Sunday, May 13, 2012

Sleep Paralysis

                I have had sleep paralysis since I was very young, perhaps as early as age 6. Some nighttime memories of my younger years eclipse those of conventional nightmares, which indicates something more severe. Sleep paralysis is much more intense and traumatic than anything that occurs during dreaming. Normally I feel a powerful wind or compressive force against my face, or the presence of something menacing. However, my latest sleep paralysis episode was unlike any of my former experiences.
                I went to bed at 10:41 p.m. on April 21st, 2012, which is not my normal bedtime. I was exhausted after many continuous days of work and after having attended my brother’s wedding. I awoke around 4:30 a.m. on April 22nd and carried on with my normal activities, despite the fact the time was abnormal. At 8:25 a.m. I fell asleep again, on the couch. I had plantar fasciitis in my left foot, so I was wearing a night splint.
                I had a dream that took place in a world resembling the textures and visuals of the video game Blast Corps (© 1997, Rare). I was not actually in the game, but the real world had been altered to look like the game, with the same textures. The water and concrete was what gave it away. I was driving on a one-lane entrance ramp to a highway, with 1 meter high barriers on either side made of perfectly smooth concrete. Thin black lines ran at regular intervals along the wall, orthogonal to the road, which were flaws that indicated the repetition of the textures. The same flaws were visible on the road. To my right, I could see a perfectly flat and rectangular pool of dark blue water. The water was immobile and made of repeating textures, just like the concrete. Very thin lines of no color showed the delineation between the textures. The sky was pure azure, unending and unfading. No other structures were visible in the distance, and if there was a horizon, it was very far away. Or it was very close.
                The artificial world of Blast Corps suddenly filled in all the infinitesimal gaps between the textures and became visually continuous. The real world, oddly enough, is more like the discontinuous, texture-laden, video game worlds. If one were to view the smoothest known object in the macroscopic* world with high magnification, it would be full of gaps, holes, and caverns. An underlying repeating texture of atoms would soon become apparent. I soon found myself driving on an elevated city highway, with buildings on either side, other cars on the road, and a dark, very dark sky. A tornado appeared next to the highway and it took my vehicle into its vortex, madly grinding it against the other cars, as if it were a giant pepper grinder. I quickly felt my death. I woke up from the dream and I felt the weird electric vibrations that precede every attack of sleep paralysis.
                I was fully awake at this point, yet unable to move. My eyes were closed. I have never, ever, dared to open my eyes during these attacks. A low, quiet growling noise came from the direction of my feet. I desperately tried to move my body, but I couldn’t. The growling noise repeated, but more loudly and persisted longer; I couldn’t breathe. I cried, thinking this was it – I was going to die. I felt my arms on my chest; they began to move. It was over. I got up and felt my face – it was dry. The time was 9:14 a.m. The dream and the paralysis happened in a time span of about 45 minutes.
                I have never heard noises before during sleep paralysis. The noise was definitely coming from inside the room. The constrictive sensation on my left foot due to the night splint may explain why I heard the noise coming from my feet. I had a similar experience when I was in the hospital after lung surgery. In order to prevent embolism, the nurses put python-like devices on my lower legs that cycled through squeezing and relaxing. I had a dream that someone was attacking my legs and I tore off the anti-embolism pads during my sleep. So it is entirely possible that therapeutic, though constrictive, devices can cause the body to become defensive during sleep. A possible explanation for sleep paralysis is that it could be acute schizophrenia. All of the symptoms of sleep paralysis disappear upon recovery of body movements. Take note that the symptoms do not disappear during consciousness; one is fully awake during sleep paralysis. If one were awake and not paralyzed and still suffered all the symptoms of sleep paralysis, then that would be chronic schizophrenia, or simply schizophrenia. My argument is that the hallucinations, false tactile and auditory sensations, are acute schizophrenia. This is what sleep paralysis might be.
                How did I feel about having heard the growling noise? I was immediately traumatized. After I was able to move my body, I turned on the lights and searched for a “something”, an unknown thing that was growling. I was kind of shocked that I didn’t find some new type of mammal; that’s how realistic the growling was. After a thorough search of my condo, I got into my regular bed and slept until 12:30 p.m. No further episode of sleep paralysis occurred. What else was different about this episode? It was immediately preceded by a dream. This is unusual. Sleep paralysis occurs while going to sleep, so I barely managed to wake up from the dream, started to fall back asleep, and became paralyzed. What was usual about this episode is that it happened in the morning. Sleep paralysis almost always occurs (for myself) in the morning, after I have slept for a while, and while I am trying to finish my sleep. Another oddity was the fact that my face was dry when I broke free of the paralysis. I clearly felt myself crying. This means that my mind hallucinated the bodily function of lacrimation.
                I have just described a single episode of sleep paralysis, but I have had multiple attacks before. A multiple attack is when one manages to recover from the paralysis and becomes paralyzed again. In all of those cases, I felt the powerful wind on my face. It’s also very loud. All episodes of sleep paralysis are preceded by the fuzzy electric feeling, where the body slightly quivers. It is not like the tingling of a limb falling asleep; it is a buzzing in the body. It’s very subtle and doesn’t hurt. A similar feeling I have felt was during the insertion of the chest tube after my lung had collapsed, at the point when the nurse administered morphine. I felt morphine flow throughout my whole body. The only real difference here is that morphine provides a fuzzy, pleasant feeling while the fuzziness before sleep paralysis is not warm.
                The earliest case I can remember of sleep paralysis happened at age 6 or 7. I had a plastic yellow raincoat hanging in my closet and I remember seeing my closet door opening and closing, but the raincoat was not yellow – it was purple. This may explain why I no longer open my eyes during sleep paralysis. Some people do open their eyes. I can remember my old girlfriend, Donna, claiming that she saw a small boy staring at her when she opened her eyes during sleep paralysis. Another early episode of sleep paralysis I can remember happened at age 9 or 10. I was sleeping in my grandparent’s house and I had a dream that the toys in the basement were floating and remaining stationary in the air at strange angles. I somehow became paralyzed after the dream with my eyes open – I couldn’t close them, I couldn’t move my body. But I didn’t hallucinate, either. I was so disturbed that I woke up my grandma and we went to the basement. I didn’t know what had happened. Not being able to move had confused me considerably, so I felt I had to check the basement, to make sure the toys weren’t floating. I had reasonably connected the dream with the sleep paralysis, but they are separate events, which I did not know at the time. That specific episode is the only one I can recall that happened in the middle of the night.
                Sleep paralysis might be caused by stress. I do have unusual stresses and normal stresses. My unusual stresses are mainly derived from paruresis. My normal stresses are derived from work (such as workplace politics), trying to understand women, noisy neighbors and trying to figure out what I should do with my life (other than staying alive). The ultimate solution to stress reduction is diet and exercise. There is no such thing as stress elimination. Here is a relevant quote by Frederik Pohl:

                “You solve one problem and another one comes up and starts biting you on the ass before you have a chance to catch your breath. Welcome to the real world, where the only final solutions come when you die.”

                *I used the word “macroscopic” to refer to the world because we cannot see the microscopic or subatomic worlds without technological aids. Although they are very real and do affect us, the small worlds are not real to everyday people going about their lives. Most people are ignorant of them and ignore them with aggressive persistence. I believe that many people believe only the macroscopic world exists, so I could very well have not specified “macroscopic” when referring to the “world”.