Friday, April 17, 2009

Nightmares and Hallucinations

Kyra woke up just a bit ago from a nightmare. She had a bad dream in which she was being chased by Sideshow Bob from The Simpsons. It is odd how most of her bad dreams seem to be caused by animation. She used to regularly have nightmares about Dora the Explorer and Go, Diego, Go.

We recently discovered that, like her father, Kyra has sleep hallucinations. Early last week, she woke up shrieking because her bed was covered in insects only she could see. At least she isn't sleep-walking like my brother and I did when we were young. I've read up on night terrors, hypnagogic and hypnopompic hallucinations and sleep paralysis. None of them really seem to fit what my daughter and I experience. The experience is not always a frightening one. In all but one instance I've been able to move freely and talk while having the hallucinations. They also happen in the middle of my sleep cycle rather than at the beginning or end as with hypnagogic and hypnopompic hallucinations. I've experienced both of those (mainly the former) and they really don't compare with the hallucinations I get in the middle of the night.

As a child, I would wake to find "ghosts" in my room. I could tell that I was no longer sleeping and felt awake, only there would be things in my room that shouldn't have been. An example: One night at age eight I woke up to see a man standing alongside my bed, staring out my window. The man, who didn't seem to notice me, was completely the same shad of white, from his hair to his skin to his clothes; the details of his appearance were black lines as if the man had been drawn on paper. He stood between my bed and my brother's crib. Frightened, I pulled the covers over my head so that he couldn't see me. I managed to fall back to sleep. Later, I awoke, suffocating under my blankets. I dared a peek out from under the bed clothes, only to see that the man had been replaced with a woman who was completely black with white lines, almost like a film negative. She was hanging by a noose in the same spot. As I stared in horror, she rotated on her creaking rope, so that she faced toward me. Her face was swollen and her tongue protruded from her mouth. I dove back under my covers and did not emerge until there was sunlight. It didn't help that I'd never heard of sleep hallucinations and was raised by a mother who was convinced that I was seeing actual ghosts... just like she did.

In my early 20s I terrified my ex-wife one night when I hallucinated a wraith in our bedroom that was trying to get her. She woke up to find me over her prone body, wrestling with something she could not see. The "wraith" evaporated in moments. It was the first time I began to get a clue about what was really happening. The wraith had been a dead ringer for the ones in Patrick Swayze flick Ghost that I'd watched earlier that week on cable. I was able to get back to sleep, but she spent the rest of the night awake and scared that something supernatural was coming to get her. It is the only instance where a nightmare I had caused someone else more fear than me.

Over time my hallucinations have changed to primarily be animals. I've woken up to a tarantula tickling my lip and to feel water dripping on my head, only to look up and see that the water was dripping from a dead rat that is now plunging toward my face. Those times caused me to throw back my blankets, startling our cats. Kristy has adjusted pretty well to it over the years, and carries on conversations with me while in this waking-sleep state. Once she woke to me telling her not to move, because I could see a cobra coiled between us, swaying its hooded head back and forth. She held a conversation with me during one of the few non-threatening hallucinations once. I was sitting up and staring over the edge of the bed at a glowing starfish that was crawling around the floor, playing with my sneakers and probing at the clothes laying next to the bed. I'd seen the movie Minority Report earlier that day. The star fish resembled one of the little robots that scurry about in that film.

I explained the hallucination thing to Kyra as best I could. She's still a bit too young to fully grasp the concept, but at least she's not going to spend decades thinking that a trick of the mind passed down through genetics is something supernatural and scary like I did for far too long.


Douglas said...

How could there be no comments on this? I, too, have had these. They are rare, the only one that is fresh in my mind is the first one. I awoke to a person standing, translucent, near my bed. Though he (or she, it was never clear to me) was looking at me, he didn't seem to see me.
I suspect these are common which is why Nightmare on Elm Street was such a hit.

halloween spirit said...

Wow! Kyra's hallucinations sound exactly like the ones I've experienced on and off since childhood (had the most recent one last week). Insects crawling everywhere: the wall, my bed, etc. They continue for a while even when I feel awake. Scary. But not as scary as yours!

Love the blog. I just discovered it through Mr. Macabre's blog :)