Sunday, September 18, 2011

Monster Within

I believe there are similarities between the Hmong and Filipinos- rice diet, physical attributes and quite possibly, sleep paralysis deaths.  But as much as we Pinoys believe in many supernatural nighttime creatures, too, by experience, I honestly don't think it's the reason I suffer from sleep paralysis.

I've always had trouble sleeping. I'm just one of those who sleep lightly unless I just had a very intense physical workout.  Seems to me that my mind comes racing towards a lot of things once I am alone with my thoughts - not necessarily about creatures and such but about as many miscellaneous things as one can think of when inside a library.  It's as if time's a waste for the millions of things I'd thought I could do.

Maybe it was around 14 years of age when I first had my frighteningly awakening experience with sleep paralysis. I'd like to describe it as 'mind being awake and aware yet body not responding, a paralysis that also affects respiration'.  I've experienced it a lot of times to the point that it added to my sleep problem. In anticipation, I say my nightly prayers and try to keep as few pillows also as they could feel like huge boulders that add to the difficulty of getting through when the paralysis attacks.

And yes, I can say that I've learned to fight through them.  The paralysis literally comes like a thief, and you awaken to a darkness around you unable to move.  At first, I wasn't aware of the danger it posed.  Yes, I could not physically move but then I know I am conscious and aware that something strange is happening.  But this same consciousness also comes with the thought that to live is to breathe.  And with that realization comes the panic. 

With a Catholic upbringing, it's second nature to use prayer as first option. Not to say that I have strong faith but during the paralysis, I always felt that whatever happens there is nothing for me to fear.  I've always believed that I have plenty of loved ones who've pased away who, despite my imperfections, continue to watch over me.

Obviously, I've pulled through since I am writing this in a feeble attempt to shed some light on this phenomenon.  Well, to say I got through those difficulties through prayer is not the whole story. Yes, I prayed and during the course of it, I also learned to focus all my willpower in getting a small finger to move and eventually break out of the paralysis and wake up.  I do that everytime and luckily, it works.  Of course, the fear remains but it's not enough to bother me from sleeping at all more than I hate any small dint of light whenever I go to bed. 

In her new book, Sherry Adler points out to some cultural monsters that seems tied up to the Hmong's suffering from sleep paralysis.  All I can say is, it certainly doesn't seem to be the same for me.  I've discussed this with classmates back in high school then, to a few friends in college and with my wife now and the thought of a monster never did creep up in any of our sleep paralysis conversations. 

In fact, I'd still lay my case that this thing is tied up to the rice diet.  Maybe there's something about the kind of carbohydrate that makes both Hmong and Filipinos predisposed to this paralysis.  Thinking about it, I'd often suffer from the paralysis when I sleep after a full rice meal combined with more than regular type of physical activity. With regards to cardiac makeup, I once had an irregular ECG pattern back in college but then an expert said that it was typical of teens to have that so I just brushed it aside.  I am past my 4th decade already and proud to say that I can still mix it up with those half my age playing hoops so I can't say I'm in the wrong end of the health spectrum either.

May I also point out that it is not only during night time that I got to experience sleep paralysis.  I remember quite accurately that I had one bout when I took an afternoon nap on a weekend after a very sumptuous lunch prepared by my mum.  It was summer with the heat and full stomach combined to become very powerful sleep inducers.  Alas, I had an inkling that falling asleep back then was like a death sentence but still wasn't able to fight it off. And then it happened.  Mind awake and paralyzed yet again. 

SO I struggled to move a either a pinkie or a small toe.  Unfortunately, there were pillows placed over my hands and feet.  I'm not sure how long I tried but during these attacks time seems a measure of when you can breathe again and not some clock activity. It might just be a minute but it did feel like it was longer when all of a sudden I saw my body lying on bed and with the room in full view from above.  I was floating from the ceiling!  It lasted maybe a few seconds or just an instant but I swear I saw everything.  I saw how my brother was getting inside the room to wake me up for merienda (snacks), but in an instant I was back in my body before he (or was it my mum) was able to touch any part of me.  I awoke and immediately replied I don't like eating because I heard already what it was - when I was floating.  End of story.

I grew up in a small 3 bedroom house with 5 sibling brothers.  We started with bunk beds but then I had to move into my own room not as a privilege of being the eldest.  Yeah, we loved watching horror movies as kids and we still do so now. So imagine that I had to be brave to sleep inside own room and deal with scary monsters once in while alone by myself.  Heck, my brothers were scared too but nobody would admit, except the youngest who wouldn't sleep with lights off to the disgust of the rest of us so he had to sleep by himself on the sala or spend the night tinkering with PC or whatever.

But to this day, we still haven't seen or admit we to have encountered monsters.  Truth is, if there ever was, my brothers who sleep in the other room know perfectly well that even scarier than the horror movies and stories is being with me on the same room.  For back then, I would sometimes wake up in the middle of the night to what might be a boot or shoe hitting my door.  And for anyone who has heard me snore, they will tell you that it's better to room in with a real monster.



The Dark Side of the Placebo Effect


We're now a family of three and our only kid is a big 6-year old.  I still don't get to sleep soundly and to add to the woe is that we 3 like to sleep together, not because it's comfortable but because it is a sort of family bonding ritual.  Well, it is not typical among Filipino kids to sleep with parents.  I often complain that I don't get to sleep soundly because I'd often get kicked in the nuts by the kid in the middle.  I am also a light sleeper so any movement is an interruption.  But I love being with my kid from the moment she was born and I'd probably just endure it for as long as I can.  Besides, a mattress is always ready at the foot of the bed when things just get too rough for me. Probably not the same nightmare monster, but seems only this is the very real one to me.