Experience:Dem Shadow People and Such (A Retrospective)
- Date: Various
- Gender: Male
- Weight: 140 lbs / 64 kg
- Age: 15 - Present (25)
- Etc: I dream a lot.
Since as far back as I can remember I have always been a very heavy sleeper and dreamer. It apparently runs in my family. My natural sleep duration without any interruption growing up (e.g. the time I'll fall asleep to wake up long enough to remember it is the next day) is 8.5-9 hours. If I am feeling lazy, depressed, or bored I can go back to bed and enter a semi-sleep state in which my dream recall and dream immersion are noticeably amplified. This to the point I can sometimes force myself into resuming the dream I just previously experience (although the dream that results tends to feel less natural, and easy to "break", perhaps because it is being subconsciously reconstructed in a lucid dream state). I've noticed that if there is no dream to resume I can just let my brain's spontaneous dream generator run at half power and just use whatever material it spits out as precursor to trigger lucid states. The longest I tend to remain in this state after the 9-hour point is about 2-3 hours or so.
My childhood (and to an extent, teenage) dream life was characterized by alternating dreams of incredibly vivid and fantastic dreamscapes and scenarios (with all the complex emotional charge of a psychedelic experience), that, upon waking up, would occasionally leave me breathless and yearning to return. These would often be vast, peaceful, and comfortably isolated places like ethereal grassy fields or mountainsides. Nice, quiet places to die, I always felt.
As I grew older (10-12+ years old) these sorts of vivid and serene dreams would begin to come to include more apocalyptic horror visions such as a sudden plague outbreak, or zombie infection, anything that symbolized not just the unavoidable disintegration of the world at large, but the disintegration of the family unit, and everything that allowed me to withstand the tedium of existence. Even when these dreams would end with my escaping into an absolute security zone, witnessing many harrowing sights to get to there, I was deeply afflicted with survivor's guilt. I felt I'd rather be dead with society and all my loved ones that didn't make it; either way, the situation was totally abject and I derived no satisfaction at knowing my survivor's instinct was sufficiently adapted. Even to "win" in this situation was to lose.
These dreams kept recurring in various configurations as I entered high school. They eventually became so familiar I stopped being swept away by the immediate feelings driving them (anxiety, fear, terror, etc.) and the motifs in them became sufficiently encoded that I could recognize that "the zombie apocalypse dream" was happening again. This enabled me to step back and experience the most vivid variations without blocking them out. I had countless dreams that ended with me with a gun and just a single bullet left, nowhere left to go, forcing me to make that final choice. I have died a lot in my dreams.
After a while, I reached a point where I felt I had experienced enough pure fear in these dreams that it seemed to overload my brain's "predictive simulation" module so that I'd eventually come to the conclusion in the dream that "this is simply way too fucked/horrifying to actually be happening." When I started to get sick of just helplessly taking the godless mindfuck over and over, I seemingly gained the ability to start to dissociate from the seeming unignorable reality of the dream and be able to recall the archetypal pattern of the dream progression, eventually to the point where I could have a horrible dream and yet still feel comfortable going to sleep afterwards, having become numb to them. I believe a side effect of this was some dissociation I carried with me into my everyday life.
Sleep paralysis - Discovering triggers
At about age 14-15 I had entered a rigorous high school environment with a curriculum composed of a whole stack of college-prep courses (12 AP courses total for who are familiar with the program in the US). I had severe attentional and procrastination issues at the time, though I did not know the extent, as my baseline intelligence enabled me to at least be in the same tier with the highest performing students, though without the stick up my ass and weird hyper-competitive mindset. But I wanted to at least keep up because the material that was being taught was stimulating enough. This eventually shifted my eating/sleeping cycle quite severely as I had no time management habits and could always get by in the last-minute. My dreams started to shift from merely vivid (if not often disturbing) to another qualitative type, in the form of the recurring sleep paralysis episode.
The basic pattern was this: I would wake up at 7-7:30 AM, skip breakfast (except for a bowl of cereal every now and then), get to school by 8:00 AM, skip lunch, come back at 3:00 PM and have my first meal of the day (usually like microwaved lasagna). I would then get extremely tired by around 5:00 or 6:00 PM and take a nap without a timer, which meant I would be asleep for about 2, sometimes 3 hours. By around 8:00 or 9:00 PM my parents would return home from work with a heavy meal that I would eat and stay up till about 1 or 2 AM before going to sleep. I found that if I had been in this pattern for a while, and especially if I had pulled an all-nighter the night or two before, enough to totally disrupt my circadian cycle, and then slept on my back as I normally do, I would be very prone to experiencing sleep paralysis maybe 1 to 2 hours after I fell asleep. It was, at first, obviously terrifying beyond belief, considering I had never heard of this phenomenon before. Afterward, I experienced SP more times than I can remember and gradually learned how to manage/cope with them using a number of methods.
- Physical and tactile - The most prominent and immediate aspect of sleep paralysis in my experience is what is sometimes referred to as "The Fear". It is an all-encompassing, fully embodied feeling that is somewhat reminiscent of the experience of walking along a hiking trail and unexpectedly coming across a highly venomous snake lying in front of you. There is an immediate freezing response and a wash of cold needle-like tactile sensations all over the skin, and a sinking feeling in your gut -- all coming together to produce "feelings of impending doom" (I imagine this happens less to those who experience these situations regularly). If I had to put it into words, it feels almost like my primary consciousness is being involuntarily deactivated to let my older instinctive brain mechanisms take over, switching my behaviors to autopilot. There is a flush of adrenaline that becomes notably evident afterward, when the situation has been escaped and yet there are still noticeable residual effects such as the shaking of the heads and such (though this does not happen during my SP experiences). I would like to note that I have experienced this level of "The Fear" reliably on 5-MeO-DMT, particularly during the onset of the experience, including the hand-shaking. I have also had experiences in which I get the sense they are extremely close to me. In the paralyzed state, I can feel as if they are behind me or right next to me out of sight. It reminds of the sense humans have to kind of sort of feel when someone is behind them even in the absence of any cues, except amplified a thousandfold, and very ominous.
