The official definition of sleep paralysis: a phenomenon during which an individual is unable to move during falling asleep or awakening, but is aware of their surroundings. It is often accompanied by frightening hallucinations to which one is unable to react because of paralysis.
My definition is a little different. Sleep paralysis is when I wake up from a nap and I can feel that someone is in the room watching me but I can’t move or speak. I am waiting to die.
I don’t know the specifics about how many people have ever woken up and been unable to move, but I’m guessing it has happened to a lot of us. It may have happened in varying degrees and different lengths of time so your experience may have been more annoying than fucking terrifying. Ladies and gentlemen, mine are fucking terrifying. And almost always when I’m napping, less often in the middle of the night. So while everyone else on the planet enjoys a nice nap, this is me.
Let me introduce to you all of the people who have been in the room with me while I’ve woken up with sleep paralysis.
So this dream started pretty normal. I don’t remember everything from the beginning but I was grocery shopping in a pretty standard grocery store. I was in the produce section when a group of men with masks and guns came into the store, demanding everyone get down as they moved to the cash registers. (As a bit of clarification, I had just watched the episode of Desperate Housewives where this exact thing happened.) So I was hiding the the produce section while the men were taking money, taunting the other trapped people and making their way through the store making sure no one was calling the police.
I was near the back, so it took a little bit for the men to get back to me. I acted like I hope I would if I were ever really in that situation and I had my phone out, trying to call 911 without attracting attention to myself or what I was doing. This is when I woke up.
I was still in the grocery store, I could see the tile ceiling and faux wooden cabinets next to me that held cantaloupes and honeydews. I could see one of the men approaching me, and he knew what I was trying to do. I saw him coming but I couldn’t speak and I couldn’t move. As I sat laid on the ground, a big, tall man was forcefully walking towards me gun in hand. And I could do absolutely nothing to save myself.
I tried to scream, I tried to curl up, I tried to fight back, I tried to do everything your parents teach you if you are in trouble. But I couldn’t do anything.
I watched this man get closer and closer until he was right in my face. He took his mask off and started yelling at me, but I still couldn’t move or speak. He kept yelling, getting angrier and angrier. I appeared unresponsive and defiant to him, so he pointed his gun at my face.
That’s the last thing I remember before I really woke up. A gun in my face, thinking, “This is how I die. I’m about to die because he will shoot me in the face.”
This one is harder to explain, because I was napping, and then I dreamed that I woke up but was really still sleeping, and then I really woke up when all of the following happened.
In this dream I was in my room of the house I lived in my senior year of college. My room was on the first floor in the back of the house with a door leading to a small deck outside. It was warm outside (weird for Ann Arbor) so there were a lot of people outside.
My two windows were open with the shades and curtains drawn so I could see out and everyone could see in. I woke up again and immediately felt that people were watching me from the window. But I couldn’t move, I couldn’t roll over and hide under the blanket and I couldn’t move to close the curtains. I was just stuck there, being watched.
I pretended to be asleep, like I didn’t notice that people were watching me. I was acutely aware that my windows were wide open and that someone could reach in and touch me if they tried. I was unable to move and someone was about to climb in my window. I couldn’t understand what was being said, but it was a conversation between two men vaguely talking about seeing me, thinking I was still asleep because I wasn’t moving. Then, I heard them talk about coming in the window.
I tried to scream. I tried to get out of bed. But I couldn’t do either. I just stayed there, defenseless, as I thought people were coming into my room. I was trapped in bed while people were climbing in. That’s the last thing I remember about this experience.
I get sick a lot. I think I was sick almost half of last fall, so that part of the story isn’t surprising. But when this episode happened, I was really sick. I had a 102+ fever for a week, and I wasn’t really eating or drinking much. Just fevers, Advil and Tylenol, sweating a lot, more fevers. Repeat the whole cycle again and again.
That vicious cycle also made it pretty impossible to sleep through the night. So I napped a lot. You know where this is going by now. A fucking demon showed up.
I woke up in the middle of the night and couldn’t move. Then, I noticed this fuckin thing in the corner of my room by the door. Now, I’m not positive it was a demon, but I am positive it was not human and that it was making me sick. I could feel something evil in the room, and I could feel it watching me. I knew it wasn’t human, but I couldn’t define its shape. It had a Babadook vibe—before it became a Pride icon—but smaller and less man-like..
By this point, you know what I did. I tried to scream, I tried to move, but I could do nothing. I was planted there in my bed while this thing made its way closer to me.
I tried closing my eyes, hoping I could make it all stop if I could fall back asleep or really wake myself up. I remembered closing and opening my eyes, but no matter what I did, this living nightmare did not stop. The thing kept getting closer and I was paralyzed. I would have to endure whatever was coming my way.
The being made its way all the way to the side of my bed. I could feel it next to me and the shadow it cast on me. Then suddenly, it was on me. Not looking at my face, not moving around, it was just on top of me. And I still couldn’t move and I still couldn’t scream. I felt a definite pressure on my chest and a sweat spot forming beneath this thing.
I tried not to struggle because being sick had already made it hard for to breathe. But this demon weighed as much as a small child, and its combined weight and my fear made me panic to the verge of hyperventilation.
I don’t remember how it resolved or how I survived. Frankly, I don’t remember anything but the fear and the demon that created it.
Sleep paralysis combines the worst of your very real subconscious fears with the inescapable prison of a body that remains unresponsive to your conscious thoughts. For many, like me, it is hellacious, terrifying, and feels life-threatening. And though these episodes are all monsters of my imagination, the only way to avoid them is to stay awake until nightfall.
How am I still alive? I don’t know.
Will I continue to avoid naps? Hell yeah.
Will one of these people/things actually kill me? Stay tuned.