Waking Up in the Closet and Other Night Episodes

Catchy title, right?  Sounds like it could the basis of a cool short story collection, but nope, this is the saga of  my love/hate relationship with SLEEP.  I’m not exactly sure how or when my sleeping problems began, but I do know that as an infant and toddler I never slept.  Ever, according to my mother.  Which is pretty ironic because now all I want to do when I have a free moment is take a nap.  Really, I plan my Saturdays around naps and my winter/spring/summer break plans revolve around napping time.  Even my  vacations are interrupted by a 1pm nap.  I went to Springfield last year with a friend and I notified (warned!) her ahead of time that I would need to take a nap every day, just in case she wanted to change her mind about traveling with me. Luckily she didn’t.

When I was seven we rented an apartment that was on the top floor of an old country farmhouse.  Many, many strange things happened in this house like:

  • 6 year old BooBoo (who lived in the garage with his parents) running around our yard wearing only his diaper throwing glass baby food jars at us
  • the strung out son of our landlord who lived in bottom floor apartment robbed us (and hid all of our stuff in the basement) 3 weeks before we moved to Chicago
  • a neighbor kid broke my cat Mellow’s back leg when he tied him to his bike wheel spokes and took him for a spin
  • Albert the ghost who cohabited with us in our apartment
  • the time mom walked by my door and I was sitting up in bed in the middle of the night saying “Potatoes? I like potatoes.  French fries, mashed potatoes, baked potatoes. I like them all.”

Can you believe that?  I mean really, who lives in a garage AND wears a diaper until 6 years old.

Wait, that’s not the part you found strange?

Yeah, the potato thing…I’m not sure where that came from.  It’s totally true, though, I *do* love all kinds of potatoes.

Still not it?

How about the nerve of the guy who robbed us and hid our stuff in the basement?

Side note: we were living in Louisville, Kentucky and Jason and I went to a school where you got extra credit if you wore shoes.  Yes. Shoes = Extra Credit. We were all happy when we moved to Chicago, especially my mom who was born and raised in Queens.

The point I’m trying to make is that from the time I was a wee-little girl, I’ve had sleeping problems.  I didn’t realize how bad they were until I started doing all sorts of strange things in middle of the night. Things that up until that time, I thought were dreams.  I’m a lucid dreamer, which means I tend to absorb external stimuli into my current dream state. During this process there is always a slight warping of the original stimulus (audible or tactile) which is what causes the “incident”.  I always always, always remember what happens during my “night episodes”, much to my chagrin.

I remember the “weird years” started with small incidents, like when I would sleep with the windows open and had long drapes on my windows. The wind would float the drapes near the bed and sometimes they’d brush over me when I was sleeping.  In my dream, suddenly there would be hundreds of bugs crawling all over me and eventually, I’d wake up screaming.  After I calmed down, I’d realize it was the curtains, shut the window and fall back asleep.

Once, I had a dream where I was sleeping in my own house, but next to my bed there was a window that didn’t really exist (different apartment from above) and my cat jumped on the bed next to me.  In my dream, it was a wild fox and it started attacking me.  I woke up screaming and thrashing and my poor cat went flying through the air.

Sometimes movies or books tend to influence my dreams.  I fell asleep reading Harry Potter and suddenly, I was in Hogwarts and I had to fight off a Dementor.  I picked up my bedside lamp and I was waving it around like a wand (yes, I ripped the plug out of the wall.)  After a few minutes of activity, I “woke” up and realized that I was having a “night episode” or “sleep freak out” as they were later to be called.  This was the eventual pattern.  I’d do something silly and wake up partially through it. I never hurt myself or anyone else or was a danger (other than giving myself a potential heart attack)

One winter, I decided it would be a good idea to put flannel sheets on the bed.  That lasted promptly two nights until I dreamed that someone was across the street spying on me with a heat-seeking camera.  (I know, I’m so strange. But I did just see Eraser and this very thing actually happened in that movie) I was sweating from the flannel sheets and panicked that they could see me because I was so warm.  I immediately got up, started ripping the sheets and blankets off the bed and throwing them into the middle of the hallway.  Moments later, I “woke” up and realized I had been dreaming.  These incidents were all very, very common and would happen on a weekly basis.  Always the first 60 minutes I was sleeping, which meant it was happening before I hit REM sleep.

