Personal Blog: Three Hallucinatory Weeks of Sleeplessness
Good evening. The time is late and clouds shroud a moonless sky. The dark is deep and you know not what creatures lurk therein. Welcome to my blog.
I couldn’t finish my promised video within a reasonable time and so, instead, I’m giving you a freakishly intimate glimpse into my personal life.
In my adolescence, I suffered several episodes of night terrors and sleep paralysis. I created the character of the Deep Man, referenced in the video, and also saw other strange shadowy figures on nights when I would wake up frozen and scared. For some reason, these episodes stopped around the time I was 14 or 15, and I didn’t have another one until the night Hurricane Sandy struck New York and New Jersey. Since then (October, 2012), I’ve experienced usually 4-6 episodes per year. Usually these episodes occur far apart from each other, on the scale of weeks or months; but during a stressful and isolated period of late 2018 summertime, I experienced 5-6 episodes almost back-to-back, with very minimal recursive periods.
WHEN GERMAN ISN’T GERMAN
This three week period began with an intense hallucinatory experience. I woke to see a tall shadowy figure standing in the corner of my room, speaking to me without a head or neck. It spoke, or rather shouted, in German. Not real German, of course, because I don’t know German, but a language my subconscious figured was aesthetically similar, so far as I was aware. As is the case in most sleep paralysis episodes, I could barely move. I found this deeply frightening. What I found more frightening was that I seemed to be repeating the shade’s German syllables, and that the gap between his origination and my repetition shrank with every sentence. I knew that, should our syllables properly overlap, he would possess my body and toss my ego into a churning void. I knew this the way that anyone knows anything in a dream: intimately, urgently, and entirely, because all of this only happened inside my own head.
Following that sleep paralysis experience, I immediately suffered another. The paranoia brought about by these twin events drove me to avoid sleep, afraid that it would happen again as soon as I let myself rest. I understand this to be a byproduct of my natural anxiety; I feared sleep would be unpleasant and so I avoided sleeping. Of course, anyone who knows anything about human psychology knows that sleep deprivation can have extremely destructive results. My sleeplessness and anxiety probably added to the situation, by increasing my body’s overall stress levels, creating an atmosphere of uncertainty around my life and my sleep habits, and by leaving me exhausted and mentally vulnerable. This sleepless vulnerability led me down a dangerous pathway of thought. In less than a month, my combined sleep deprivation, sleep disorders, and general anxiety drove me to begin believing untrue and frankly delusional things.
During my fits and bouts of sleep, I experienced a series of recurring dreams. One of these was a dream I have frequently, a dream I have several times every year, but the others were new, and dangerously vivid. Over the three weeks described in the video, I had this set of dreams 2-3 times, always in the same order.
Dream One: I saw four black birds, wings snapped and twisted, necks broken, heads wrenched to point their beaks in alternating directions. Their wingtips nearly touched, their bodies situated in an almost diamond-like formation, their wire-bound legs surrounding an empty bird’s nest. They sat, not rotting but clearly dead, on a patch of dry yellow grass. Everything else around them was bright green.
Dream Two: I saw a white sedan (1960’s-era) drive through a tight rural town, clearly economically depressed. Children at play stop at the sight of it and flee. The adults, through windows or sitting on their porches, watch it pass fearfully, but do nothing else to address it. It makes a turn onto another street and the dream ends.
Dream Three (discovered in my notebook while filming the video): “An abandoned building sits out there in the vast, rotting. String-hung objects dangle from a half-collapsed ceiling. Flashlights sweep through the darkness but I still can’t make out what’s up there.”
Dream Four: a woman turns the corner in some out-of-the-way slice of land. It could be her backyard but it could just as easily be a field. She approaches me. I’m lying on the grass, still and silent. A look of fear and deep sadness crosses her face as she comes near. She reaches for her mouth, inhaling to scream. That’s when I wake up.
Over the course of these three awful weeks, I had this series of dreams 2-3 times. Combined with my self-imposed, paranoiac sleep deprivation and my broken-brain night terrors and sleep paralysis hallucinations, they began to feel like visions. They felt related to the hallucinations, connected to this German-screaming shadow who wanted to take control of me.
