First of all, the majority of my experiences with SP, over 90%, and certainly ALL of the terrifying and prolonged episodes, happened prior to the age of nine. Therefore I want the reader to consider the impact of such an experience that can scare the most stoic adult witless or at a loss of words to describe, and imagine this happening to a small child.
I've read many times that night TERRORS typically happen to young children. As far as I know I've never experienced this. Paradoxically (or so it seemed), I've read that most sleep paralysis happens during teen and young adult years. But by that point it had stopped happening to me. It all seems backwards. I also like to think that I had an active role of preventing SP attacks, which I was keen to do at the time. However, the ONLY preventative measure I took was avoiding sleeping on my back. This is not because the literature advises to reduce the chances (I didn't know others experienced this at the time, or even what it was called - so I was TRULY on my own to deal with this.) The fact was that I experienced SP equally in prone and supine positions. My reason was practical: When I had an SP episode on my back the experience was more SCARY. Everything about it was more intense, the level of dread, helplessness and terror, fear of never being able to escape, the weight upon me or sense of being pulled into the bed, the buzzing was louder and more sinister, bodily sensations more electric and intense, and overall the ordeal lasted longer. Whereas if I was on my stomach everything seemed toned down a bit, so a walk in the park by comparison, even more peaceful, like the waves of electricity running through my body were replaced with more soothing waves of heaviness flowing over my spine, holding me down but not as crushing. It was still disturbing enough that it was a fight to struggle to break free, but I felt I could manage it more easily this way. My naïve theory was that when on your back you are more vulnerable and exposed compared to being on your back or side fetal position. I also reasoned that it was an easier task to push myself upward from the bed with my upper arm strength from a mild weight than it was to attempt to sit upright from the waist only when laying flat with an intense weight pinning me down at the chest. So, again, my reason was not one of avoiding SP, but preferring the position that seemed to consistently yield less terrifying and intense episodes that in turn I was able to escape from more easily, reducing their duration.
I've never had narcolepsy, so according to Wikipedia I didn't have recurrent isolated sleep paralysis. I kept a regular bed time (thanks to my parents) so that can't be the reason, UNLESS these episodes happened on the rare night I stayed up late for some special occasion. If that is the case, I don't remember the correlation. I NEVER took naps - I could never do them! So these were all during the night or morning. The only time the opposite was true was in my first year of college, years after my last episode, when suffering my first bout of insomnia, pulling an all-nighter as a remedy, then trying to take a nap the next day. This produced a bizarre but not terrifying episode where instead of paralysis I felt strange and was able to SIT UP from out of my body, while attempting to investigate the incoherent mumbling and bloodshot darting eye movement of my roommate. (This was preceded by sensing the room getting dark by him turning out the light at his desk where he had been studying, and sensing the tell-tale sound/sensation of a weight coming to rest on the bed, in case his own next to mine, assuming he was going to take a nap also.) Anyway, there I was sitting up and feeling totally bizarre as if in another dimension, the closest I've come to an OBE, but feeling weak at resisting this invisible force seeming to pull at my upper body to drag me back down to the bed and my actual body. No being scared, I gave in and "woke up" the moment I fell back to my "body." In addition to this being my only nap-induced SP/lucid episode, it was also my only hypnagogic one, occurring as I tried to fall asleep (in fact thinking I was still awake, giving the experience its eerie reality). All other experiences were hypnopompic: I'd experience them upon waking up - or rather attempting to - from SP at the end of some dream which seemed to trigger it. In other words, because my experiences were hypnopompic, this seems to confirm that I was not narcoleptic.
Because of the nature of my SP episodes - following some dream - I became convinced that fighting this problem could occur if I caught it soon enough. I already knew it was already nearly-impossible to escape it once it had started and I was fully in its clutches. It seemed no matter what I was forced to endure a period of hopeless struggling during which the level of fear and hallucinations where their worse. But I was working on strategies: attempting to call for help, which - because I was suffocating was also nearly impossible, and when I felt I was giving 200% energy into the loudest call of "MOOOOMYYYYYY!" I could muster, at best it sounded like a feeble murmer of a plea as if barely heard miles away on some distant mountain. I never did the finger or toe wiggling, but would focus my energy on moving one arm or leg, or even use my first to hit myself in the head! (this worked once!). This was the "more concentrated struggling to break free" approach.
