It was way back in June of last year when my girlfriend, Doctor Belloq, finally clued me in to the fact that I have episodes of sleep paralysis.
Now, you might think I would have already known something like this – I mean, I was the one who was having these episodes, after all – but in that case, you’d be wrong. The truth is I did not know, or I didn’t consciously know, anyhow. This was because so long as I went on knocking myself out at bedtime every night with what can only be called heroic amounts of wine and Benadryl, the sleep paralysis did not happen.
Or maybe it did happen and I simply did not remember it.
I am still a little unclear on that point.
After Doctor Belloq taught me that I have these episodes, I went and I did a little research on it, since I had honestly never even heard of such a thing as sleep paralysis before. I did a lot of research, actually.
It turns out that sleep paralysis is a real thing. You can run a Google search on it and everything, and if you do, you will come up with mountains of strange and stranger material. The pictures alone would be enough to drive a good woman to consume heroic amounts of wine and Benadryl.
This is what I learned. I can give you the basics.
Every night, while you are asleep, you have dreams. It is not just you who has dreams; I have dreams, too. So does your Uncle Charlie, and the Vietnamese guy who cuts your hair, and even that ginger kid from down the street who always yanks leaves off the tree in your front yard when he walks by.
Everybody dreams, although not everybody remembers it later on.
While you dream, your brain paralyzes your body. Your brain has a really good reason for doing this to you. Your brain paralyzes your body so that as you are fighting that dragon during your first dream of the night, you do not thrust your dream sword through your sleeping husband lying next to you. Your brain paralyzes your body so that as you leap off that cliff into the ocean during your second dream of the night, you do not fall out of bed or jump down the stairs in this world.
Your brain is just looking out for you, man.
The problem is that – like everything else your brain does – your brain can mess up on occasion. Like maybe it forgets to paralyze your body during your dream so you wind up punching your sleeping husband in the face after all.
Don’t get mad. Your brain is doing the best that it can, I’m sure. Consider what it has to work with.
Mistakes are made, though, and at the moment, the variety of mistake with which we are concerning ourselves is the one where your brain does get around to paralyzing your body, but at the wrong time.
So consider this: You wake up. Maybe you open your eyes. You go to stre-e-e-etch- and that’s right about the time you realize that you cannot move. Hell, you can hardly even breathe, or rather, you can breathe, only it feels like you can’t because your brain has your lungs on autopilot.
Now, if you ask me, the whole autopilot breathing thing is where everything starts to go hinky. Without the autopilot breathing thing, the pictures and paintings that I’ve posted here would never get made.
You are awake. You are not breathing like you want to. Your chest feels crushed. Your lungs feel like lima beans.
You try to gasp… try struggling for deeper breaths…
…and you look for someone or something to blame.
It’s like I’ve already said: This is your brain’s fault. But brains get away with an awful lot of hinky shit that we wind up blaming on other things.
What you wind up blaming for the autopilot-breathing-crushed-chest-lima-bean-lung thing depends on who you are. Where you live. What you believe. It depends on what Mom and Dad taught you to fear.
The religious blame demons perched upon their chest, so they see demons. The secular blame aliens strapping them to the bed, so they see aliens. And the prudish see succubae mounting them for their precious seed, and people in snowy regions see an old hag, although it is not clear just why that is.
The Assyrians blamed alus and the Sumerians blamed lillus. The Greeks blamed ephilates and pnigalions, the Norse blamed maras, and Arabs blamed al-hahas, al-khanaqs, and al-gathans.**
I blame my brain but I still see Tarab. Tarab looks an awful lot like the Silence from “Doctor Who.”
I am telling you these things because you are my friends, and I want you to know where I am coming from before we go any farther.
This world is one big freak show if you take the time to look around.
Me, I am the Coma Knight, and I am just getting started.
**A lot of this information can be found in Shelley Adler’s excellent book, Sleep Paralysis: Night-mares, Nocebos, and the Mind-Body Connection (New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 2011).