[Image description: A humanoid figure with glowing red eyes and bared fangs in a dim light. The text reads: “I couldn’t move. My chest felt crushed.It was hard to breathe, and I could hear a loud hammering. A few feet away, a robed figure sat on my chair and slowly moved towards me. As it got closer, a menacing skull appeared. The only thing I could move were my eyeballs.”]
Image from here.
A few weeks ago I mentioned on this blog how comforted I felt after watching The Nightmare on Netflix. It was really the first time I had seen true visual representations of the form these terrors may take. Though I have not had experiences that perfectly mirrored those featured I have certainly have had similar ones. Very similar. So to hear others speak of their fear and confusion, their own theories of why this happens, it was comforting.
Like most who experience hallucinations I almost never speak about them publically because as soon as I do I am either told “I’m imagining things” (Yes I am but meaning “you’re not really seeing/hearing things you want attention”) or “how do you know that’s what it is?” (Again the “you’re not really having hallucinations you want attention” deal). Or y’know I have the perfectly understandable fear of not being seen as a rational and non-violent person because of my experiences. And why am I not locked up or treating something I don’t feel is so disruptive to my daily life I need to be treated?
Basically it’s a judgement fest. And we’re not even going into the daytime auditory and visual hallucinations I have.
Sleep Paralysis however is a rare disorder where even most of the medical community believes it can be self-diagnosed. It’s like any other nightmare, either you have one or you don’t. It’s a disturbed sleep-state. Unfortunately like other forms of nightmares it can’t really be treated. Most sufferers only experience the paralysis with or without difficulty breathing. Very few experience the hallucinations I do as well. And even those hallucinations can only be treated if the sufferer has an outlying psychiatric disorder. And even then the drugs may or may not treat the disrupted sleep-cycle.
The Nightmare is a rare practice in letting sufferers talk about their experiences in a non-judgmental atmosphere. They simply present their stories and talk about how they feel in regards to them. There is no outside neurotypical perspective on how “oh listen to those crazies talking!” It is up to the viewer to decide how they interpret the phenomenon, totally dependent on how the sufferer interprets, explains, and conceptualizes their own experiences. One man does believe the experiences are supernatural somehow, one person decides to change her religion. Not all those interviewed assigned supernatural tones to their experiences however.
As a sufferer myself I don’t think I am entering an alternate .nor that this is some form of spiritual contact. Nevertheless that is because my experiences have not led me to think this. The entities I have experienced have not ever spoken to me, nor (save for the recent shadow men) have they ever taken on forms of mythological beings. I am also more prone to auditory and bodily hallucinations than precise, separate beings in my experiences.
People are allowed to have alternate interpretations of similar experiences. Their personality and experience will play into how they conceptualize their Sleep Paralysis. You, who has never experienced a psychotic hallucination don’t get to smugly judge those who may be entering an entirely different landscape of reality every night.
That is neurotypical privilege.So fuck reviews like this one. Ones that demand we have a neurotypical perspective with passive-aggressive suggestions of:
“…and here the absence of medical experts seems evasive. Pesky neuroscientific theories could only dampen the atmosphere of terror…”
These are the real experiences of real people. Why do they need scientific backing to be seen as valid? At no point are we asked to take the interpretations verbatim. They are simply the stories of those who suffer the condition. I am terrified through my experiences even knowing they are not real. Why do we need an expert to shed light on the fact these are outpouring of a disturbed sleep-cycle? How does that make it less scary? Has this reviewer assumed none of the sufferers think their experiences are not real? That because they have hallucinations they cannot be rational at all? That the audience really needs an expert to come and assure them that their reality is the one true reality?
I guess the most terrifying thing to most neurotypical people is that there may not be one reality. My hallucinations are not real to me. Other people however can have hallucinations that are realto them.
This is why I avoid the topic in public. Because as soon as I do I am told to shut-up because I am not a medical expert of my own condition that I am experiencing first hand. Even an expert is experiencing these phenomena filtered through a patient. Why am I not even allowed to speak about my experiences without having a PHD in neuroscience?
WHY AM I CONSTANTLY BEING TOLD I AM NOT REALLY SEEING THINGS WHEN I KNOW I AM?! I KNOW THESE THINGS ARE HAPPENING TO ME.
AS MUCH AS SOCIETY WANTS TO GASLIGHT ME
.I KNOW THEY AREN’T REAL BUT THEY ARE STILL HAPPENING.
Nevertheless this is how the privileged determine reality. I have some similarity in a review ofBelle by an old white man decrying that the racism was dealt with a “soft hand”. Yet the movie includes a scene where the titular character is crying into a mirror over her dark skin. I have seen many women of color saying the scene is something they have experienced themselves. There is a great documentary about the phenomena called “Dark Girls”.
