The first sign is a feeling of falling. Just the beginning of a fall; tilting backward too far in your chair or cresting a hill of a roller coaster. It jerks me out of the soft lull of the first stages of slumber. I open my eyes and know it's decision time. I could abort now, or set my jaw and see where the insanity goes. I choose the latter, take a series of deep breaths, and close my eyes again.
Depending on what study you look over, somewhere between 5% and 65% of people have experienced sleep paralysis. Gee, thanks science for those incredibly specific statistics. For those who don't know, sleep paralysis is:
"a phenomenon in which an individual, either during falling asleep or awakening, briefly experiences an inability to move, speak, or react. This is a transitional state between wakefulness and sleep, characterized by an inability to move muscles. It is often accompanied by terrifying hallucinations to which one is unable to react due to paralysis..." – Wikipedia
This is not so much an educational blog entry but meant to be more of a peek into what I deal with about once every seven nights. "But Nathan," you probably aren't interjecting because statistically, almost no one reads this blog, "What does this have to do with writing?"
Well, it's affected my writing quite significantly. A lot of what I've dealt with during my grief comes out during my dreams and nightmares. It's affected the nonfiction to a degree, and any proposed fiction I'd like to write to a much stronger degree. Also, it's been forever since I've written an update and I don't have a lot to announce on the publication process. So get off my back, man!
Right, back to the story.
The trick is to relax into the feeling of falling and accept it. This task is easier said than done because your brain really doesn't want to snooze off as you plummet into the depths of hell. I wake up over and over again, but so long as I don't have someone reposition me, I can go right back and try again. If I really focus and paradoxically relax, I can get past the first few seconds of that feeling of falling. Once through the "tipping point" things accelerate. Literally, the feeling of falling intensifies until I feel like I'm moving at supersonic speed. If I can get that far without waking and gasping for air, then it means I will hit "Stage II".
Stage II may or may not involve horrific visions of demonic creatures who I am powerless to fight. At this point, you're probably calling me an idiot, and you're not really wrong. Why do this to myself? What's the point of enduring inescapable hallucinations that are almost definitely the cause of belief in witches, vampires, aliens, and whatever other bogeyman you want to name.
As someone who has terrible dreams completely aside from sleep paralysis, the idea of lucid dreaming is tantalizing. To be able to have agency in sleep that I can't have in waking life, to be able to not only push away the nightmares but seek that which is lost to me…
Sleep paralysis has often been called the doorway to lucid dreaming, a kind of Holy Grail to those that seek to control the dreamworld. In the immortal words of Liz lemon:
Anyway, relaxing into The Fall. Imagine rocketing through blackness, unable to see or hear the monolithic dreamscape rushing past you, but being able to sense it with every fiber of your being. Invisible tachyons and dark matter screaming past in the thick, velvety void. It's at this point that I began to lose the sense that I'm either awake or asleep. I begin to lose myself. I lose the thread that leads me out of this mental maze and reminds me of my mission statement; why I am undertaking this madness in the first place.
A rough, gravelly voice whispers something at the foot of my bed. I am no longer hurtling through the void of inner space, but now back to my bedroom. I am in my room, but I am not alone. I can see the figure hunched over the foot of my bed. I can see through the blanket over my head. Gravity is fading and intensifying as if someone is twisting a dimmer switch that controls gravity waves. My arms float up into my field of vision despite the fact that I know that I can't move them under normal circumstances, under normal Earth gravity.
I am barely able to process the wonder of this before the shadow man crawls up onto the foot of my bed. Somewhere within me, some part of me realizes that this isn't real – but that part of me is locked behind iron walls of terror. Every aspect of this man's slow journey up to crouch above me is perfectly simulated: the way he displaces the blanket, his weight on the mattress, the feeling of his breath on my neck.
I try to scream, but I know it's useless before my mouth even moves. He cradles my head, and buries his mouth against my neck, mumbling something profane and mocking. Eldritch and primordial. This goes on for some time, and I endure because there is no choice. No bravery involved, just helpless captivity.
And yet, somewhere in the submission, there is a spark of indignation. The voice of reason that is locked away behind primal fear makes one last plea: it reminds me of the thing that I want most, and I am free.
I'm in freefall, away from the horror and shooting up towards the stars. One of those pinpricks of light beckons to me, and I twist up and through the polluted city skies. I leave behind my wretched, broken body. I leave behind the worries of my day and the mundane drudgery of trying to get through. I get through. I get out, I get beyond. That star expands in my vision, filling it with a promise of something else.
The light envelops me, and I'm falling again/still. I splashdown in cold, crystal-clear water. A spring meadow is beyond the icy flood all around me. There are others already making their way upstream. I take a minute to ponder the clear, vivid spectacle of my pale hands weaving back and forth in that water. The tattoo on my forearm is distorted by the rippling water, but perfectly visible.
Raising my eyes, I see the reason for all of this. One out of every fifty attempts will find this place or a place like it. The destination is not the goal, however. Two points of cornflower blue hope look back at me over her shoulder. Like the meadow beyond, her green tresses blow in the wind.
I see her, and I can see forever and beyond. I fall again.