Maybe you’ve seen the meme: “This is my sleep paralysis demon: [insert photo].” The viral idea builds on a very real condition in which a person is conscious but unable to move. In some cases, people experiencing sleep paralysis have frightening and even recurring visions. Known as sleep paralysis demons, these terrors don’t haunt nightmares, but reality. Unfortunately for me, I had my very own sleep paralysis demon. The only problem (well, besides the bone-chilling looming presence in my bedroom)? I had no idea what it was until seven years later (but more on that later).
I was a 20-year-old sophomore living in mandatory on-campus housing the year I came face-to-face with my sleep paralysis demon. After a long day of classes covering dense readings I didn’t fully comprehend (or finish for that matter), my anxiety from the workload and tight deadline was snowballing like the tension in a Stephen King novel. But, like any good horror story, bad decisions were made. There was a FIJI house party calling my name (my unhealthy coping mechanism), and FOMO to this particular college student took priority over chronic sleep deprivation.
And although I was exhausted and overwhelmed with all my looming assignments, I figured a 30-minute nap would do that trick before the pregame—short enough to give me time to catch up on some of my work but long enough to give my brain a much-need zhuzhing. The large sectional sofa in our living room seemed like a safe spot. My own bed was a dangerous option where’d I’d get too comfortable and sleep too long. Plus, our apartment’s heavy and creaky front door would easily wake me as soon as my roommates returned home. And so, I let my mind drift off.
I came to slowly, blinking at the ceiling. My sight was clouded but I could tell the sun had set; the blue glow from the emergency campus phones had taken its place. I heard a faint buzz coming from our bulbed “EAT” sign in the kitchen, followed by the shuffling of feet, which I registered as my roommate’s. A giant decorative pillow lay on my chest, blocking my face from her view. The weight of its stuffed polyester grew heavy, and suddenly, I felt the urge to shake it off before it crushed me. After a few groggy and dazed seconds, it began to register that I wasn’t getting up. My limbs were lead and my mouth was glued shut—and who was that black, ominous figure in the corner of the room?