So my last post was about a melancholy dream I had. Luckily, those are few and far between, but it got me thinking about all the other weird dreams that have caused me trouble. Especially the dreaded night terror.
For about ten to fifteen years, what I call night terrors plagued me constantly. Basically, I would have a vivid dream, jump in a daze, and run around yelling, and do crazy stuff.
Night terror might be the wrong term. One definition said night terrors are a vivid nightmare that renders the dreamer petrified and unable to move.
But screw it, I’m calling mine night terrors. I mean, why not call the other ones night paralysis? Doesn’t that make more sense? Plus, the Mayo Clinic says that:
“Sleep terrors are episodes of screaming, intense fear and flailing while still asleep. Also known as night terrors, sleep terrors often are paired with sleepwalking. Like sleepwalking, sleep terrors are considered a parasomnia — an undesired occurrence during sleep.”
(Yeah, no shit they are.)
So, I’m sticking with the term night terror. Apparently, 40% of children suffer from them, but a far smaller number of adults do. (Guess I’m just lucky.)
Bob and weave! Bob and weave!
Before I get into my version of a night terror, I did have one memorable case of night paralysis. In seventh grade, my teacher, Mrs. T, had us read a story about a young guy who would visit this lady who raised all kinds of deadly snakes. When dealing with cobras, she’d hold her hand stiff, fingers together with her palm outward like she was stopping traffic. The cobra would strike like a jabbing boxer, but not open it’s mouth and just bounce off her palm. Apparently, cobra fangs are short, so it won’t open its mouth if there is nothing to sink its fangs into. At the end of the story, the woman makes a fatal mistake, and one of the snakes bites her on the finger.
So in my dream, I looked down and saw a cobra curled up next to my bed, swaying back and forth, hood opened. As the snake slithered closer, I couldn’t move. I just lay there in terror, paralyzed. Finally, with great effort, I managed to barely move my hand, palm outward, so the snake would box against it, mouth closed. But instead, it sank its fangs into my finger, sending deadly neurotoxins coursing into me.
Waking up, heart pounding, I lay there terrified, afraid to move lest the snake would strike again. Psychosomatically, my finger throbbed.
Sleep mobility during night terrors
Okay, what I call a night terror does not involve paralysis. In fact, I had the exact opposite problem. When one hit, I’d freak out and fly out of bed and start running around still half-asleep, hollering as if a bloodthirsty banshee were hot on my heels. (I think other people in the house would have preferred I had the ones involving paralysis).
Anyway, these nightmares took one of three forms.
In the first type, my death was happening at any minute and there was nothing I could do to escape it. Oblivion was on its way, which was the most upsetting part about it. I was about to cease having any meaning in a few seconds. (Not a popular dream at all.)
In the second one, everyone would soon know my innermost secrets. I believed I’d blurted out some hidden shame while asleep, and it caused deep anguish. But I never knew what it was. (Come on brain, that’s lazy storytelling.) Plus, a secret group of researchers watched me at night while I slept, and I only knew of their existence when I had my night terrors. Man, those ones totally felt real. Upon waking, I kept finding myself standing in the hallway, panting and frantic, my heart racing, and the watchers had receded to their shadowy realm.
The third and last type usually took place in a known locale, like my bedroom or at work where someone would be after me. Sometimes it was a shadowy figure or sometimes someone I knew. I remember one time I dreamt a coworker from the ASU library hunted me, so I jumped up to escape. Unfortunately, I banged into my bedroom wall because I thought I was in the library and there shouldn’t have been a wall there. Pitch black and I couldn’t find a light switch? Yeah, that freaked me out. I remember slapping the wall frantically with my hands.
The Escape Artist
So, it’s the third type of night terror that gave me the most trouble over the years. And contributed to one of my most memorable events.
