Imagine waking up suddenly in a fog, hearing deafening static noise, unable to move a finger.
You stretch your eyes to peer around and see your bedroom as normal, but out of the corner of your eye you see an ominous black figure towering over you.
You try to say something, but you can’t move your lips; instead only a weak little grumble comes out.
You then try to reach out to push the shadowy presence away, but you can barely even twitch any of your fingers.
You lie there longer still, sensing a crescendo in the intensity of the situation, and the worse part about it all is that you can’t do a single thing about it.
This is how I have been waking up the last four years of my life: in a dead, nearly-fully-paralyzed panic, fearing whatever stranger has made its way into my home and in complete mental crisis.
Learning to dream
Around the start of 2012, when I was still high off the rush of pursuing my new career as a software engineer, I began to experiment with lucid dreaming as a means to try to extend the bounds of my some of my creative projects (this may or may not have been entirely inspired by the 2010 film Inception).
Normally, I’d use very crude means to induce a lucid state; I first started with basic forms of self-hypnosis which mostly involved some kind of mental thought exercise that was meant to both calm the mind and to focus on achieving a lucid state during dreams. And, despite how simple these techniques were, they proved to be rather effective (I think it only took a couple of weeks of practice before I was fairly proficient at it).
At first, I’d use lucid dreams for stupid things like being able to convince myself that I could fly in basically any dream I had. But over time, I began to realize that it was becoming easier and easier to remember what happened during my dreams. And eventually, I would be able to use “dream signs” and other kinds of triggers to introduce a sense of continuity between my conscious mind and my dreaming mind. This meant I could effectively “remember” what I was working on when I was awake, only to continue my train of thought in my dreams. This was crucial to my goals for using lucid dreaming to improve my creative process.
I can recall the first thing I really “worked on” when dreaming: I was having trouble with a particularly curious substring matching problem I encountered at my job; I remember it being a very loopy problem, and, being a very visually-oriented problem-solver, I hoped to use lucid dreaming to better visualize the problem so I could understand the fundamental pieces of the puzzle. Ultimately, this endeavor proved to be both a success and a total failure: on the one hand, I came up with what I had thought to be an interesting graphical model of the problem; however, the next day when I came to implement the solution, I came to realize that my conscious understanding of what I had dreamt up just didn’t really add up to anything too great.
Despite the outcomes of these initial attempts at using lucid dreams for problem-solving, I continued to practice for the next six months or so, applying my dream-time to more software-related problems, music composition, and even for simulating social situations that normally would cause lots of anxiety (I was preparing for a bit of public speaking).
One night—this one I distinctly recall as not being a night that I was trying to induce lucid dreaming—just as I felt myself drifting off into my slumber, I started to feel a strange prickly feeling coming up from my fingertips to my neck. It kind of felt like my fingers were being directly applied to some source of static electricity. Even more odd, I noticed that I couldn’t really feel much outside of those needles across my arms. Feeling a bit concerned, I tried to stop myself from completely drifting off (much in the same way that you can sometimes stop yourself from nodding off when you notice your head bobbing). But it felt different this time. I couldn’t stop myself at all. Worse yet, though I felt my eyes getting heavier and my body slowly stopping and shrinking into my bed, I seemed to be mentally alert, albeit maybe a bit foggy. At that point, I honestly don’t remember too much until the moment I starting hearing scratching noises coming from the other side of my bedroom.
Unable to move my head in the direction of my door, I strained my eyes to see what was making the bizarre sounds. Out of the corner of my eye, I could see a greenish, dark silhouette. It was not very tall, but it looked like it might have been hunched over. It also had what appeared to be irregularly enlongated hands and what I could only assume to be long hair. As soon as I had seen this creature, it had already begun to creep up toward the left side of my bed; it was mostly motionless outside of its continued approach closer to me. At this point, I was completely petrified. What was this thing in my room? How did it get there? What the hell does it want? Why can’t I get out of bed?
After what felt like an hour of this creature lurking in the shadows of the corner of my room and ever so slowly approaching my bedside, I was awake. The creature was gone. I could finally get out of bed. The scratching sound was still there, though that turned out to only be the vertical blinds of my window scratching the sides of the sill. I had no clue what had just happened, and I refused to go back to sleep the rest of the night.
The next day, I started to really question myself about what had happened the night before. Was I dreaming? It certainly felt way more real than any dream I had ever had. And if it was a dream, how was I able to hear the blinds scratching my window? The lines between what was real and what I had thought was real quickly began to blur, and I was terrified. Being totally honest, I legitimately thought that maybe my apartment was haunted or that perhaps I was visited by an extraterrestrial, because I couldn’t find any other plausible explanation as to how something could feel so real.
After some quick Google-based research into the symptoms I was having (seeing a shadowy creature, being unable to move, and losing sleep), it became immediately obvious that all of these symptoms were common symptoms of the phenonmenon known as sleep paralysis. I was both relieved and equally horrified that this was a thing. On the one hand, I was glad to know I wasn’t batshit crazy, but on the other, I was fearful that if I experienced something like that ever again, I soon would be.
It has now been almost four years since I first experienced sleep paralysis, and since then, I’ve had dozens more. To describe some of the various hallucinations I’ve encountered during the time since:
- Greenish shadow witch (the original)
- Red mouth shadow figure
- Multiple shadow figures with some kind of mask (kind of resembling the figure in neighboorhood watch signs)
- Static “waves”
Nowadays, I generally am able to keep my eyes shut, which helps to reduce the panic attack associated with seeing the hallucinations, but it does not help to ameliorate the panic induced by being almost completely paralyzed (in fact, I generally tend to try twitching my fingers and hands in a frantic attempt to wake myself up; normally this is pretty fruitless).
My most recent SP experience was only two days ago: I woke up, paralyzed with my eyes shut, with a very loud static noise sounding in my ear. I was sleeping on my side (which is uncommon for me), and I began to panic because of the paralysis. While trying to twitch my fingers in the hopes that I could wake myself up, I began to feel immense dread as if something was right behind me. And just as soon as that fear set on, I swear I could feel my body being pulled backward like someone trying to pull me out of my bed. After finally being able to get my hand to fully twitch, I could feel the rest of my body coming back to me, and finally I could open my eyes.
It was early morning, 6ish, and I was exhausted despite having gone to bed around 10 the night before. I decided instead to try to stay awake by reading the rest of the morning.
I’m not writing this for pity. I’m not writing this for your entertainment either. To be honest, I’m not entirely sure why I’m writing this. Maybe it’s because I want to warn you about the potential side effects of lucid dreaming. Or maybe it’s just because I’m actually a bit scared to go to sleep right now. In any case, I hope you can find some value from the details of my experiences and that you can avoid whatever causes this to happen.