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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.
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.