CONTEXT AND AGENDA
As these German-shadow hallucinations and dream-vision cycles added up, as they multiplied over the course of two sleepless weeks, I began to scramble for straws. I couldn’t sleep and felt afraid a lot of the time. I wanted an answer, something I could do to make this stop. Unfortunately, searching for context and agenda inside a wholly hallucinatory situation generally leads toward delusion. My desperate search for control over circumstances mostly beyond my control led me to believe some increasingly untrue things. A narrative suggested itself in my head and I, being scared and sad, self-isolated and desperate, yielded to it.
Being accustomed to one terrible episode every few weeks or months, the sheer volume of sleep paralysis and night terror episodes piling onto me at once felt somehow metaphysical. I convinced myself that, instead of this being a particularly bad run of sleep disorder episodes, the situation was instead a more dangerous beast merely posing as a bad run of sleep disorder episodes. I scribbled through a few pages of my notebook in search of some answer, esoteric or otherwise.
At the time I was also deep in research, again, into real life mystical and esoteric practices, both faith-based and faithless. There is a chance that, subconsciously, I began to take the research to heart. I’m sure a growing knowledge and curiosity regarding the mystic and esoteric gave my episodes more flavor, a certain genre in-line with my daily thoughts and interests; but of course my research didn’t cause these hallucinations. My research did, however, provide some steps I could take to combat my perceived foes. In some ways, I’m thankful for that. Searching for things to do inside my research bought time and gave me a sense of momentum…and I think, maybe, those two things were all I needed.
“IT WAS ALL A DREAM.”
Within days of my dive into practical esoterism, the episodes stopped. I never followed through with any of the steps I planned to take in fighting off my shadow nemesis because, frankly, I never needed to. The dream-visions weren’t visions, they were just very vivid dreams…the kind you sometimes get when you don’t sleep much and/or have a lifelong history of vivid nightmares. The German-speaking possession-shade never returned because he never existed in the first place. And it didn’t really speak German, either. Just something my brain thought sounded like it.
At some point in September, 2018, the episodes subsided and I began to sleep again. Within a couple days, I realized how wild I’d allowed myself to go. At first I felt deeply embarrassed that I’d been tricked by my own brain. I felt stupid and unhinged, someone who probably shouldn’t be allowed to operate unsupervised in public, someone who maybe shouldn’t be allowed among the general populace at all. I’d let my stupid broken brain get the better of me, after all. What if it happened again?
WAKING UP LATER
Since that three week period, I’ve had only two episodes, both relatively benign. I don’t feel like an unbalanced person. I believe in science and math and usually I don’t believe in the metaphysical, paranormal, or supernatural. Of course, alone in the dark, hearing a sound when there ought to be silence…I think we all believe a little bit. At least on an instinctive level. But I haven’t had issues, since. And these past two episodes have felt almost banal, comparably. It’s scary in the moment but it’s easier than ever to remind myself that these things aren’t really real. My brain is just trying to destroy itself. C’est la vie.
After I felt normal again, I entertained the notion that this experience might make a good book. I ran into a predictable issue: a plot, this ain’t. Connecting these stimuli proved narratively impossible. They didn’t form a cohesive…anything. They might work in flashes, smears of description and event, a vague lingual experiment about mood and dread…but a story? No way.
I feel more solid than I did before. I’ve always felt a strange esoteric fear regarding the sudden return of my adolescent sleep issues. That it started happening again the same night as an actual hurricane maybe didn’t help. But coming away from three weeks of near-delusional paranoia, and now knowing that nothing really came of any of it? I feel more prepared than ever to dismiss these nuisances as shoddy brain chemistry, lazy neurons misfiring, a series of terrifying images with no substance beneath them.
WHAT IS OBSERVABLE/WHAT IS TRUE
Some people pride themselves on only believing what they can see. Other people pride themselves on only believing that which can be observed or measured. But what happens when your own perceptions can’t be trusted? And what if nobody’s perceptions can be trusted? What Descartian Hell do we find ourselves in, then?
In practice, yes, we have diagnoses, research data and anecdata, a whole host of reports that clarify and delineate hallucinatory experience from real, objective experience. But what about theory? What about ontological certainty?
I cannot always trust what I see or observe or measure.
What the hell makes you so sure you can?