Later on, in my twenties, that dreaded condition known as sleep paralysis paid me a visit every now and then for a couple of years. Any of you who have experienced this knows how unsettling these attacks can be in that vulnerable state we are in between consciousness and sleep.
The sleep paralysis had finally stopped for maybe seven or eight years, when one afternoon, as I lay down to rest, something happened within half a minute of closing my eyes- not even drifting yet, actually, that was not only totally different from the aforementioned two incidents, but started me on a search for answers. Maybe one day I'll write about that horrid experience - where pure evil was seen...and felt, like nothing else, not even close.
Phyllis has a meaty site for reading here:http://creativeexiles.com/author/phyllis/
Summary: She saw it in her mind. It had entered quickly, with a burst from the hallway and flung the door open. Then it stood there for a few seconds, an evil grin, crooked ugly shaped lips grinning, showing sharp teeth, its eyes glowing in anticipation of attacking. Almost gleeful it looked at the thought of devouring her.
SCREAM !!! Her mind shouted, but her voice would not obey. Move! Just MOVE !!! And her body would not respond. She was beyond nightmares and in the horror of sleep paralysis.
She was trapped and under the power of the horrid looking creature that had come into her room. She saw it in her mind. It had entered quickly, with a burst from the hallway and flung the door open. Then it stood there for a few seconds, an evil grin, crooked ugly shaped lips grinning, showing sharp teeth, its eyes glowing in anticipation of attacking. Almost gleeful it looked at the thought of devouring her.
Chills covered her whole body, yet she was perspiring so heavy her nightgown and the sheets were damp and sticky. Her mind was alert, active, telling her what to do, yet she was paralysed, held down by a heavy weight on her body, preventing her from moving. Ever so slowly the creature approached the foot of her bed with the horrible grin and crept up slowly towards her face, glaring at her. When it reached out a claw-like hand and touched her shoulder, something snapped within her and she exploded with action, threw out her arm with all the strength she had and flung the creature off her bed. She sat up and screamed at it, "GET OUT OF HERE. GET OUT !!!!"
It was gone. She turned on the lamp by her bed and sat there, huddled against the wall, holding her pillows tightly to her chest, breathing hard. It seemed like hours she sat like that, her eyes wide open, staring, not knowing if it had been a nightmare or if some demon had come into her room. In the morning she awoke, slumped over onto the bed, exhausted and aching all over.
It returns ~
For several nights she slept fitfully, afraid to turn out the light and relax. She was terrified of the dark, afraid she would be attacked again in her sleep. Then it happened again and that time it was worse. She could not stay in her room and turned on every light in the apartment. She sat in her recliner, bundled up, hugging her pillows, trying to focus on the late night news or anything to keep her mind off the demon.
The next day she called her doctor. Told him she was not sleeping well and what had happened. He told her to come in and she made an appointment. By the time she saw the doctor she felt a little embarrassed, like a child who is simply afraid of the dark, afraid to be alone. When she expressed this to the doctor he explained it was normal for her to feel like that, then he asked her to tell him when the nightmares started and asked so many questions. Had she been reading any horror stories or watching horror movies? Had she changed her eating habits? Did she have a bad experience or argument with anyone? No, no, no -- nothing different, nothing new in her life, just feeling down, lonely, nervous since the nightmares. "Before the nightmares," he asked, "what happened before the nightmares started?" Nothing that she could think of except constant financial worries and the possiblity of losing her home.
He told her some medication may calm her down enough so she could relax and sleep well. But, it might make it worse, he said, preventing her from waking up to abolish the nightmares and did not want to prescribe any medication at that time. He set up an appointment for her with a psychologist, saying he thought she might be experiencing sleep paralysis. With the psychologist, doctor and patient working together, over a short period of time, the diagnosis was deep anxiety over some life changes and an unknown future of her ability to provide food and shelter for herself. In her case it was a temporary disorder that never reoccurred after consultations and medication for clinical depression and anxiety.
Sleep disorders expressed in poetry and literature ~
Edgar Allen Poe seemed to focus a lot on the state of being "in between" -- in between awake and asleep, between a dream and reality, between life and death, between sane and insane, wondering where the dreamer was, going deeper and deeper into wild thoughts and the meanings of a dream, illusions, hallucinations. Did Poe himself experience sleep paralysis, or was he somehow aware of this state of being? When we read poetry it is the symmetry, the rhyme, the flow of words coming together in a way that creates a balance and harmony which makes the poem pleasing or even very emotional. Often, we do not really look deeper into the thoughts behind the words. One has to look into the mind and soul of the poet. Few poets can convey the thoughts of their mind and soul as well as Edgar Allen Poe did. Often a writer will draw from life, or from the subconscious, emotions or thoughts that go into a story. In The Pit and the Pendulum, Poe wrote:
"Yet in a second afterward, (so frail may that web have been) we remember not that we have dreamed. In the return to life from the swoon there are two stages; first, that of the sense of mental or spiritual; secondly, that of the sense of physical, existence."
