You are paralysed every time you go to sleep. Your mind wants to rest. Your body wants to get a glass of water or put on a pair of socks; your mind wants to rest so it paralyses you. It’s okay because you don’t know you’re paralysed. You’re dreaming about socks, a glass of water, a river, a glass-bottomed boat that is also a cradle. Your mind wants to rest so it straps you in and puts a film on. Sometimes the film is fine, sometimes it makes no sense. It has no narrative integrity. What even was that, you say in the morning. It was a boat but it was also my grandmother’s house? Okay. Whatever.
I make a point of telling people about my dreams. I know that, statistically, 100 per cent of other people’s dreams are boring but I can’t imagine anyone feeling that way about me and my dreams. I have had bad dreams all my life. When I was a baby I had ‘night terrors’. My mother couldn’t comfort me because I was hysterical. If she tried to hold me I would scream. I know now that I was screaming because the things that happen to me when I fall asleep feel very, very bad.
I used to hallucinate a hooded figure. He would stand at the foot of my bed, or over me. I couldn’t see his face but I knew that he was watching me. He doesn’t appear anymore. He is at the foot of another child’s bed, I assume.
The first time I experienced sleep paralysis and recognised it for what it was I was a student. I had been taking MDMA and listening to Django Reinhardt. My memories of that time are mainly of taking drugs and listening to Django Reinhardt. When I woke up I was in my paralysed body. I was there, inside it. I was inside my leaden wrists, my ribcage, the thick dead roots of my hair, the bandages of skin. This time the hallucinations were auditory. I could hear someone being beaten outside my door. They were screaming for help. And I could do nothing but lie there, locked inside my body . . . whatever bit of me is not my body. That is the bit that exists, by itself, at night.
I told my friend that I was writing this and he mentioned that the Japanese have a higher reported instance of sleep paralysis than other nationalities. They call it kanashibari, literally ‘bound in metal’. When he lived there it happened to him, too. He caught it somehow from breathing the air or from drinking the water. The factors that make one susceptible to nightmares and to kanashibari are: drug/alcohol intake, sleep deprivation, stress, poor mental health and being female.
The last time it happened to me I was lying next to my boyfriend. We had been trying to decide whether or not to break up. I could feel his presence in the bed next to me. He was so warm and I was so cold. My breath lay dormant inside my chest. I tried to scream but my jaws were locked. I felt like I was vibrating. I felt like a gong after it has been struck.
There is another feeling. It’s a little like vertigo. A rushing feeling, as if the world is disappearing. As if everything is being snatched away from underneath you and you will never see it again. I can only tell you that it feels very much like dying.
In the morning my boyfriend said he had not slept well. He said I was very restless in the night. ‘Did you have bad dreams?’ He asked. ‘Yeah,’ I said. ‘I had bad dreams.’