I’m not a good sleeper.
I’m prone to bouts of insomnia, and even when I do manage to sleep, I can rarely sleep deeply enough that I won’t be woken several times in the night by random sounds. I can sleep prostrate on my back, or, if I am very tired, on my side or on my face, but I cannot sleep at all in a sitting position*.
I also used to suffer sleep paralysis every few months. I would wake-up in the middle of the night, completely unable to move my body, feeling a weight crushing down on my chest and sensing an evil presence with me in the room. Occasionally, this would come with visual and auditory hallucinations. I haven’t had a serious episode of this quite a few years now, for which I am very thankful.
But I’ve never experienced anything remotely like what happened last night. I initially thought that it was a nightmare, but that doesn’t really do it justice; the term “night terror” seems much more applicable in this case. It began with a dream, the specifics of which I don’t really remember right now; I was proceeding through some kind of an obstacle course when my tester told me–or rather, left me with the impression– that the next part might be a little too frightening for me to handle. I prepared for the worst, but I saw only darkness. But then, somehow, the darkness itself started twisting and caving inwards, closing in on me…
And that was the point at which I started screaming uncontrollably at the top of my lungs. It’s odd, because even at the time, I realized that this darkness wasn’t actually any scarier than anything else I’d seen in nightmares (and I had figured-out that I was dreaming), but I also knew I didn’t have a choice. It was as if a curtain of terror had fallen over me, and the only possible response was blind panic. And I was unable to coax myself back to sleep for hours afterwards, because every time I would start to drift-off, I would find myself back in the obstacle course dream, and my heart rate would spike involuntarily. It was as if the dream was a sort of barrier, blocking my access to deeper sleep.
I think that the whole experience would sit better with me if I really understood what had caused it. I’ve read that in adults, night terrors are often co-morbid with anxiety disorders, so that at least tells me what it may be related to. My anxiety has made a bit of a comeback of late, I’m sorry to say: I think that loneliness, the stress of unemployment, and fights with my parents** about my gender expression have been taxing my psyche. But it bugs me that something so startling can just randomly happen to me without my having much understanding of its essential material causes.
*I actually attribute most of my academic success to the fact that I am physically incapable of falling asleep in class, no matter how tired I am or how boring the lecture. By the same token, though, long-distance air travel is hellish for me, because I cannot sleep on the plane.
**Which I had thought were over