Putting night terrors to rest


Elizabeth Chin, Staff Columnist

This story starts in my parents’ bedroom as six-year-old me snuggled under the covers with my mom on the left and my sister and brother on the right, the bright TV screen casting a rectangular reflection in our eyes. Summers were the best. The marathon of cop shows never ended: “Hawaii Five-O,” “Monk,” “Castle,” “Law and Order;” we watched anything and everything crime related. So, it should’ve been no surprise that after a couple years of watching these shows meant for the much older members of my family, I developed a couple fears.

I was scared of the dark. This is universal among children, but I had it bad. My bedside lamp was on every night, and I never dared to look over the ledge of my bunk bed. I even stuffed pillows along the gap between my bed and the wall. I wouldn’t go into the bathroom for fear of Bloody Mary and that black blob creature from “Stranger Things.” I would see figures in my room whenever it was dark; a jacket on my chair looked like a person, and the wrinkles in the pillow next to me formed a malicious face. The victims and serial killers from my favorite cop shows began manifesting themselves everywhere, including who my siblings and I like to call the “DL,” short for, well, dead lady. In a particular episode of “Monk,” a murdered lady’s severed finger was found in a cooler, and my siblings would always bring it up to scare me. Needless to say, it worked.

This next part might sound a little unbelievable but stick with me. I had this recurring nightmare that forced my dad to sleep by my side repeatedly. Imagine you gain consciousness in a pitch-black room: your mind is foggy, and a small radius of the stained concrete is all that’s visible; a flickering lightbulb sways above your head. You sit for a moment, trying to collect enough sensory information to understand what’s going on. A woman with ink-black hair emerges from the darkness with an eerily- calm stride. She keeps her head down and her hand behind her back. Sphhlt! She lunges toward you, stabbing a fork into your eye. My brain was getting a little too creative with all the cop- show content swirling in my head. This nightmare haunted me for about a year. I even had it three consecutive times in one night. Considering I wear contacts now, I think I’ve gotten over the whole eye-pokey thing, but it was these types of dreams that began my downward spiral into insomnia, night terrors, and sleep paralysis.

At a certain point, I was scared to fall asleep. I would literally fight myself to stay awake. This did not end well considering I developed sleep paralysis as a result. Basically, my body is asleep, and my mind is awake. I’m conscious, but I can’t move. Just think about the horror that can come from mixing sleep paralysis with night terrors. The first time I experienced this, I was only 11. Here’s how it went: I woke up in the guest bedroom in my basement. Like any other child, I was already scared of the basement, so when I woke up there with only the dim cast of the moon’s glow, I was anxious. Then, the confusion turned to fear when all the scariest figures—the stabby-eye woman, mimes, clowns, a guy with a chainsaw, a Ted Bundy look-alike, and more—started staring at me from the perimeter of the bed. My immediate instinct was to get up and climb through the flood window behind me, but that’s when I realized I couldn’t move. I was screeching at this point, but I couldn’t open my mouth. My body lifted off the mattress and the room’s double doors swung open to clear a path. More people were waiting, staring while I was brought through. Then, I knew I was dreaming. Again, I was completely conscious, so I was mentally moving every fiber in my body. The best way I can describe it is trying to move in quicksand or being awake during surgery. Sounds fun, right?

I have experienced this awful sensation countless times, but I’ve gotten better at recognizing when my body is going into that state and regaining consciousness to wake myself up. The night terrors went away as I got sleep therapy and stopped watching cop shows routinely. My parents are definitely grateful that I don’t barge into their room every night sobbing, and I’m glad that I can finally sleep peacefully. I can look back now and laugh about all the traumatic experiences I had with sleep, but now, as a junior in high school, I’m grateful for whatever sleep I can get. Sleep used to be my enemy, but now it’s my best friend. It’s funny how these things work out.