Towards the time when the character was becoming more alert, Poe wrote, "Then a rushing revival of soul and a successful effort to move."
This is so indicative of pulling out of that paralysis and coming back to the senses, the physical ability to finally move and banish the nightmare. Was Poe aware of the horror of immobility during sleep paralysis, the helplessness to not save himself from attack of a demon or spirit? During his life, the medical term and condition was referred to as nightmares. Yet, it seems Poe had more than likely suffered through this condition, not really knowing what it was and relating to the feelings, the fears, reliving it through his characters.
"The Premature Burial" written by Poe and made into a movie starring Ray Milland in 1962, was about a man who suffered greatly from the fear of death and an obsession of being buried alive. The narator of the story, Guy Carell, had been obsessed with the study of several real cases of people who had been buried alive yet to all outward appearances were deemed dead. He then explains that he had been having attacks of what his physicians termed catalepsy -- thus, his deep fear of being buried alive. In his madness and swirling thoughts he said in his ramblings:
"We know that there are diseases in which occur total cessations of all the apparent functions of vitality, and yet in which these cessations are merely suspensions, properly so called... But where, meantime, was the soul?"
In Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol, poor old Scrooge blamed his nightmare on "an undigested bit of beef" or other possible foods he had eaten.
Witch trials ~
The Salem Witch Trials are notorious for cases of panic and hysteria. So many people either died in prison of were executed simply because someone accused them of being a witch. Before being sentenced, these accused persons were subjected to humiliating tests and examinations, some done right in the court room with the public observing.
Other than a personal jealousy or hateful spite, many of the accusations came from a person suffering horrible nightmares and paralysis. Medical theories of today suggest that the sufferers could have experienced anxiety due to the fear of Indian attacks, eating rye bread that contained Claiceps purpurea (a fungus which is a source of LSD), a sleeping sickness transmitted by the tsetse fly which can cause neurogenic motor immobility), or sleep paralysis.
Understanding Sleep Paralysis ~
Sleep paralysis is an almost unbelievable phenomenon which can be caused by several things. It is important to understand what sleep paralysis is and what the symptons and causes are. One of the possible causes for sleep paralysis is narcolepsy, which is also a phenomenon. Studies as recently as 2014 still provide no conclusive causes of narcolepsy. There are, however, many theories.
Samuel Johnson (1709 - 1784), an English writer and lexicographer, in his A Dictionary of the English Language gave the term 'nightmare' to the as yet unexplained condition of what we now know as sleep paralysis.
In 1881, the Household Cyclopedia provided advice on some causes of nightmares, including:
"Great attention is to be paid to regularity and choice of diet. Intemperance of every kind is hurtful, but nothing is more productive of this disease than drinking bad wine."
Other causes may be the disorder of catalepsy, or even a bad case of anxiety. This article will not go further into the medical terms and causes. If you or anyone you know has experienced sleep paralysis, a link that may help you know what to discuss with your doctor can be found by reading the Narcolepsy - Symptom Recognition Guide.
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Note from author ~
Disclaimer: The information provided in this article is not a substitute for professional medical advice. Please consult your physician or healthcare provider before making any decisions on what you may be experiencing.
I am far too familiar with the case of the woman I wrote about in the beginning of this article, for it is myself who suffered sleep paralysis. I am very fortunate to have overcome it with the help of my doctor, a psychologist, and medication. The experience happened many years ago and I have had no further problems with it. Please do not use my experience as a self diagnosis, for we are each different and have different lifestyles and issues. Please consult with your medical doctor if you have any concerns.
German Folklorist Franz Felix Adalbert Kuhn records a Westphalian charm or prayer used to ward off mares, from Wilhelmsburg near Paderborn:
Hier leg' ich mich schlafen,
Keine Nachtmahr soll mich plagen,
Bis sie schwemmen alle Wasser,
Die auf Erden fließen,
Und tellet alle Sterne,
Die am Firmament erscheinen!
Dazu helfe mir Gott Vater, Sohn und heiliger Geist. Amen!
Here I am lying down to sleep;
No night-mare shall plague me
until they have swum through all the waters
that flow upon the earth,
and counted all stars
that appear in the skies.
Thus help me God Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. Amen!