I’ve had two other night freak outs that put all others to shame.  These are the ones that my friends as me to retell over and over while they laugh hysterically.  During the Winter Olympics a few years ago, I fell asleep watching the downhill snowboarding races. I started dreaming and in my dream, the race was actually happening in the church parking lot next door.  In the middle of the parking lot was a shed (doesn’t really exist) and the snowboarders had to fly through the shed to continue on the race.  Well, in my wacky dream state, the shed was actually my bedroom, and as the snowboarders crashed into the shed door, they flew through my room.  My dream self (and real self) panicked and jumped out of bed and ran to the door and started slamming it shut  screaming “NO! You can’t come in here!  Get OUT!!) over and over.  I must have stood at that door for a full minute opening and slamming it shut, screaming.

Finally I recovered enough to climb back in bed.  As I did, I realized that my left leg was hurting pretty badly just above my knee.  As I reached down to rub it, Jose noticed that I was bleeding.  A lot.  It took a few minutes to comprehend what had happened.  As I jumped out of the bed to slam the door, I ran into the edge of the foot board, hard enough to leave a 4 inch scrape that was bleeding a good amount.  I got bandaged up (still sort of in a lucid state) and went back to sleep.

In the morning, I understood the gravity of the situation a little more.  If I had turned to the right instead of the left, I would have throw myself through the windows next to me.  I really could have hurt myself more than the lovely scrape, sub-dermal bruise and bloody mess I already had.  The bruise ended up being about 10 inches in diameter, hurt like hell and lasted for at least a month.  I had a lump there under the skin for about a year and it was tender for a long time.  Of course I had to show my lunch buddies, Karen and Stephanie what had happened.  Embarrassing?  Yeah.  Amusing…oh HELL yes.

The other really funny thing happened about a year after “The Great Snowboarding Fiasco”.  I fell asleep like normal and suddenly I “woke up” (lucid dream state here). I remembered that I was supposed to be doing some type of surveillance on a person of interest in this investigation I was working on. (Apparently in my dream  I was a police officer).  I immediately got out of bed, panicked because I had lost track of my person. I looked around the room to find a good place to hide so I could see down the hall. I slid into a spot and stood there waiting for a good while.  Then very gradually as I came out of the lucid dream state I realized I was standing fully inside my closet peeking out of the curtains.  I actually laughed out loud as I climbed back into bed.

Mostly funny, sometimes terrorizing.  The worst feeling one (besides running into the foot board) was the event that made me look into what was causing this.  This happened about eight years ago.  I was sleeping for about an hour (as usual) and I woke up very startled because I KNEW someone was in the room with me that shouldn’t be there.  I was convinced someone had climbed into the window in my bedroom or broken into the apartment.  I started hyperventilating because I could feel them standing next to my bed.  I tried to be as still as possible because if the person saw me moving, he would know I was awake.  I vividly remember trying to control my breathing and appear as if I was still sleeping. I could literally feel the person standing over me breathing and I was getting more and more scared.  Finally after about 15 minutes, I decided I couldn’t lay there waiting for someone to hurt me, so I threw off the blankets and lunged out of bed.  Of course there was no one there.  Windows and doors were shut and locked tight.  The very next day I went to the pharmacy and started looking into some of the meds I was taking.  Turns out my allergy medication has been known to exasperate lucid dreaming and night paranoia in some people.  I started taking it in the AM instead of PM and the frequency of these incidents dramatically reduced.

The other good news is that in the year I’ve been using the CPAP machine (for the sleep apnea) I have had less than 3 night freak outs (I was averaging one every two weeks before), but that is another story.

off to sleep. Hopefully.

P.S. Was it Albert you wanted to hear about?  Well, Albert the ghost is another story for another time.  You’ll just have to keep checking back to read about that one.  It’s a doozy.

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