I am a 30 year old woman and I’m terrified of falling asleep. Uncock your head. Every time I close my eyes I run the risk of having my soul escape, or a demon visit me, or an old hag sit on my chest. I suffer from sleep paralysis, and I have for a very long time.
My most early experience still terrifies me. I was lying on a twin bed in one of the 3 rooms that made up our river cabin. Light was bouncing off the ripples of the Mississippi River and into the kitchen/dining room/bedroom and it was time to wake up and play in the river and mud. Only there was a problem—I couldn’t move. I screamed for help—I couldn’t scream. I was paralyzed. I moaned…at least I tried, I think I moaned in hopes that my family in the next room would come to my rescue. My eyes darted around the room, at least they still worked. Things looked familiar, but not right. There were shadows in the corner, I could swear someone was staring at me, and when I looked toward the window, I forgot what the kitchen looked like. Then I forgot what the window looked like. Next came the noise, it howled. Think of a million old-school tv’s tuned to the poor man’s cinemax, which is just scrambled nipples and a crackling white noise. It roared. They roared. It came in waves. It was going to get me. I was going to die.
I had lost complete control of the situation, though it’s an illusion to think I ever had it. I woke up in this bizarre house, where shadows in the corner were staring at me and I couldn’t even alert my parents to my distress. I remember feeling tears roll down the side of my face and nestle in my ear. After probably 120 seconds of pure panic, I gave up. No use in fighting a losing battle.
Not sure when I properly work up—from experience, it was probably 10-15 minutes later. Eyes open? Check. Move arms and legs? Check. Scream for parents? You bet! I was convinced it was a terrible, awful dream and that the pool in my ear canal was just a byproduct. A year probably passed before it happened again. There was never a schedule—there are reasons, though I’ve never pinpointed my own. Usually it only happens during naps, which is probably why I hate taking naps. It wasn’t until I was in my teens where I was able to navigate the situation. Within about 30 seconds, I would recognize what was happening to me and quickly make amends. Basically I would close my eyes, hope that I would quickly fall back asleep and wake up—this time for reals.
It works. This is still the only answer. I’ve always had a love/hate relationship with sleep. I love sleep. I LOVE sleep. I want sleep to have my babies. And when we’re old, I want to buy a mountain house with sleep and live out the rest of our days together. Without sleep, I am nothing. But damn, I hate falling asleep. That’s probably why it’s 12:30am and I’m still up. I’ve got a full day of work ahead of me, and I’m exhausted, but I’d rather watch a sneezing panda or videos of people falling.
I went many years with a suspicion that these episodes were delusional. When it would happen, I would try to memorize the room; taking note of how many books were on the table or which way a shadow was cast. When I would eventually wake up, I could then compare notes. There was an older AM radio show I would listen to every night: Coast to Coast with Art Bell. I’m not sure it still exists. It was basically a show for people who believe in bigfoot and aliens. I enjoy the grotesque of the human condition so it was a perfect match for me. One night, there was a guest who spoke of out-of-body experiences. He basically said that the soul escapes. He was describing my nightmare.
“Well hell”, I remember thinking.
In college, I would warn my roommates that sometimes my soul escapes, and that they shouldn’t worry if I’m creepily looking at them, but not communicating. It was all tongue and cheek, but it was the closest thing I had to an answer.
Come to find out that it is a real thing. According to WebMD, Sleep Paralysis is the “feeling of being conscious but unable to move. It occurs when a person passes between stages of wakefulness and sleep. During these transitions, you may be unable to move or speak for a few seconds up to a few minutes. Some people may also feel pressure or a sense of choking” (http://www.webmd.com/sleep-disorders/guide/sleep-paralysis). They also say that it’s not detrimental to health, nor is there really a cure. I guess they got bigger fish to fry like AIDS and cancer.
Before science, people who suffered from sleep paralysis believed they were being visited by an Incubus. The Incubus is a rapey demon who likes to sit on the chest of a woman as she sleeps. You stay classy, Incubi! In other parts of the world, they believed an old woman would sit on the chest as they slept. The term for being visited by the Old Hag was called “hag-ridden”. People really didn’t like old women back then.
I used the word “suffer” earlier, and that is a bit laughable. It’s not the worst thing in the world. It’s not even in the top 99 percent of the worst things in the world. It all seems like it could be handled by a rational, educated adult. And it can. I realize what’s happening, close my eyes, go to sleep. But it’s those first 30 seconds that still terrify me. For those 30 seconds, reality is suspended and I’m going to die. There is a ghost here to take my soul. Awake, I’m super rational; but asleep, I’m terrifying.
I get to be a “backhome” tourist in a different town. I will be moving to my favorite town in the world (Chicago being my favorite city). I spent four great years in St. Augustine, Florida and now the stars have aligned, serendipity has spoken, total and complete kismet has set the stage and I’m going back!
This is truly a dream come true. I remember in 2003, a group of friends and myself stood in a huddle in my kitchen on King Street. Arms twisted around another and in the middle our foreheads rested against each other. Graduation was over, boxes were packed and this was goodbye. It is a great memory that I have. Someone, probably Tim, started a game of telephone with a kiss on a cheek. The kiss went round and round until it was time to go. I remember thinking “why can’t I stay?”. I mean I could’ve stayed, I just would’ve been homeless. At the time, I worked two jobs, but they were both barely part time. Since that moment, when I spoke about St. Augustine (which is more than you think) I always said, “it’s a wonderful place, and if there were jobs I would’ve stayed in a heart beat”. Well, I’ve found A job. I get to go back with more experience and education and a plan as to what I want to do with the rest of my life. All of which were lacking in May of 2003.
I have been tooling around with instagram since Android phones have had access to it. Here are a few pictures from my last visit. There are so many things that I can’t wait to do. Things I never took advantage of when I lived there there first time. This blog started as a challenge to do more in my new/old home. With the limited time I had, I feel like I accomplished a lot! That challenge will continue.