Sleeping Wide Awake


About ten years ago, I woke and was unable to move.

I knew immediately I was caught in an episode of sleep paralysis. There was no sense of what time it was, the way there is usually when you wake unexpectedly. The room should’ve been dark, but it wasn’t; it was dim, but had a sepia tint.

I felt something to my right – a concentration of unrivalled malevolence that I knew was watching me.

Every panic attack I’d ever had, the fear of recovery after the car had hit me, the dread of awaiting test results when they’d initially thought my digestive issues were going to be much more dire, collectively did not compare with the terror I felt now.

I wanted to turn, wanted to see what it was, but I knew if I did see it I would be so incapable of processing what it was, so unable to digest its horror, that it would drive me insane.

Closing my eyes, I tried to will this out of my bedroom, and somewhere in that desperation, I fell back into sleep.

(Perhaps there was more to it than that, but that’s all I recall.)

When I awoke, whatever I’d felt during the episode now seemed unreal. But that happens: daylight always makes the scary things in the night small and dismissible, and now that I was gaining distance from it, I was able to depreciate what happened.

But that next night, I awoke to find I was on my left side, a hand in the middle of my back trying to push me out of the bed. I couldn’t move, and my breathing was locked into my chest. Whatever I’d encountered was back; I could feel how evil it was. There’s no other word to embody it, and yet that word’s woefully inadequate.

My whole body arched against the hand, trying to maintain my purchase in bed as I cried out in my mind to God, Jesus, and anybody who might help me.

I just knew that if I ended up out of the bed, I was done – something would irreparably break, and I was already so fractured.

My plea worked, because although I didn’t feel the hand release me, I did find escape in sleep and, when I awoke in the morning, again it was all so surreal.

Real? Nightmare?

Sleep paralysis has that duality about what’s happening: either the mind is still asleep enough to project dream imagery into semi-consciousness (and by virtue of that feel real), or it is something supernatural and which we’re only capable of perceiving in that state.

That was it for sleep paralysis for a while, but these experiences did make me think about something that happened when I was about 8 – for four days, I refused to go into the bedroom I shared with my brother. Something terrified me – something I couldn’t articulate. My mum asked me what it was and I tried to tell her, but couldn’t find the words. I slept with her in her bed while my dad slept in my bed, and then it was done. Everything felt normal again, and I returned to my bedroom.

Well, normal for me.

People think of reality as strictly defined, but we only really know what we know, and as for the rest?

Who knows what lurks beneath the veneer of our understanding?