But like I said, I liked to imagine that I could AVOID it completely, if only I could recognize the symptoms soon enough and react. So many times was I angry at myself in letting it sneak up on me and my lazy delayed reaction is what got me stuck when seconds seemed to count. In my experience each SP episode followed from a nightmare or some dream that had started to get disturbing and foreboding and my desire was to end the experience as soon as possible. I'm imagining NOW that this thought was the lucid event that triggered my awareness of my REM atonia/paralysis, which in turn precipitated and exacerbated the hallucinations and terror that followed. But at the time it SEEMED like a window of a couple seconds where I could IN THEORY wake up first. This was because the sense of heaviness, utter dread, being pulled into the mattress seemed to creep up on me, starting mild and intensifying. This is also when I'd hear the buzzing begin, which started with a low volume, or distant. So I figured if only I could snap out of it THEN before I became what would feel even more hopelessly trapped/stuck, then I'd be safe. But I never could. I realize now that, since I was paralyzed prior to this moment, I was only just becoming AWARE of it. Therefore struggling to move would have failed then as well. As I understand it, it was my initial panic and attempt to move that propelled me deeper and more intensely into the condition, so in a sense it was unavoidable. The epic struggle had to take place during the worst of it, when I was the weakest, most terrified and felt closest to death (suffocation, being crushed).
I eventually grew out of experiencing SP, and it seemed to happen in two ways. The first was the experiences - through no fault of my own - grew less intense and frightening. I'd laugh when I awoke (after shaking off the initial few seconds of subsiding vibrations and dread) when I realized that the dream was actually funny or at least not scary, that it was only the condition and fear I was afraid of, not the preceding dream or nightmare that seemed to trigger it. In one seminal dream I experienced the - as I recently read it described but never heard before - feeling of being "shrink-wrapped" and a buzzing body vibration when I accidentally bumped into a stranger in my dream. After a couple seconds it subsided and I remained asleep, unafraid. Then I would bump into people on purpose, experiencing the same sensation, but instead it because more euphoric and at least safely interesting. Several bump/vibrations later I awoke, feeling I had finally conquered this demon of SP, experiencing a true lucid dream in which terror and paralysis (or at least the panic-induced need to break free from it). And indeed this dream ended any further frightening dreams and nightmares. Only a few more VERY rare dreams happened that were NOT scary, mild and brief, where some sense of heaviness, or feeling something resting on the bed, the sound of the air changing but not becoming quite a buzz, and I was able to snap awake immediately after noticing a slight paralysis or resistance to something I tried to say.
All nightmares ended, too. Since, in my case, the nightmare was the trigger to my SP, it wasn't the transition from nightmare to SP I had to attempt to exploit for escape, it was avoiding the nightmare ITSELF. Thus, I soon began to notice that ANY time a dream got disturbing, or I sensed that it might, I found I would proactively (and instinctively) snap awake, somehow bypassing any sensation of paralysis. I'm not sure HOW I did this. It seemed involuntary. And since my SP had primarily happened after a nightmare, now I had neither nightmares nor sleep paralysis. Only potential nightmares nipped immediately in the bud.
Sorry if this is such a lengthy post. I originally wanted to list the idiosyncratic aspect of my personal SP experiences and ask the audience for explanations of how it occurred in my case, especially when the events and conditions ran contrary to what the literature says often precipitates episodes, or makes them more likely.
A final thought on the subject of isolated versus recurrent isolated SP (the use of "isolated" in both cases seems confusingly redundant, as if there is exists a "non-isolated" version of the condition they don't mention): I can't imagine this condition lasting for HOURS, since mine would be between seconds and minutes. So that is further proof that my experience was isolated, not recurring isolated. The ONLY thing that was NOT true is the statement that only RISP results in back-to-back (consecutive) SP episodes. If I only had ISP, then that doesn't explain the one (and ONLY one!) time I had two attacks in a row. I made sure never to let that happen again, but suffice to say that this was one of the most terrifying and lengthy intense SP episodes I had, and that upon successfully awakening, simply closing my eyes too soon immediately triggered another episode, and I felt myself being "pulled" completely helplessly into another buzzing, paralyzed, terrifying condition where I had to struggle with all my energy for some appallingly long duration before escaping a second time... whereupon my reaction was top LEAP out of bed, turn the lights on, pace around and slap my face, splash water on it, make sure I was TOTALLY awake this time since it seemed I was so easily ensnared twice like that. And I trembled with dread at the prospect of falling asleep again and succumbing to it.
(On reflection, now that I've written it, I suppose the second attack would represent an actual second hypnoGOGIC episode, though actually my first. What do you think? I suppose it depends on if the entire experience is considered two separate attacks or two parts of the same one.)
Other unusual differences in my experience from the "norm" involve the absence of a "presence." There'd usually be an antagonist in the plot-and-visual narrative of the preceding nightmare, but his/its presence would soon fade or be forgotten, to be replaced by the elements of the experience as what I was afraid of and trying to escape. If the threat remained, I did not sense that it was CAUSING my condition, which seemed to be happening either internally or via an invisible force. At most it was there to take advantage of me in my helplessness, my struggle originally being an attempt to escape IT, which then became a struggle to break free of the CONDITION.
And, of course, my eyes. I seem to be the exception to the rule that my eyes remained closed throughout this experience. In fact, struggling to pry open my glued shut eyelids while attempting to wake up was every part of the struggle as was trying to move, breathe, or call for help. Am/was I truly alone in this experience?
