The death of my father by suicide in 1988 was shocking, but perhaps not unexpected in hindsight. He hadn’t seemed quite sane in the year leading up to his death and the few times I did have contact with him, I found him a little frightening. We had fallen out over something trivial, mulberry jam, I think it was. I’d forgotten to take it home to my mothers house so he disowned me, in a heated conversation over the telephone.
At that time of his death, I was 15 and living in a small caravan in the backyard of my mother and stepfathers house. I worked at a men’s hair-dressing salon on the weekend. This gave me the money I needed to pay for the caravan rental. A few months after my father died I realised how miserable I was in the relationship I was in and contemplated ending the relationship. The last straw came when this boyfriend stomped on a massive spider when we were out walking one night. He probably thought he was impressing me with his manly strength and courage. I was horrified that he had just killed one of the biggest, oldest grand-daddy spiders I’d ever seen.
I was the girl who would rescue spiders from being stomped. I had catching spiders down to a fine art, laying a bowl over them and then sliding a piece of paper underneath the bowl so I could set them free somewhere safe away from spider-stompers. I was the girl who lived in a house filled with daddy long legs because her mother couldn’t bear to wreak their webs. I was the girl whose stepfather would catch flies to feed to the pet spiders. The spider stomper obviously didn’t know me very well.
After my father died, I didn’t cry. I was too angry. It seemed like such a selfish thing to do, committing suicide. I met relatives I didn’t know I had at the funeral and found out things I would rather not have known, about my fathers childhood. And then the ‘visits’ started to happen at night. We have strange dreaming experiences that run in our family. One of them is kind of the opposite to sleep walking or talking- the mind seems wakes up while the body is still asleep. Thankfully we seem to grow out of it by the age of thirty.
My ‘visits’ were from my father, or at least, that is how it seemed to me at the time. In that half-state between waking and sleep, I would have a heavy feeling come over me and a strong awareness of someone approaching the caravan. I could see and feel my father coming ‘to get me’. As he approached, the heaviness would become more intense and I wouldn’t be able to breathe. My body was frozen and it felt like I was sinking down into a black hole. I tried sometimes to just go with the sensation instead of fighting it but I felt like I would die, because I couldn’t breathe.
The only way to break out of this state was to wrench my body free from paralysis. I would literally thrash out of it, much to the disgust of my spider-stomping boyfriend, who ended up getting thumped quite a few times. Good job, as we would say back in the eighties. Then I would lay there, after refilling my lungs with blessed air, too frightened to go back to sleep.
My weird ‘dreams’ actually started when I was a child. I had two night time patterns I dreaded. One was more annoying than frightening. It was an auditory disturbance where every tiny sound in the house would loom large in my ears like a roar. The air-conditioning was unbearably noisy and the dripping tap in the bathroom would drive me nuts because it was so unbearably loud. One morning I got in a lot of trouble with my mother for turning the fridge off during the night. I had a hard time explaining to her that it was too noisy. It didn’t make any sense considering there were two closed doors between me and the kitchen!
The second pattern was terrifying. It would begin with a very strange sensation occurring in my brain, almost as though something were being squeezed. As soon as that sensation began I would start saying ‘Oh no, Oh no’ desperately afraid and knowing I’d get very little sleep that night. Again, the problem was sound. I felt like I was being haunted by it, as though it were going to kill me. There were two different sounds in my head that would torment me, thankfully not at the same time!
One was a rolling sound that would get very, very loud and then fade away into the distance. I had a visual image that went with this sound. I felt like I was a small ten-pin and the sound was a giant black bowling ball trying to knock me down. I was at the bottom of a V shaped ravine. The ball would roll towards me and then thankfully miss me and roll up and away before coming back for me, over and over again for what seemed like hours. I couldn’t actually see anything- it was like being blindfolded and hearing the sound of something coming for me.
