By Ashni Dhaor:
I remember distinctly, it was the month of June when I was first struck by this curse. Stagnant, humid air filled the room. Tears dripping all over my face making it moist and all I could do was blink, unable to move. Feeling heavy in my chest, I opened my eyes. Unable to breathe, I gasped, only in vain. The heaviness was nothing but a dark menacing shadow, sitting on my chest. I screamed, at the top of my lungs until I realize that I couldn’t make any sound. The silver light piercing through the curtains from the mystic moon coloured the room in a greyish hue. I lay there, cold sweat forming on my temples, unable to twitch even a muscle. Death is approaching me, so I thought as my eyes get filmed with misty tears. This horror continues for an eternity, in what seems like a nightmare, only real. They call this sleep paralysis, this constant torture in partial dreams. For me, they are no more than the haunting of a demented ‘shadow being’ hovering over my chest every night. Fear envelopes me as the bodiless air on my chest seems to become heavier. I clasp my neck, a vacuum appears in my throat. My heart pounds in my ears and the dreaded horror engulfs me. No syllable can express the burning in my bosom’s core which I experience those nights when my mind decides to wake up from the sleep but my body does not. Creating hallucinations, my mind plays tricks on me, often giving a near-death experience of no oxygen left in the body.
This condition is not only horrifying but also robs me of sleep, creating exhaustion and disturbing life terribly. The person suffering from sleep paralysis wakes up from sleep, but is also dreaming at the same time. They are sometimes able to partially open their eyes upon which the mind creates hallucinations. It occurs during that period of the night when the person is the deepest in his/her sleep, also termed as Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep wherein the person tends to see dreams. Scientists have explained the feeling of pressure on the chest and other activities which take place during sleep paralysis quite nicely within the scientific models of sleep. During sleep paralysis, a person experiences an “out of sequence” REM state. In REM sleep, we dream and our minds shut off the physical control of the body; we’re supposed to be temporarily paralyzed. But we are not supposed to be conscious in REM sleep. Yet that is precisely what happens during sleep paralysis, it is a mix of brain states that are normally separate. Gradually, the person finds themselves able to move again after a few minutes.
That is when I am not able to take it longer that my soul grows stronger, hesitating no longer. The demon vanishes into thin air and I am left peering into the darkness. Breathing heavily, I marvel into what I just experienced. My soul within me, burning, not sure if this was a dream or a reality. The mystery remains as the shadow is nowhere to be seen. All that is seen is darkness and nothing more.
Despite all the scientific justifications of all that I experience, I am almost convinced that an evil being is near me. This sheer terror of the ominous presence is aggravated because not only I cannot see it, but am also defenceless. Losing life to it only sounds a bit too easy, always waking up more scared than I’ve ever been in my life. That is why it has been also dubbed as the ‘Old Hag” syndrome because of the folklore attached to it in some cultures.
Now every moment of the night, by a route obscure and lonely, I have wandered through the rooms of my abode, only to wait till the golden stream of sunlight fills my room and I can go back to sleep to the lullaby of birds chirping. This is the curse of sleep paralysis; like ghosts, the shadow rises and falls. Insomnia induced heavy head falling to sleep on the melancholic bed. Facing up to my demons, I now live a life dreaded of the night.