Sleep Paralysis: A Terrible Kind Of Magic

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My nightmare is over. At least, it should be. I am laying on my bed and I can see my own familiar walls and the tiny round window in the far corner, like a ship's porthole. As I begin to rouse I feel someone walk into the room, his presence looming over me from the doorway. I can see him from the corner of my eye; a black, shifting shape, larger than my own. Extreme, paralysing dread keeps me still and quiet as he begins to move towards me. If he comes any closer, I think to myself, I will scream. Any closer and I will scream. And yet as he comes, I find I cannot scream. There is no sound to make in the vacuum he has pulled around me. I try to move, and a current of electricity moves across my shoulders and up the nape of my neck, stunning me into submission as I choke on my own words. I feel him drop and crouch beside me the way you would when speaking to a small child. His fingers find my bare neck in the darkness, and I know he is smiling because I hear it in his voice as he whispers, "have I got your attention now?". 

I've had sleep paralysis for about four years now. The disorder can be summed up as the occurrence of vivid hallucinations alongside muscle atonia (paralysis). It's classified as a parasomnia, an unexplained phenomena resulting from an overlap of REM sleep and waking. What this means is that your body is still very much asleep, while your mind is beginning to become aware of your surroundings. One theory is that as a result of becoming aware of our own perfectly natural paralysis, survival instincts kick in, and our senses become heightened to a such a degree that we interpret normal sounds, sights and other sensory input as threatening. For example, I once saw my wardrobe turn into a giant cockroach and crawl across my ceiling. What is most unexplained about sleep paralysis is why sufferer's visions are so similar across the board; so similar in fact, that throughout various religions and periods of history, sleep paralysis was taken as proof of a spirit world, witchcraft, or demonic possession. Hallucinations usually fall into one of two categories: the intruder, and the succubus. The former revolve around a sinister presence in the room, a demonic voice, and an overwhelming sense of dread, alongside the muscle atonia. The latter most often occur when the sleeper is on their back. A male or female creature will be laying/sitting on their chest, either holding them helpless on the bed, or sucking their soul out through their mouth.

Perhaps the cruellest thing about sleep paralysis is that the presence you feel in the room with you gets increasingly threatening the more you resist or try to move. For example, I will only hear a voice once I try to scream, or feel a touch if I try to move. It is like one of those puzzling children's finger traps, weaving a tighter knot around you the more you try to pull away. Paralysis can last from anywhere between a few seconds to a few hours, but most of my attacks last between 5-10 minutes, which believe me, is long enough. There are things you can do to help prevent it; managing stress and anxiety goes a long way to managing sleep paralysis, as does avoiding alcohol, drugs, and other stimulants such as energy drinks. Sleeping on your side can also help. If you become aware that you are experiencing paralysis, it's a good idea to calm your body as much as possible, breathe deeply, and not fight it, which is easier said than done. I would also recommend keeping a dream journal of everything you experience while you are under, however much you want to forget. Some of the greatest art in the world was inspired by things people saw because of sleep paralysis, and in this way, we can make it serve some purpose. 

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