Sleep paralysis is thought to be caused by poor sleep hygiene or genetics. It occurs when the mind becomes conscious but the body remains unresponsive, leaving the individual awake but paralyzed. Fragmented REM stages and improper regulation of melanin are believed to be contributing factors. Other symptoms that accompany this phenomenon are wide-ranging; the most common however is fear or panic. Hearing voices, whispers, or having somatic sensations such as that of flying or being dragged out of bed or out of body experiences are also associated with these episodes.
Thankfully I didn’t feel extreme panic or hear voices. Actually, as has been true of all my other episodes, I’m still not certain I was awake. I had fallen asleep on the couch and had been dreaming I couldn’t move. This type of dream is very familiar to me. Being unable to speak or move or moving very slowly as if through glue is a common dream for me, especially when I am struggling to communicating during the day. I don’t have panic attacks. I don’t get visibly anxious. I shut down. That’s usually when I have these types of dreams.
I either dreamed or was aware that I was sleeping on the couch that afternoon. I need to get up, I need to get up before my grandparents come back, I thought. But just as in my dream, I couldn’t move. I was trying to crane my neck up to see if the garage door was unlocked or opening. Then I felt myself sit up. And I knew I was sitting up but my body wasn’t. It was a strange feeling. Not necessarily terrifying, but frightening in the sense that I knew I should lay back down.
Psychologist theorize that dissociative experiences are self-defense mechanisms of the mind. Most people think of the girl who has been sexually abused or the boy who was beaten by his father or maybe the irresponsible use of drugs. But I think dissociation is a much more common human experience than that. The range of these experiences is not limited to abuse or drugs. Simply being aware that I was sleeping and unable to move is a dissociative state. Derealization is something I, probably incorrectly, like to think many people experience without really realizing it. It is an officially recognized dissociative state of feeling that life isn’t real and the cause of my latest sleep paralysis experience.
The feeling that the world isn’t real. The feeling that you’re on an alien planet. There are lots of ways to describe derealization. Anyone can experience it. The best way to induce it is to look at something for a long time. Look at a tree, a book, a lamp, anything. Try not to associate it with what it is and after a while it begins to look alien. Uncommanded derealization is frustrating though.
Sometimes it happens in large groups or new situations. Other times it’s one-on-one with family or good friends. Other people don’t see it though. I don’t give off the visible symptoms of distress. But I can feel it. The people, the room, looks other worldly. It all gets taken in at once in a strange picture. What people say or do seems mechanical and untrue. A sort of numbness, sadness, ensues. I don’t move much and respond to direct communication in very short answers. People think I’m being a dick. Maybe I am.
It doesn’t just happen when I’m anxious. It happens when I feel strong emotions. Without reason, I feel paralyzed and unable to speak. It’s similar to the urge to jump when looking out over a cliff or tall building. I want to slap someone or do something crazy to see if it really is real. This usually results in me either saying the wrong thing or nothing at all and breaking down. Not out of sadness, but out of frustration with myself. Why can’t I just feel things and feel like they are real?
I want to show you how much I care. I deeply happy you make me and for it to feel real.