there is a completely rational explanation for those nights when I wake up scared sh*tless and not knowing why, heart pounding, short of breath, unable to move. Usually I get the feeling of the bed shaking like it's an earthquake or someone is shaking the mattress and I'm frozen for a bit then when I can move it is most likely to grip the edges of the mattress. When you mentioned that I was like O.o holy crap so I'm not nuts?! I hate waking up thinking I heard someone shout my name or knock on my door except the entire house is silent when I'm jolted awake so I lay still and silent waiting to hear if someone really did call my name or knock. I find it's worse if I'm working wonky hours, like overnights or the really early or late shifts. So, *bows* thank you for posting and shedding some light.
Shannonkungfuwaynewho on September 4th, 2010 09:31 pm (UTC)
Ahh! That's what it is! That's what you have, too! And you're more likely to have an incident when you're stressed or your sleep schedule is out of whack, so there you go.

Waking up having just heard a single loud noise is another common part of it; it's called Exploding Head Syndrome, which I find creepy and yet also totally accurate. I don't have that happen as often, but when it does it is always very, very disconcerting. I remember being, oh, in middle school, and waking up and hearing my name. And it was about 5am, and I got right up out of bed and marched into the kitchen where my mom was up and making coffee, and I just laid into her. "I was sleeping! It's five in the morning! Why are you yelling my name! What is the matter with you!" Heh, she was so confused.
mac_beth13mac_beth13 on September 4th, 2010 09:42 pm (UTC)
LOL, had a similar incident a few years ago when I was doing a two week stint on overnights in the middle of summer in 90F+ heat. Woke up, thought I heard my dad call me, waited to hear if he called again, he didn't but I went downstairs and said in an unpleasant tone and not too kind words that I was tired and I would wake up when I was good and ready. He just gave me a blank stare and was like "That's great, Beth Ann, but what are you talking about?" "Didn't you just shout my name from the bottom of the stairs?" "Nooo." shared WTF? looks, shrugs, and departure. :P
Shannon: b5 darkness and light handkungfuwaynewho on September 4th, 2010 10:41 pm (UTC)
Ha! That's awesome. The only other people I've known who had it who aren't my family have only ever experienced the paralysis and just, like, vague creepiness. No hallucinations. Those are what make the best stories.
xphilehb: Farscape - Aeryn Hauntedxphilehb on September 4th, 2010 08:58 pm (UTC)
Well, I won't comment with sympathy since, as I read in the comments, that wasn't your intention. And honestly, reading this, I didn't think that was your intention. I will say, yikes, that sucks! I have only had a few really horrible nightmares in life that have resulted in my waking up sobbing, and I will remember those forever. So I can't even imagine experiencing this sleep paralysis on a regular basis. But I also find this very interesting. I had no idea this kind of thing happened to people. So thank you for broadening my horizons. (Hopefully that doesn't sound insensitive. It's not meant to be!)
Shannon: bsg baltar boredkungfuwaynewho on September 4th, 2010 09:10 pm (UTC)
Hee, no, I didn't mean that people couldn't be sympathetic if they felt like it! I was just worrying that I made it sound like some horrible cross I had to bear, and it never was. It was just what happened at night - I was really old before I learned that it didn't happen to everyone. I assumed everyone had the same kinds of nightmares.

Yeah, the only reason I posted about it was because I do think it's pretty interesting, and I thought people might enjoy learning about it. And, you know, just in case someone out there has it and just didn't know that's what it was.

And because I never get tired of telling my Exorcist story. I think constantly talking about it is what finally made it not scary to me anymore; I literally had a hard time sleeping for at least a few years after that, if I ever accidentally did the "don't think about a white elephant" about it and remembered it late at night or while I was getting ready for bed. I must admit, it's not as gratifying telling it online, though; I don't get to see everyone's horrified faces, LOL.
there's coffee in that nebula: tv nikitaun_crayon_rouge on September 4th, 2010 10:01 pm (UTC)
Wow, I didn't know such a thing as sleep paralysis existed. Come to think of it, I may have some form of it. It happens to me fairly often to wake up and not be able to move, and also that I hear something during those phases. Once I woke up and couldn't move and heard an insistent rustling very close to my head and I was convinced it was a rat. Ugh. Also the laughing or just feeling an evil presence. Hum. *goes to check out link*
Shannon: eternal sunshinekungfuwaynewho on September 4th, 2010 10:39 pm (UTC)
That totally sounds like what you've got.

I am kind of sadly excited that I unearthed two of you. Now we can trade stories! God, I would be terrified if I ever interpreted anything I've heard as a rat near my head; I think that's worse than thinking there's a ghost or something, tbh.
ghanima sun: thoughtsghanimasun on September 5th, 2010 05:44 am (UTC)
Thank you for sharing your history. I've never experienced anything remotely on this level. I can't imagine how scary and stressful it's been for you.
I learned a lot just reading your entry. And I'm glad this hasn't been a problem for you lately.
Shannon: bsg oath lee karakungfuwaynewho on September 5th, 2010 09:03 pm (UTC)
It's not been too stressful; aside from a half-dozen or so really, really bad ones my whole life, most of the time it's no different from a regular nightmare. Sometimes it can take awhile to deal with the adrenaline, but most of the time I'm just like, oh, it's over. And then I fall back asleep.

Aside from prompting a few kind of existential crisis moments (if I don't believe in God but I do kind of believe in Satan, what does that mean?), it's really been kind of cool? I mean, it's a cool story, at any rate.