If your experience is not a cookie-cutter outline of how the majority interprets your condition you are silenced even as you are on the front line of your experience. You are not the first judge in media about your condition the majority still is. And I you push back and say “no your interpretation is flawed and this is how I, a person with this condition experiences it” you are usually attacked or otherwise ignored or silenced.
You don’t have to think The Nightmare is the end-all, be-all of documenting the experiences of those with Sleep Paralysis hallucinations. I don’t, I just thought it was a nice clearing of space by allowing sufferers to talk about their experiences. Ideally there would be more documentaries trying to encapsulate what it feels like to have psychotic hallucinations for whatever reason and giving space to those that have them to talk about them with needing an interjection of neurotypical reassurance that these people are “crazy” and not to be listened to.
I remember how good it felt to see those experiences, so like my own, on screen, without the background noise of “you’re nuts!” playing. In the same vein I am going to conclude my piece with telling some of my own Sleep Paralysis experiences. The ones I remember best. In case there is someone out there who is experiencing these things and aren’t quite sure if they’re real.
They’re real to you, as real as you think they are.
#1: Most recent experience, a few weeks prior to writing this. Two separate experience I think in the same night. During the first I am laying on my back, head turned to my right side which faces the bathroom. There is a bright light in the bathroom. I cannot move but somehow my conscience is trying to travel across the room to the light. I pull whatever it is, my soul, conscious, whatever is escaping my body to ravel to that light, back, again and again. I am terrified of something and I don’t understand why. My body is trying to chase after myself but it can’t move. I fall back asleep when I reach that light.
I wake up on my right side, facing the bathroom and away from my husband. I look down on the ground. Two shadow people are swimming through the floor rather like dolphins or fish. They are solid black but somehow differentiated from the dark floor. They have torsos and bald heads, their waists and limbs are sunk into the dark floor. They appear male somehow. One looks up at me. He has no face, only an impression where a mouth may be. I try to turn over but I am paralyzed. I try to scream out to my husband but I can’t open my mouth, not even move my throat muscles. I raise my eyes to the bathroom so I don’t have to look at the shadow man and it is filled with bright light again
. I try and try to roll over.Somehow I am on my left side, without rolling over. I am facing the wall over my husband. The sound of popping and cracking fireworks plays as rainbow explosions cover the wall. There are the shadows of hands clapping as the explosions light up and they add to the noise. Clapping and popping.I wake up with a jerk from laying on my back and sit up.
#2: My most prolonged and detailed experience. From about a year ago. I wake with the bed shaking. I am laying on my back. As I was raised in Southern California my immediate thought is “earthquake!” I cannot move however, or scream. I am paralyzed. The bed shakes so violently it feels like the bed posts must be lifting off the ground. When is it going to end? God when well it end?! As the bed shakes there is a cracking of fireworks all around. A whirlwind of multi-color explosions all around the bed as it continues to buck. Then there is a thunderous tolling of bells from the right corner of the room at level with my head.
I wake up sitting up from laying on my back. No one felt an earthquake that night and there are no reports of it.
. #3: More than a year ago. Sudden screaming from all around the bed as I start to fall asleep. I sit up with a jerk. I even investigate the house to make sure my mother or sister isn’t being violently murdered. Logged off as a hallucination when I see the house is still.
#4: A female voice screams my name from the right corner at level with my head as I start to doze off for a nap from around the same time. She only screams once. This is the only time a voice at any time has ever spoken directly to me.
#5. Maybe three years ago. Laying on my back in bed. Above my bed is a window. I open my eyes to something like a white cat playing with the blinds. I own many cats but I have never had a white one. It is indistinct, it raises on hind legs and has long fur. It may have horns on its head. I try to move to get away from it. I am paralyzed. It turns its head to see me and charges at my face. It is then I wake up and sit up.
#5: Around the same time. Wake up in the middle of the night to voices whispering on the otherwise of the bedroom wall that connects to the parlor. I want to investigate but I cannot get up, I cannot move my arms or legs or even my head to look at the wall it is coming from. Time becomes a terrifyingly slow crawl as I struggle to move so I can hide before whatever it is on the other side of the wall comes into the room. I am at last released and I instantly turn on the light.
Nothing comes through my open bedroom door. The house is still, everyone else was also asleep.
#6. Around the same time. Laying on my left side and unable to move. There is something behind me. I can feel it hovering at the side of my bed. It is a male presence. I feel deeply it means me harm. It means to kill me or rape me, maybe both. My back feels very exposed, as if he can see the naked flesh of it, the hills of my vertebrae pushing through my skin. I desperately want to be able to look behind me, and I try and try to move, to scream. The worst part is not even being able to move my throat to scream if I cannot open my mouth. I live in fear of finally being able to feel his touch.
I at last can turn around. Nothing is there.