I never thought one could be paralyzed in their sleep until it happened to me. It was three years ago when I had my first episode. I thought it was just one of my nightmares or some lucid dreaming like in Vanilla Sky, but it wasn’t.
It felt so real that I can still remember how it unfolded that evening. I woke up one night because I felt like I was falling endlessly. I screamed as the pitch black tunnel grew narrower and tighter around me. It was suffocating. I can still remember how loud my scream was as I cried for help. I opened my eyes only to realize that my body was frozen in bed. I couldn’t move a muscle. I couldn’t even close my eyes. I was so scared that I was starting to have a panic attack. I was still screaming but no one could hear me. I fought it back and breathed as hard as I could. Then I woke up, tired, gasping for air, and confused about what just happened.
It was one of the scariest sleeps I’ve had in my life.
The morning after, I shared the experience with my parents in an attempt to brush off the anxiety it caused me.
“You don’t pray at night, that’s why,” my father said.
“Stop watching horror films at night and sleep early,” my mom added.
I tried to understand them because parents will always be parents. I tried to explain to them that it was sleep paralysis, that it was real and that I needed to see a doctor. Nothing happened.
Three years later and I still have the same episodes, only the last one was the worst. There was a figure on top of me, grappling me tightly. I couldn’t sleep for days after that.
Then it hit me as I was watching Netflix’s “The Haunting of Hill House,” which honestly really deserves Stephen King’s nod. I have so many other things to say about the series, but there’s one thing that hits close to home: Episode 5: “The Bent-Neck Lady.”
While the episode revolves around Nell’s past difficulties with sleep paralysis disorder, there’s one particular scene that strongly echoed the struggles of people dealing with it. It was when Arthur told Nell the next steps she needed to take in order to find an “escape” from it. Nell’s face lit up like a child because her general practitioner only advised her to “stop watching TV at night.” Finally, someone believed her. Someone was willing to help her. Someone took her seriously.
I found myself smiling during that short but sweet scene. I felt less alone in this and that our struggles were as real as any other disorder. I know that this phenomenon hasn’t yet been fully explained by science and that doctors are still working to find the best solution for sleep paralysis. Despite this, I know that a little understanding goes a long way. Like Arthur’s reaction to Nell, regardless of whether he’s a sleep technologist or not.
Sleep paralysis is a haunting, creepy experience that no cup of chamomile tea or ounce of prayer can heal. It’s a disorder that may lead to other serious things, like panic attack and insomnia.
Sleep paralysis is real, and just like with Nell, we need you to believe in us.