This is narcolepsy
I’m 4 years old.
I climb into bed, tired but fighting sleep. Fear keeps me awake. Every day I’m a happy, playful kid. Every night is this same shit.
I close my eyes. Not because I drift peacefully. I close them mechanically, voluntarily, like I’ve been asked to make a fist. My parents recognize my nightly panic, but tell me that I “have to try to sleep.”
As soon as I’m alone I start to feel deeply tired within seconds, but a moment after that the sensations that won’t let me sleep start in my fingertips. As soon as I’m fully aware of the change, the sensation fills my hands and moves into my wrists. Next my arms throb and feel heavy.
It’s cement, filling my body. It moves up my arm. With my eyes squinted shut I’m sure my arms are now three times their usual size. I don’t dare look to confirm; they might explode. I want to lift them. I try. I think if I can move them it will break the spell, but they don’t budge. I’m nearly paralyzed. I can feel the exertion, but the strain is too much. I give up and leave my arms dead at my sides.
The cement moves into my torso and down my legs until my whole body is swollen and dense, like a stack of protective x-ray aprons have been piled on top of me. Pinned to sheets that feel as hard as pavement, unable to stop my body from expanding, my childish mind is sure I’m the size of the double bed. It all makes perfect sense to my little brain processing this:
at night, my body increases in size until I can’t move.
The only muscles unaffected are the ones in my eyes, which I open but brings more fear. The hallucinations begin the same way every night. The room seems a little smaller, the walls a little closer.
I don’t close my eyes because there’s also something intoxicating about this, another sensation in the center of my skull I will experience later as an adult, on its own without fear, trying various legal and illegal drugs. I know now that as a child a part of me was terrified, and another part was high.
With each breath the ceiling drops and the walls close in, until the picture above my dresser is so close I could touch it, if only I could move.
The picture is an oil painting of a carnival, complete with a clown who looks friendly during the day, but now narrows his eyes into something sinister and turns them on me. He grows in size as he moves out of the frame to reveal the rest of his body, tattered clothing and long fingernails.
He walks towards me and my only defense is to close my eyes again. I hear him move towards me, feel the dip at the end of the bed as he climbs on, crotches over me. I don’t want to open my eyes because I know from the shift in weight that he is on top of me, his face inches from mine. I force my head to the side and without realizing have somehow managed to bring my hand up to protect my throat.
As an adult I still can’t understand why I rotated my palm outward to complete this defensive maneuver.
Narcolepsy is a lot of different things to a lot of different people. Mine included a childhood of night terrors. One night my dad takes me out in the snow to try to wake me up. Other nights I scream and sprint around the house trying to escape things only I can see. I wake up in different positions and places. Day three of a school trip in the 6th grade I woke up not knowing for half an hour where I was, not even sure who I was. When I was back to myself the counselors told me I ran around the facility screaming,
“Take it away from me! Take it away from me!”
They caught me, held me and kept me from running off, gave me something to eat and drink, bunked me in with the adults for supervision. I have no memory of that event and many like it. The only part I’m always lucid for is the nightly cement routine.
I don’t resent every adult of authority for dismissing years of this as all just a vivid imagination.
My parents hear me, remove the clown painting, but the monster finds new forms. I sleep with the lights on. Instinctually cover my neck before the nightly paralysis can set in. Position my pillows to make my body harder to get to. It doesn’t make the hallucinations stop.
As I get older I come up with dozens of new strategies to defend myself from myself. The hallucinations become less frequent, but no less severe when they happen. The fear never goes away because the cement is always there. It can come at the end of a yoga class, falling asleep in a chair, or just in a few seconds of closed eyes if I want to feel the rain on my face.
If I was a visual artist I could draw that bastard clown in detail.
About four years ago a doctor prescribed me something that made all of this stop.
I’m 46 years old.