One night, about fourteen years ago, I dreamt that a shadowy figure stood at the foot of my bed. Suddenly, I realized it was my brother and he meant me harm. I grabbed the pole of my floor lamp and hurled it sending it crashing to the floor. Covers flying, I bounded out of bed. I moved like an Olympian competing in the triple jump, minus the agility and grace. I hit the floor sleep-running and tried to escape the bedroom.
A few problems; first, I was still kind of asleep while on the move. Second, it was so dark I couldn’t see shit. Third, I had a minefield of clothes, shoes, and books on the floor. Fourth, I had a large plastic shoe rack hanging on the back of my bedroom door which prevented it from opening all the way. Stumbling as I barged my way out, the shoe rack turned my door into a springboard. It snapped me back and threw me spine-first against the door jam. Spock’s Vulcan Nerve Pinch would not have been any more effective as I went down like a sack of potatoes with a real case of night-time paralysis.
So, I lay there on the floor in my boxers, still not properly awake, screaming in terror at the top of my lungs, convinced I’d broken my back. I’m not sure if I screamed because of my back or because my brother would be able to catch me now. At that moment, my brother, who had moved temporarily back into my dad’s house burst out of his room to see what the fuck was going on. At this point, I kind of realized he wasn’t out to kill me.
The commotion had woken my dad as well. My back hurt a lot, so I lay on the tile in my boxers, groaning in pain while my family members debated what to do. They finally called an ambulance.
It sucked, lying on the tiled floor clad only in my boxers while paramedics clustered in the hallway. And my dad kept trying to explain I’d had a night terror. ‘Goddamnit, Dad,’ I kept thinking, ‘Just shut up. Tell them I slipped on a banana peel or something.’ I could see the judgment in their eyes — as far as they were concerned, Dad could have just cut to the chase and said: “Yep, he’s a pussy.” At that point, I just wanted to slip into a coma
The paramedics put me on a gurney. The guy lifting the end near my head lost his grip and dropped me and the gurney a few inches onto the floor (that definitely didn’t help my wrenched back). And that’s how I ended up in a crowded hospital ER on a Saturday morning, lying on a gurney in my skivvies with a sheet barely covering me. I’m a fairly bashful guy, but at a certain point, when you’re in pain, you just don’t give a rat’s ass.
The upside to my accident
While I waited forever for a doctor to see me, the Houseguest (who wasn’t the Houseguest back then), dropped by the hospital to visit me. She happened to be housesitting nearby when I called her to tell her about my exciting morning. (Nowadays she claims I woke her up and she heard “a tiny, whiney, pathetic voice” on the other end of the line — whatever.) Eventually, they x-rayed me. Luckily, I had no fractures or slipped disks, just traumatized soft tissue. So the doctor sent me home with a bottle of muscle relaxers.
Now, my friend Carlos had enlisted me to help him move that day. I had the Houseguest call him to explain why I wouldn’t be showing up. I don’t think Carlos and the others believed me (and fair game, I am the kind to duck out of sight when it comes to moving people) because he and our buddy Doug showed up at the house to “see how I was doing.” I’m pretty sure they were just checking out the veracity of my story to see if I needed to be hassled.
After that incident, I started sleeping with my nightstand lamp on — not because of any fear of the dark. No, I needed to be able to see where I was running in my sleep. Also, I made sure I had a clear pathway to my bedroom door, and I moved my shoe rack elsewhere. No way did I want another $900 one-mile ride to the hospital. (Luckily, my insurance paid a big chunk of it, but seriously — $900 for one mile!?! Is the engine powered by cocaine?)
Anyway, as I said, those dreams plagued me for years, but I haven’t had a night terror in quite some time now (knock on wood). Eventually, after I stopped running around in my sleep, I stopped switching on the lamp. People always ask how I was able to sleep with a light on, but I got used to it quickly, though I read it still has an effect on your ability to achieve a deep level of sleep.
All right, down in the comments let me know if you have any weird sleep habits or have experienced an unusual event.
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