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I am entirely normal.

I mean, apart from the hanging around on the internet, Larp, computer games, geekdom, occasional discussions on world domination, I’m a normal person. Straight white male, aged 18-35. I suffer from mild, annoying, middle class live problems, like not having enough olive oil left, or the terror of running out of asparagus before your party. I suffer from mild dyslexia, I need to wear glasses or else I may trip over things that would escape my unassisted vision. Like lorries, for example.

Pablo Picasso's Girl Asleep at a Table, Photo by wallyg on flickr (cc licenced)
However, I do actually suffer from one thing that is both cool and terrifying, and because I’ve run out of other things to say, I shall talk to you about it.

There doesn’t seem to be much of a pattern to it. It started just after I left home, then went away for years. It hardly ever happens unless I’m the only person in the house, except when it doesn’t. This is what happens: I am asleep, I am partway though a dream, I will have rescued the kitten from the flaming toaster house; swam away from the double-deckered carrot prancing down the River Medway; Crash landed my toffee bathtub; Won the grand prize for the inadvised application of Latin; Shot down the last specification clause with a final piece of badly formed XML; caught the breadmaker; something like that. My dream will have been happening…

And I’m awake. Hi, real world. Interesting. So, yes, this one doesn’t have those purple hydronic houses, does it? Pity, they were cool. And I suppose that means the liason I arranged with thingy from the whatsit film isn’t going to happen, is it? Oh, thingy. Who was it? Er… can see her face, but the name… no, where’d her face go. It was, er.. what colour were the hydronic houses? What’s hydronics? Something? about?

houses? with the filmstar?

And the dream fades into the bleak hole of subconcious and the details spiral into each other and thin out over the universe, tying my concious awareness of my subconcious into an impenetrable package which fades in the sunlight. I’m awake.

And I can’t move.

Sleep Paralysis, I discovered a few years later, is when your brain is out of REM sleep mode, but your body hasn’t recieved the code that means “we’ve stopped dreaming now, you should listen to what we’re saying again”. Usually I can move, open and focus my eyes. Sometimes I can just focus on things. Sometimes my eyes are closed.

I can’t move.

Not a finger on my hand will listen to the commands, no toe will retreat to the warmth of the duvet it was recently denied. Instructions sent to lift my arm, shift my weight, lift my head… none. Non responsive.

Now is the time when you must visualise with complete and total clarity the image of the cover of the Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy. Because the thing it is tempting to do now is panic. The first time this happened was, without doubt, the single scariest moment of my life, because there is no way to tell how long this will last. It only ever happens when I’m alone, so the thought begins with “Er. I hope this goes away before I starve” and spirals up from there. How many days until someone realises you’re dead? What if it’s sooner? If you can’t communicate will they realise you’re still there? How? does this go away?

What the fuck just happened?

Are you going to end today in a hospital as the doctors declare you a vegatable and turn off things keeping you alive?

But there’s a worse thing than being trapped inside a panicing mind.

Your body isn’t panicing.

It’s really eerie to have your brain circling itself in abject terror and you not being able to hyperventalate, no cold sweat, breathing steady and regular, even if you think about it as hard as you can.

And you calm down. You force yourself to calm down. This will be over. It will be fine. And you relax, you meditate, you roll onto your back and breathe a calming breath…

…and you moved. it’s gone, and you didn’t even see it go.

And you forget about it, and all the feelings it brings, until it comes back.

  1. I hate it when that happens, especially as it tends to occur as I wake from a nightmare which leads to extra panic.

  2. It is indeed rather horrible. I have the added hilarity that sometimes I seem to stay enough in REM to hear sounds that aren’t there, generally that someone is in the room with me when I am alone and I still can’t move, open my eyes or focus. It’s hard to describe but given this is getting progressively more often (has only happened in the last year) and seems to last quite some time I feel a trip to the sleep clinic is in order (for other reasons as well).

  3. That’s never happened to me, which I’m mostly glad of.

    How long does it tend to last?

  4. I’ve no real idea. It’s probably no more than a few minutes most of the time, although that’s probably subjective, because it’s in a kind of “brain panic” bullet-time. It breaks my ability to tell how much time has passed.

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