I woke up one morning, grabbed my phone, and typed out the words “Sleep Paralysis” on the Google search bar. I’ve been having nightmares that feel like a real life struggle with some grotesque demon. These dreams are graphic and terrifying. I sought an explanation for these frightening dreams because I refused to settle for the only explanation I’ve been able to come up with: that some black magic business is undoubtedly behind these dreams and some evil forces are out to get me.
You see, I come from a culture where the belief in the existence of evil spirits is big. Sudden and mysterious deaths, terminal illness, even car accidents could be explained as attacks from the evil ones. A common way we (Christians mostly) think we can fight against black magic or any evil force is by praying against them. I hate to imagine or even believe there’re evil forces that can attack us or are sent my other people to do so. Although, I can’t say I totally do not believe in the existence of evil spirits or demons alike; I just choose to not acknowledge them, and I never rely on the possibility of their existence to explain away anything that seems mysterious or strange. But when I experienced what I would later come to know as sleep paralysis, I had a rethink: maybe some evil forces were out there, and now they’ve come to prove their existence by making dramatic appearances in my dreams.
I mean, I wasn’t just having bad dreams. These dreams felt too real. An episode felt like a struggle for my life. I would wake up in the middle of night unable to even wriggle my fingers, speak, breath or do all three while a strange looking creature sits on my chest. The general nature of these dreams is the helplessness I feel when experiencing them. I’m literally paralysed (for a few seconds) while I face what’s arguably the worst experience of my life. I become awash with relief when it ends while my heart thumps painfully in my chest.
So when I woke up one Sunday morning to search the internet for the meaning of sleep paralysis, it was because I remember looking at illustrated images for sleep disorders on the internet a couple of days back while I was mindlessly trawling the internet for articles to read. Sleep paralysis was listed as a sleep disorder, and the image included a weird looking animal hovering over a girl who looked terrified and like she was struggling to wake up. That image described a feeling I knew intimately, and so I locked the words “sleep paralysis” in my head.
When the different links for my search showed up on the screen of my phone, I clicked on the Wikipedia result, and there it was, a spot-on definition for what I’ve been experiencing. According to Wikipedia, Sleep paralysis “is a transitional state between wakefulness and sleep characterized by muscle atonia (muscle weakness). It is often accompanied by terrifying hallucinations (such as an intruder in the room) to which one is unable to react due to paralysis and physical experiences (such as strong current running through the upper body).”
It became clear that what I was experiencing was more or less a sleep disorder. And in came the flood of relief. Even though I didn’t find a definite cause of sleep paralysis, I find relief in the fact that it’s a thing, that I’m not the only one experiencing it. What’s more, it had nothing to do with black magic or evil spirits; it’s psychological. This calmed me.
After reading that Wikipedia article, I learned to stay as calm as possible during an episode. It eventually passes and I go back to sleep. Months have passed since my last episode, as they’re becoming less frequent.