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September 6, 2010 / Brittany Hendrick

Shadowy men from a shadowy planet

Sleep paralysis is something I experience more often than I would like, probably more often than the average person. This frightening phenomenon happens at least once a month, and it has been this way for many years.

I’ve joked that sleep paralysis is when the “aliens come to get me.” Of course, I always meant this metaphorically. Funny thing is, I’m not the only one who associates third-kind encounters with sleep paralysis– and there are literal interpretations.

If you’re unfamiliar with what sleep paralysis is, it’s when your body hits REM stage of sleep before your brain. Conversely, it also occurs when your brain wakes up before the REM cycle completes. During this “wakefulness” period, I am unable to move, and it’s accompanied by whirring noises (maybe the sound of my eyes flitting). Obviously, this is when the alien is administering a laparoscopic or oral probe on me. 😉 Also aware, I panic and try to call out my dog’s name to get him closer to me, to wake me up, something, anything. But all that comes out are labored, whispered slow-motion screams; or maybe I just think them. As if I could expect Levin, the worst guard dog ever, to help me.

Sometimes my sleep paralysis is even more scary than the one described above. Another type involves me also unable to move… but this time I am aware of my breathing. I am breathing lightly, as if I am asleep… but I want to breathe as if I am awake! Panic arises even moreso, because I’m thinking I could die. I know I need to take in more oxygen, so I try very, very, very hard to wake myself. I don’t think I am in any sort of actual, technical, physical danger, because I’d be breathing the same way if I were fully asleep. But it’s super scary nonetheless, especially if half my face is shoved in a pillow and one nostril is obstructed.

Sleep paralysis is a form of hypnogogia, I learned. Upon further research, I discovered that I have been experiencing other forms of sensory hypnogogia practically my whole life. I had no idea there was categorization or a name for these things.

— One is called the Tetris Effect. I have encountered this since childhood, but so inexplicable, I never bothered to tell anyone about it. Basically, I have this feeling of falling asleep on rocks. It isn’t painful or uncomfortable; just a feeling of… well… not feeling myself. My body feels at one with the rocks, naturally filling the cracks in between– or perhaps the rocks catering to the creases of my body. Like this hyper-awareness between body and invisible-yet-tangible objects that blur into one indecipherable blob.

— Sounds. Songs that I make up, and they occur as dreams. Original music, original lyrics, band members, everything. Could be R&B, could be alternative. Sometimes a famous person is singing (i.e. Janet Jackson), but more often a bunch of unidentifiable, unknown persons.
Also, sometimes I hear a loud, one-off bang– not dream-derived. It’s like a sonic boom. Would I hear a sonic boom even if I don’t live near an air force base?

— Smells. All I can remember off-hand is that I’ve smelled baking bread and coffee.

— Sights. Sometimes hallucinations accompany the sleep paralysis. (I have never taken hallucinogenics in my life, by the way) They may precede or follow the paralysis episode. Infrequently do they involve random shapes and colors. More often, they’re a barrage of unrelated objects, appearing or morphing one right after another. On occasion, the hallucinations are as terrifying as the paralysis period itself– unspeakable images of destruction, violence, terroristic people– and I cannot control them. So, panic is followed by panic. Makes for a fun night.

— Out-of-body experience. When I was a child– very young, no older than five, because I lived in New York and not Georgia yet– I experienced an “out of body experience” (for lack of a better term) that I remember vividly. I was sitting crosslegged, floating down the stairwell. On top of that, I can see myself from the perspective of standing in the living room, facing the stairway. That’s all that happened, but, boy, has it stuck with me.


— Restless Legs Syndrome. Really a sleep disorder on its own, RLS is another irritation I’ve suffered from, since at least the teenage years. But nobody knew it was actually anything. The term came to my attention within the last 10 years… so if this sleep disorder had been pegged as such before then, I do not know. Before, I attributed the problem to my overactive thyroid. After I underwent I-131 radiation treatment for the benign tumor on my thyroid, the itches, pinches and pricks that prevented me from falling asleep finally ceased. Relief was only temporary.

For me, RLS is not so much an urge to move the affected body parts to feel relief, but rather an urge to scratch them because they feel SO GODDAMN ITCHY, CERTAINLY BUGS ARE CRAWLING ON ME. The Restless Legs Syndrome doesn’t affect me every night. I read that iron deficiency may cause it, as well as thyroid issues. I haven’t taken my iron supplements in a while, so I may now verifiably see if there is a correlation between low iron and RLS.

— Cataplexy. Another sleep disorder. This happened to me only ONCE… but I suppose it falls in line– or maybe was the onset– to the host of sleep issues I have now.  Again, it was another one of those inexplicable things that I never told anyone about. I didn’t know it was an actual, diagnosable problem, until a few months ago, when I read about it in Psychology Today.

I was middle school age, at home by myself during the day. I was watching TV on the floor, my head propped by pillows. Nothing out of the ordinary. I stood up to go into another room. No sooner than I got on my feet, my legs failed me, and I collapsed to the ground. No big deal… until I couldn’t get back up. This wasn’t pins-and-needles– I’d know it if that were the case. I had feeling in my legs; they didn’t hurt. Not knowing what the fuck was going on, I began crying. Then I immediately fell asleep. When I woke up, everything was in working order. I have NO IDEA why I never told my mother what happened.

Surprisingly enough, with all these sleep problems, I do not snore!

The reason I bring up this sleep anomalies topic is this: the other night, I had the strangest, scariest experience to-date. I do not know what parts are dream or reality. I was asleep on my stomach, head turned to the side. I awakened to the usual sleep paralysis, but neither the alien abduction kind nor the breathing-problem kind. Something was on my body, or from inside my body, and then left. But it wasn’t ME.

Some body was on top of me– not in a sexual manner– with its arms around me. I only know its arms were around me because what I actually felt were the arms as they slid out from around me, from between the mattress and me. And of course I felt the strangerbody’s weight on my back. This incubus lifted off my body in one swift motion. Levin was next to me, but we weren’t touching. I did my slow-motion-screaming-whisper thing and tried my damnedest to put my hand on him, also in slow motion. I was successful.

What happened next… I don’t know if it’s real or imagined. Levin sprang across my back to chase the character that was now beside my bed. It wasn’t human– kind of like the thing from the Arnold Schwarzenegger movie, Predator. It wasn’t hovering above us, but its feet weren’t on the floor, either. Just as Levin’s nose got close enough to it, the figure vanished. I’d somehow managed to lie on my back by now, and Levin remained across me as protection, as I cradled him… as much as you can cradle a 120 pound dog.

This is the first time that’s ever happened to me. I’d like for it not to happen again. Not unless the figure brings me gifts, money, cooks dinner and cleans the house, does the laundry, fixes cars, or is Prince Charming or some other kind of knight in shining armor. At least say hello?

9/7/2010 update: On the day I posted this, 9/6/2010, I learned that my uncle had died on 9/5/2010, which was when I had this horrifying experience in the wee hours. 9/5 is also the birthdate of his deceased mother (my grandmother). Tragic.
Also, after relaying this story to my mother, she said she had a strange feeling that same night while awakened from her sleep, as if something were on her back. And my mom is not hippy-dippy type, so she wouldn’t imagine or over-evaluate shit if it didn’t happen. I believe in aliens before anything metaphysical, but… it’s all too weird.


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