The second sound was like a foghorn on a ship. I felt like I was in dark water and there were giant ships all around me. I didn’t know where they were because I couldn’t see them, I could only hear them. Sometimes the foghorn would sound further away and I’d relax and little, but the next time it sounded it might be practically on top of me and I would panic, feeling as though I were about to be drowned by a ship, or more correctly, by the massive sound blaring in my ears.
Over the years since, I often wondered what caused those dreams. Perhaps it was food allergies. Perhaps there was something wrong with my ears. Perhaps it was a panic attack of some kind, or even some strange psychic experience. Perhaps it was an the after effect of trauma.
Later in my teens I went through other strange experiences that haunted me, some to do with sounds in my head, some to do with dreams. One was the sound of mocking laughter in my head. Eventually, this laugh become a voice and I gave her a name. I knew she was an inner self, a part of me tormenting myself. I also knew why she was there. Everyone was always telling my to harden up, toughen up, stop being so sensitive. This was my tough inner voice, despising me and trying to get me to harden up.
At the same time, I was having horrible nightmares about having to kill or be killed. Zombies were a regular feature in these dreams and the damned things never stayed dead! It was exhausting, fighting for my life every night and having to resort to violence in order to survive in a violent world.
The other regular ‘nightmare’ was a variation on the freezing-up experience I had after my father died. I would wake up with my body frozen and a heavy weight on my chest as though someone were sitting or laying on me. Eventually my body would wake up properly and I would be able to move but the awful feeling that I was in danger or had somehow been violated was hard to shake off and I often preferred to stay awake rather than risk falling back into the same dream.
Thankfully, my dreaming experiences weren’t all bad! In primary school, I started learning how to fly in my dreams. For years, as a child, all I could do was lean back and let my heels come off the ground about an inch. Gradually, over the years, I learned to fly and am now highly adept. Flying brings me a lot of joy! My husband has often been exasperated with me about my dreams. Even now, after all the strange freezing up experiences have long since passed, I still have extremely vivid, rich dreams, and the emotions in these dreams are very intense, staying with me throughout the day and influencing my mood.
POST BLOGGY BLOG
I wrote this about a week ago and was just re-reading it. On a whim, I typed ‘sleep paralysis’ into a search engine and was astonished when I hit the jackpot. Mystery solved peoples! According to Wikipedia sleep paralysis is a real thing, and can be accompanied by terrifying hallucinations, ‘perceived deafening loud noise and an acute sense of danger’. Wow how’s that? That was going to really irritate me if that mystery went unsolved.
What I might not have made clear, is that when I was a child being haunted by sounds, I was physically awake- my body could move just fine. I would walk around the house (turning fridges off and wrestling with leaky taps), pacing, trying to read, rocking back and forwards, whimpering…. all those things you do when being tormented by sounds in your head. I guess in those instances my body was awake and some part of my mind was asleep. So now I want to know if anyone else has ever had the auditory hallucination symptoms of sleep paralysis without being physically paralysed.
Ahhh, just did a bit more research and it’s called ‘exploding head syndrome! Hilarious huh? Nope, I’m not joking. I think I got ripped off personally. My exploding head syndrome used to last for an hour or even hours…. sounds like most people get off lightly with a couple of bangs. So maybe, my noises were something else. In the sleep paralysis literature, it suggested that sleep paralysis might be associated with migraine so I wondered if maybe people can get an auditory ‘migraine aura’ instead of a visual one- apparently they can indeed. Some people hear voices, others hear music.
Still not sure where the enhanced noise sensitivity fits in.
Let me quote you some interesting sleep paralysis cultural associations from the wikipedia site…..each culture has their own way of explaining this phenomenia:
In China, it’s called something that translates approximately to ‘Ghost pressing on body’.
The Koreans, have a similar take: ‘Being pressed down by a ghost’.
Similar again in Cambodian, Lao and Thai
In Vietnamese: ‘being held down by a ghost or a shadow’.
Wow, in New Guinea, it’s caused by sacred trees that feed on human essence. It’s quite okay unless you wake up during the process.
Looks like most cultures think of it as a ghost that sits on your chest, making it hard to breathe. Some think of it as possession by something evil.