Years later after my last (scary) SP episode, I finally found out about them in a book, and it was quite a revelation to learn that others had experienced it, that it had a name, and suggested explanations. And the fact that it also suggested that the experience could be positive rather than negative, euphoric rather than terrifying, intrigued me. Suddenly, with a mixture of nostalgia and dangerous adventurousness, I became interested in the idea of experiencing SP (or lucidity during it) to experiment with.
Alas this was not to be. It no longer happened accidentally, and my automatic waking from would-be nightmares prevented this when it actually happened (which was rarely). Now, I'd scold myself for that split-second freak-out that woke me when staying asleep is precisely what I would desire now.
I experimented with lying in bed and trying to precipitate SP, but it usually failed and left me tired the next day, since I did not sleep very much. Once in a while I could begin feeling a disoriented body feeling, with a spinning sensation, perhaps my limbs becoming heavy or numb, but never struck with terror or the will to struggle, and without that, I could not FEEL the paralysis (when I did decide to move, I found I could, thus breaking the event), so I thought I was no longer able to experience this. I might breathe more shallowly or hyperventilate, and my heart would start pounding, giving me excitement that MAYBE this was it, but eventually it would fade before it got inescapable. Initial fear and panic were required as a trigger, and I couldn't "think" myself into being scared or in danger. "Boo!" doesn't work that way. Any ideas???
* (Another annoying and distracting element is that during these moments I would feel myself becoming.... aroused.... though purely as a physiological event along with the elevated heart rate. This never happened when I was a kid - or I never noticed it - and thought it might be getting in the way. I can't explain the reason this happened except to imagine that it has something to do with the increased heart rate and adrenaline rush during those moments. Or perhaps it was because I was indeed entering a REM phase, and tumescence - erotic or otherwise - was a normal state of being in REM. There is also the experience of a couple nocturnal emissions during my teens where a similar increase of heart rate and strange body sensations, including a mild heaviness and something like being "shrink wrapped" (though in warm soft cotton rather than plastic), prior to the moments culminating in the physiological event that gives this particular male teenage experience. My mind also considered the supposed historical (mythical) connections between the seemingly dual roles the incubus and succubus played in both SP and wet dreams, crushing the dreamer in the former instance and "raping?" them in the latter.)
Since, after reading MANY testimonials on how to avoid or induce SP, from this and other sites, I decided to have another go. I wasn't sure how to proceed, because I was given the following contradictory advice:
1. Go to sleep early, set an alarm and wake up 4 hours later, then after doing some activity for 30 minutes, return to sleep.
2. Sleep deprive yourself, then take a nap the following day.
Since I know I had one nap-induced SP incident before, I am tempted to do this, but it would seem more disruptive to my life as it might affect work and be dangerous if I am walking around and driving like a zombie. I might have to plan my "all nighter" strategically with a day off or something.
But the waking up and resuming sleep approach last night didn't work either, and I tried it both when first getting into bed and later after I woke up. The last portion of the night found me recalling dreams not out of the ordinary, since I apparently slipped unknowingly into REM and paralysis.
So, does this simply come with practice? I am drowsy today, so even this can be a taxing experiment that can affect other things. I can't imagine trying this a week straight, for a mix of exhaustion and frustration will soon lead me to abandon it as before. Not to mention risk inducing a period of insomnia!
I wonder why, as someone who experienced this before without trying, is so difficult to do now? Why does it neither happen when I want OR by surprise. What is it about my brain chemistry that "fixed" itself from when I was a kid, despite there being much more stress in my life today, less sleep, and plenty of caffeine? Where and what are the symptoms of this, if not nightmares or SP?
I continue to secretly fear the dread and helplessness of SP from my childhood. Contemplating this for even a moment when asleep is enough to prompt a "get-out-of-dodge" reaction where I jolt myself awake by pure (instinctive/involuntary) sheer mental will. How do I deactivate that? Or train myself NOT to fear? But without the fear there is no need to try to escape, sense paralysis and create a feedback loop to intensify the condition. Seems like a catch-22. The fear - it is strange. The best way to describe it is that I seem to imagine myself about to fall inevitably into some abyss, like a black hole, never to return. What awaits my fate is eternal panic and terror and an inability to escape. It is as if I am on the edge of this abyss and my "soul' personified - but separate - is about to plunge or be swallowed into this abyss, and that by crossing this point of know return, letting go of my hand, so to speak, I will be doomed and forever lost. That is as descriptive as I can be for this split second dread of being trapped in that state that initiates my flight response. How do I either overcome or suppress it? Or, by doing either, do I risk losing the emotional condition required to precipitate or facilitate the event?
So, to the answers to so many of my questions, I say in advance, thank you, thank you, thank you, and help! help! help!
Thanks for reading. I'll try to post more of my actual dreams separately.
I never did the finger or toe wiggling, but would focus my energy on moving one arm or leg, or even use my first to hit myself in the head!
Wiggling a finger or toe is far easier then trying to move an arm or leg due to the less area to focus on. It can be extremely hard to move an arm or leg.
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