It's what I do more nights than not.
A new friend (HI MARY!) and I are working on a meme together: 100 Things About Me Told Over 100 Days, each trading items back and forth daily, and then we will present each other's when complete. One of the items that made it into my first five days did so because the intensity of its presence in my life has increased lately.
This is something I never talk about. If you know me, you can't know this or you will always look at me differently. It is something that is always there, either the anticipation of or the after effects; it lingers and it pervades and it is as big a part of me as how I like to draw, or read, or walk my dog. I cannot define myself without including it, yet it is an invisible part of the equation.
When I use the words presence and invisible, I use them carefully.
If I were to tell you my nightmares are not like your nightmares, would you laugh and tell me about some of yours? Would they be weird and quirky and scary but hard to remember? Lucky you. Because if I were to tell you mine, you would either think I am insane or haunted or possessed - or you would be in the small percentage of people like me who suffer from sleep paralysis and its accompanying hallucinations and you would be relieved to find a kindred spirit.
For as long as I can remember, I've had bad dreams. Really, really bad dreams. When I was little there were lights and bugs and shadows flying around my room. Strange creatures bit me, usually on me knees and shoulders. They told me bad things. I would take every stuffed animal I owned, and build four walls around me and sleep within it hoping nothing could come through the chinks. Every night I begged them to protect me. The bed covers flew off me, or tightened around me. Things pulled my legs and lifted me. Cold breath. Presences just standing there. I would scream and pray and cry, but no one heard me, because it was all part of the dreaming. Night after night when I could finally wake up and run, I'd crawl into bed with my parents or call them and ask them to kill the bugs. Or they'd find me curled up by the door, or in corners in the morning.
By the time I was a teenager, I was cutting myself to stay awake at nights. The dreams were more evil. Lights went on and off, or light that was somehow dark would be cast around the room looking for me. Music I fell asleep to would play backwards, or I would be talking in my dream and it would be twisted as it came out of my lips to come out like a man's voice slowed down. I would be dragged around the room by my legs. Dreams that started out normally, with me walking down the street in a familiar and friendly place, would turn strange, with me being lifted and pulled upward. Forms would violate me in the worst ways. I would be bound and encased in strange materials. It was pure evil. It laughed at my Hail Marys. Demons soiled my Bible and pulled at the rosary I slept with. Nothing helped, and no one ever heard me. I'd wake up in layers, each time thinking I had broken the dream and was fine, only to find it continuing four or five times as I climbed levels of sleep to where I could move, all the while screaming, praying, or just trying to breathe differently so someone would notice and wake me up.
They've never stopped. The dreams take place mostly in the house where I lived from fifth grade until eleventh grade. I began to think a ghost had followed me from that house. So many horrible things happen - old ladies walk past my doorway, and when I follow them into the kitchen they pour boiling water on my feet. Demonic presences will do things to the people sleeping next to me in order to prove that they can't help me. They tell me if I read or write certain words, I'll cause more demons to appear. They mock my prayers. They fly me around the room, stripped naked and violating me anally. They push me into the pillows and pull my arms back and say horrible things in my ear.
They told me when I was pregnant that they would haunt my baby too. They tell me that when she cries, it's because of them and I can't help her. They do things to her, and to me in front of her. For almost nine months, we slept downstairs in front of the TV, Josephine and I, because that kept me awake enough. But my marriage was suffering, and I missed my husband and bed and feeling like a normal person. When I started sleeping in bed, the occurrences resumed. Since we've had Josephine in her crib most of the night, it's been more frequent and more intense. And it has been getting even worse lately. Nearly every other night, when sometimes I used to go a week or more in between episodes. The night before last, it was so bad that I decided to find help, somehow.
I Googled Night Terrors, Nightmares, Sleep Disturbances, Apnea and finally, Sleep Paralysis. And there I found a study that left me tearing silently and screaming inside, this time with relief.
For thirty years (Stop, and think about that, please. Thirty. Years.) I have been afraid every night that I'll have another bad dream, and I have had so many days that have been tainted by the night before.
Read it. Take time to read it all, go back to the table of contents after the page I've linked to, and follow the other links and the meet characters and see the charts if you want to know of a world so hellish that I have no fear of Hades because I've already been there. So many other people have this problem, and yet not one person has ever told me so. I've never just happened across an article. I remember vaguely hearing in the course of those Alien Abduction debunking specials on TLC that this is a possible explanation for that particular phenomenon. But I never thought to ask my doctor. I never told friends, and my parents and partners were only told "I had a really bad dream." It is a horrific and invisible affliction, and to tell about it is nearly impossible and unbelievable. It is silent. What would you do? Who would you tell? How bad would it have to get before you did something about it? In my case, they keep hurting my baby, and I can't take it any more.
Here it is: "A webpage about Sleep Paralysis and Associated Hypnagogic and Hypnopompic Experiences"
I am not crazy, haunted, posessed, or unique.
I am not the only one who suffers this, which should make me glad since misery loves company. But no one (okay, save for a few celebrities and politicians I can think of right now) deserves this.
Mr. Cheyne emailed me in response to my gushing thanks, and told me that the instances often increase during and after pregnancy. This makes sense, because we are really trying to transition Josephine to her crib and I am woken quite frequently and then have a hard time getting back to sleep. The pattern occurs when people are disturbed from a deep dreamlike sleep before the body's chemicals that cause paralysis (which happens for everyone and is normal) can be adjusted for wakefulness. I can improve my chances for a night without strange dreams by getting more sleep and lessening my stress.(Hahahahahaha.) Sleeping on my side should help. I can try to move my eyes a certain way, or try just to move my fingers and toes in order to jog myself to a different level of sleep when I feel it starting. And there are drugs, if I don't mind the problem possibly worsening after stopping them. I don't think, even though the duration, frequency and intensity of my dreams puts me in a higher income bracket, that it's that dire at this point. As a teenager on the brink of really seriously hurting myself, it would have helped certainly - but there was no Google then. Bless Google. Bless Mr. Cheyne. Bless anyone out there who has this as a part of them too.
Now I can just tell myself that they're not real - the demons, the hags, the incubus, the bugs, the presences. I'm pretty sure after reading the study that they're not real. And I most sincerely hope so, because this condition may be hereditary, and I cannot help but worry for Josephine's every whimper in her sleep.
So if someone ever tells you they have had Hypnagogic and Hypnopompic Experiences, don't be all like, "Dude, where can I buy some".