I am pushing 30 and maybe this is why I am writing this: I have heard that the 30s is when one starts looking back at what one has accomplished and considering what the future will bring. The path ahead is still unclear, but the past is written and maybe it is time I actually do write it down.
I am lucky. Good family, an okay job that pays the bills, small but affectionate group of friends. I make sure to have my gratitude known and do my best to make the world better if I can. I think I have it together by now, more or less. This is probably when I should mention that I still sleep with the lights on in the corridor so that my room is only slightly darkened. That is the one thing I never completely fixed. It started very early, in fact as far as my parents are concerned it started when I was a baby. They told me that, at night, cars would pass under my window and briefly illuminate my room, creating shadows; in their mind, baby me could not understand why there were strange shadows at moments and I would cry because of that. They opined that that must have caused some buried fear of the dark or of shadows in my mind. I don't know about baby me, but child me was not reassured by that explanation, especially when my parents decided it was time to switch off the night light from my room. Light would filter in from the shutters (we lived near a train station which was always illuminated) so they could see no issue.
I used to wake up in the middle of the night for no apparent reason. I still shared a room with my brother by then and he never seemed to have any issues. However, I would lay there and do my best not to look at the shadows projected on the wall because, if I did, they would start to move. The shutters created a square of light against the wall and, apart from the dancing shadows, I could always make out what looked like a bald head taking its regular place there whenever I opened my eyes. It would not be there immediately but, whenever I looked at the spot for a few seconds, it would appear.
I experimented, moving objects around, adjusting the shutters but nothing seemed to help. It only got worse for a bit when I got my own room. My parents got a great deal on a bunk bed. I tried sleeping on the bottom one but it felt claustrophobic, so I chose the upper one. Finally, I had an actual reason for my frequent waking up in the middle of the night: my bed occasionally shook (no, not an earthquake, I checked) and I could sometimes feel as if my mattress was pushed from under me into my back. Honestly? I did not mind that much. If I kicked it, it would almost immediately stop. The shadows were not that understanding. Thankfully, I never needed many hours of sleep even during my childhood.
As I hit my teens, I started seeing adulthood around the corner and reacted accordingly. The bed shaking was a form of sleep paralysis, I announced. The shadows seemed to move due to an optical effect. Both those things might be true, though I never managed to find a corresponding phenomenon (anyone telling me would make my day actually, I have not completely given up on a medical explanation). Clearly, I needed to remove all shadows and sleep in absolute darkness. It worked okay for a bit and then I had an actual case of sleep paralysis. I still remember it vividly, being on my bed, incapable of moving, feeling almost crushed and with the deep impression that something was in my room, laughing at me.
It happened another 2 or 3 times with the same results. I was so angry. Then I started fighting back; maybe this is why I am writing this. To tell younger people that, if you are living through the same thing, you don't have to take it. The 4th time I put all my concentration into lifting one finger. I succeeded. I still got mockingly laughed at, but I knew I could do better. The 5th time I lifted an arm. The 6th time I lifted an arm and switched my night light on. For a long time after that, nothing happened. The 7th time happened when I was away at university. There was still that mocking laughter and this time I actually struggled to sit up in my bed with a feeling of wrongness, like an invasion. My anger burned. How dare they laugh at me. I concentrated all of that aggression until I could actually see fire and then directed it against that feeling of fear. I remember a scream and I doubled down on my bed. That day, I felt like I could do anything.
There were a couple of other attacks, but by then I was calm. I could recognize the signs, so whenever I felt that sense of wrongness I concentrated on my anger, pushed it against that feeling, and settled down.
I had a job when things got serious again, though in a different way than in the past. It started with me talking with my then-boyfriend. He was in the bathroom and I was in bed. He came into the room and approached the bed and that was when, with a clarity that surprised me, a part of my brain said "He is not here, he is abroad for work, this is not right". This did not make sense. I was dreaming in any case, by then I had realized. And the one approaching the bed... Was not him. Not even dream him. I saw the shadows and reacted accordingly. Summon the anger. Let it spread and turn into energy. Fire it at them. I opened my eyes again with a sense of accomplishment. It happened another couple of times, with a friend and then my mother as the foils. Same result. I was smug. "Bon, mes amis, but not bon enough!"
I changed my job and country, still stubbornly keeping my room dark. I was an adult. Adults do not sleep with the light on. Then things got really serious. I woke up in my room, convinced it was morning. I tried to switch on the light. It did not work. Annoyed, I got up, went to the corridor. The lights would not switch on there either. I was fairly concerned by then, fearing a blackout and wondering how I was going to get ready for work in the dark. Tried the lights in the bathroom; same result. And then I felt it. The sense of wrongness. I was not expecting that, it felt like being caught into a trap, utterly distracted and with suffocating fear. I kept trying to switch on the lights, running from room to room, too scared to think. I woke up in a cold sweat. I kept the lights on for a few nights after that. I shut them off again then, and things went fine for a few months; then it happened again.
Long story short, it kept the same pattern, but the time during which things were fine with the lights off was shorter and shorter. I decided to keep the lights on until morning all the time. Once, I woke up at around 6 am. It was not yet daylight, but dawn was around the corner so I shrugged and switched everything off. I was not even expecting to fall asleep. I thought I did not. I got up after hearing a sound and tried switching on the light. It would not work. Tried the one in the corridor. Same. I felt the fear mounting but then had a brainwave. It /had/ to be dawn by now. I dashed towards the window and opened the blinds. Bingo. I turned around and there was... Something, someone? Right behind me. I was angry again and kicked them out of the window. They disappeared but I did not feel like I won that round. They did not look upset. I was though, and it has now been a year since I've switched off the lights in my flat during the night.
It's not all bad. I have had excellent, if strange, experiences in dreams (and while awake). It is difficult to explain, but I sometimes wake up with the feeling of having accomplished a great deal, remembering snippets of conversations with people that I know are friends and family but that are different from those I have in real life. I sometimes feel like I am on some kind of long-term mission, but I cannot exactly figure out what I need to do. The future is being written, after all, and I might expand upon my other experiences at a later date.
For the moment, I still try to keep it together. I wonder if there is anyone else with the same problem I am having. Is it a sleep disorder? Is my technique just a way to focus the mind to get away from a feeling of anxiety? Part of me wants to be told that it is. Part of me wanted to finally share this without receiving concerned looks. Part of me wants to know if someone else knows what is going on.
If you made it to the end of this long account, thank you for reading. I just needed to get it out.