The Mean Work Lady, Troubled Dreams, and Sleep Paralysis

I could hear her coming. Every day, she’s trying to get me fired. She keeps saying “one of these days you’re gonna slip up, and when you do, I’ll be there to catch you.” And now here she comes. She’s going to catch me sleeping on the job and report me to my boss. And the worst thing? I can’t wake up! I can’t move my arms, or my legs, and there’s something on me. I can see into the hallway, and I can hear her coming… But I… Why is she in my house?… Wait… How did I get in my house or am I at work? She’ll never let up! She just keeps trying to get me fired!… Fired from my… Do I have a job? Who am I working with? Who is this lady? Wait, what lady? Why can’t I move?

Sleep paralysis is a strange thing. For most people it’s accompanied by severe panic and terror, but my ‘quick’ nap earlier was almost amusing rather than terrifying.

I’m fortunate to be a stay at home dad: no one can fire me, and there’s no mean lady trying. It’s a strange feeling to be ‘wide awake’ looking into my hall, hearing clearly every creak of the foundation, ever movement of the neighbors, and every song of the radiator, but without any control over my physical body. I understand why it is so terrifying (full confession, the first several times where terrifying, and even now, sometimes I get the panic and paranoia when it happens), but knowing what is happening lessens the severity of the experience, leaving me worried about a mean lady, rather than panicked about an house fire, for example. 

There’s not much to be done, and some people almost enjoy the experience. For most people it happens when they are waking up. The running theory is that the person is in a dream state, but awake enough to incorporate surrounding details (sight and sound) into the dream. For me, at least today, it was as I fell asleep, rather than as I woke up, that I ‘dreamed.’

If you ever wake up to find the weight of an elephant on your chest, your arms and legs denying your commands, and the feeling of dread or terror… Just remember, the mean lady won’t tell anyone: she’s not real.

Night Terrors, Fever Dreams, Waking Dreams, and 8 Legged Things:

It is chasing me. No matter how fast I run, the beast is just on my heals. It starts in my childhood neighborhood. It’s in the neighbor’s back yard. It almost has me. It will consume me when it gets me. Not eat me, no: that’s not enough. It intends to devour my soul. I try to catch glimpses of it, but it is hard to look back while I’m running. I can see a hairy leg here, or a massive pincer there, but mostly I can see the shadow. This is shadow unlike any caused by a lack of light: it defines the lack of light, it destroys light. It is true darkness. I can feel the evil emanating from that darkness, and it wants me. The faster I try to run, the slower my legs move, and it is going to get me. In my heart, I can feel the eight legs moving, but the beast makes no sounds as it moves at the speed of the wind. It’s almost here! I fall! It has me! I’ve been awake for minutes, but the paralysis still holds my arms and legs! I can’t breath! No, I can breath… Can I move? What will happen to me?

We have a rule, unspoken, I think, that the person who has to work the next day doesn’t stay up with the kids who don’t sleep. Normally, that rule has worked in my favor (though not always)… tonight, however, it falls on Julie to sleep, and me to get tortuously woken up every time I’m on the verge of sleep.

Ezra had a few night terrors as a younger child, he still gets nightmares. We didn’t know what was going on, at first. I think they were as scary to us as they were to him. We’ve grown accustomed to them (fortunately they aren’t all too common), but they are no less disturbing. Once we had a name for them, it helped to explain what I experience.

Nathaniel’s are different. His, more like mine, are waking dreams as much as night terrors. He’s had his eyes open and is aware of what is going on for the last several hours, but there is more happening for him than for me. “Daddy the spiders are behind you!” He screamed as he dives into my arms. His fever makes him uncomfortable to sooth on a night this warm. “Daddy, their trying to eat me!”

It seems, as he’s described it, that his terrors involve spiders as well – (though he did mention a particularly terrifying octopus as well) – it is the spiders both big and small that are surrounding him and trying to get him.

Unlike the defenselessness involved in my dreams, the poor boy is exhausted for another reason: He’s been forcefully pointing his arms and making shooting noises all night. At first I thought he was playing, but, while his eyes are open, he is clearly asleep. He’s terrified, but he’s fighting the monsters of his dreams. And every once in a while he gets one (“I killed it!”).

I hope that his waking fever dream doesn’t create in him the phobia of all things arachnid that they have for me, but I take some hope in knowing that, no matter what, my son won’t go down without a fight!