I woke up one morning, grabbed my phone and typed out the words “sleep paralysis” on the Google search bar. I had been having nightmares that feel like a real life struggle with some grotesque demon. These dreams are usually intensely vivid and terrifying. I have been looking for an explanation for these rather frightening dreams because I refuse to believe or settle for the only explanation I have 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.
I recounted these dreams to my friends at work who have expressed shock and advised me to pray before I go to sleep. 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 are seen as attacks from the evil ones. It’s common for you to hear someone say, “This hypertension was sent to him from the village” and the only way we (especially Christians) think we can fight against black magic or any evil force is by praying against them. I just hate to imagine or even believe there are evil forces that can attack us or are sent by other people to do so. Although, I can’t say that I hundred percent do not believe in the existence of evil spirits or demons alike; I just choose to not acknowledge them and I never use the fact that they may exist to explain away anything that seems mysterious or strange. But when I experienced what I later came to know as sleep paralysis, I started having second thoughts and considering the fact that maybe some evil forces were out to get me. I mean, I wasn’t just having bad dreams. These kind of dreams felt too real and left me feeling like I was going to die. I had no other explanation for this.
I am a Christian and my religion teaches me to believe in God who can protect me from any evil force, and as a matter of fact, I have earned this privilege by virtue of Baptism. It’s ironic I think that I need saving from something I have consciously chosen to believe doesn’t exist. I took the advice of friends who said to pray before I go to sleep. There were nights when I wore a rosary around my neck or on my wrist to bed because I was genuinely terrified of experiencing these “dreams” again. I did this mostly on the nights when I still feel shaken or scared from the episode I had the previous night. And to be honest, I have slept well on those nights when I prayed. Over time, I get comfortable and forget to pray or wear my rosary, and then boom! I have another dream episode which is arguably the scariest experience of my life. I find myself suddenly struggling to even wriggle my fingers, speak, breath or do all three while a strangle looking animal is sitting on my chest. I have had to fight off a really misshapen looking baby; on that occasion, I literally threw my Bible across the room in an attempt scare the monster away. Sometimes I just struggle to move, but I can swear there’s something beside my bed. And I just lie there on my bed feeling paralyzed and helpless till everything passes. When the whole thing ends, I wake up, breathing heavily and feeling like my heart is going to jump out of my chest. The fact that these dreams happen just around the time when I start to doze off makes it scarier. I usually thought nightmares or any kind of dream occurs when you are in some deep REM sleep.
During my Google search for the meaning of sleep paralysis I remember looking at one of the pictures in the pictures tab – some weird-looking animal hovering over a girl who looked terrified and like she was struggling to wake up. I knew that feeling intimately, and that animated image was uncanny. When the different links for my search showed up, I clicked on the Wikipedia result, and there it was, a spot on explanation for what I had 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. I was relieved because I no longer had to worry about or believe there were some evil forces chasing after me. Even though the cause for sleep paralysis wasn’t given on the website (all they had was a hypothesis), I found relief in the fact that it’s a “thing”, and I was not the only one experiencing it. And more importantly, it had nothing to do with black magic; it’s psychological. Just the simple fact that I was not alone in this calmed me. I told my friends about what I had found out and how my experiences have nothing do with any “evil forces” and that all this time, I was experiencing something called sleep paralysis. I got a look that said, “My friend! Stop deceiving yourself and pray your way out of this”.
The weird thing is, ever since I wrote this particular piece about my experience, I haven’t had another episode. Well, what do you know.