- Visual and auditory - The visual hallucinations component of the sleep paralysis experience tends to consist of either a single or multiple shadowy figures/people surrounding my bed and looming over me. The auditory hallucinations are almost invariably present some form, and they reminded me of an insect-like, high-speed, inverted ASMR-type sound (that I'm sure a religiously oriented person might confidently label as "demonic curses"), which, interestingly did not emit from a distance like sound-waves through space but seemed to be being whispered directly into my ear or brain, regardless of the perceived distance of the entity.
- Despite the generally menacing and terrifying here is no discernible semantic content to the auditory hallucinations (although the underlying tone is incredibly creepy and menacing). There was a sense of an alien language being spoken, but not necessarily directed to oneself in any form. In my mind, this is what separates shadow people from autonomous entities, as even if they do seem to be speaking in an alien language that seems to surround but not be directed at me. With autonomous entities on psychedelics, I tend to experience some sort of intentionality and directedness at me (which usually corresponds with visual cues, such as them seemingly to look in my eyes directly or move their mouths in a synchronized but uninterpretable fashion. If their faces or in some close-eyed, meditative pose, the feeling is as if they are directly uploading an unfiltered mass of pure information in my mind in a way that feels telepathic (though the content itself is still undecodable, yet somehow feels profound). Though I'd also like to note that this while I may hallucinate entities on such experiences, it is not always the case that they notice me and establish contact. Some experiences are such that I feel as if I am a fly in a mind-bogglingly massive space with giant entities lumbering below. Other times it is just pure geometry with only the vague feeling of autonomous sentience beings that otherwise remain unmanifested.
- Shadow entities on the other hand, do seem to operate with some autonomy but their range of motion always seemed very much restricted. It is as if, when unable to move during the SP state, the way in which your mind itself "moves" is somehow connected by a network of invisible strings that influence them to move along with it, on an entirely subconscious level. This does not happen in a one-to-one, predictable fashion, but there is still the sense that they do not possess "minds" of their own and are therefore much more able to be seen as subconscious projections of the chilling fear and confusion in one's mind that occurs when first waking up and thinking they are in a totally unfamiliar place, with no memory of how they go there, or the ability to orient themselves to be able to figure it out -- pure, sudden helplessness and inability to even vocalize out loud for assistance. In my experience, shadow people do not seem to possess any singular intelligence but are rather like hive-minded insects.
- The shadow entities did not seem to be discrete and separated from the environment in their form, but rather seemed to be "stitched into" or enmeshed into the fabric of the perceived environment. While humanoid in shape, they do not walk on their legs to move. Rather they seem to melt into the ground, travel along it, and then reform in a new location (usually closer to you). While I would not go so far as to call them 2D, that is how they immediately look at first glance. However, given their blurriness/shadowiness, they also seem 3-dimensional, but not fully so. If there is a category for 2.5D, I would place them there.
These are just some of the features I have noticed with states of sleep paralysis and the extremely vivid hallucinations that can be produced. Even after many years of experiencing these states, I still have a brief moment of confusion and shock when I wake up in the middle of the night and can feel, even before my eyes open, "presences" and "The Fear" in my body. In the moment, the hallucinations are always real and convincing, as if the mind has no ability to override them due to the sheer overwhelmingness and feeling of being frozen and suddenly finding yourself in a life-threatening situation. It is completely visceral and instinctual.
I do not experience sleep paralysis regularly anymore. After my period of intense recurring episodes in high school, my curriculum became less rigorous so I was a) less sleep deprived and b) able to have a more consistent schedule (that also seemed to sync better with my dietary schedule -- the large late meals shortly before bed I suspected may have acted as a trigger for kicking me awake in the wrong stage of REM sleep -- this is just speculation, however). Later, I began experimenting with substances in college. Along with the generally poor quality of sleep I was getting as a result of my heavy cannabis intake, I lost the consistency in the vividness of my dreams and being able to recall them (which took me many years to make the connection with, and drastically tone down my usage). I noticed when there was a period where I was extra stressed out, not getting enough/regular sleep by pulling all-nighters or taking very long naps late into the day, I would have a higher likelihood of experiencing an SP episode.
Other things that I noticed could act as triggers was the occasional substance use, particularly taking benzodiazepines with alcohol (small doses of each, like 1mg of etizolam with a beer in the 2-3 hours leading up to going to bed). However, by this point, I became much more mindful of my sleeping/eating/exercising cycle, started to cap my sleep off to 8 hours max and setting a bed time (12pm-1pm-ish) so I wouldn't just wake up and sleep when I felt like it (this would make my schedule very erratic). I believe this gave my body and brain's rhythms the time to adjust and find an equilibrium.
I still do experience sleep paralysis these days, but only very rarely and spontaneously. I do get the Fear as well still, but I have since learned that if I wake up and find my body unable to move, I automatically know what is going on and how to handle it. In the past, I would use to try to fight it. To move all my muscles and try to yell and scream and "force" myself to break it due to the highly unpleasant nature of it. However, perhaps due to the lessons I have learned from extensive psychedelic experimentation, I have since learned the best approach is to just recognize and initiate a pre-planned response I have since come to practice, which is to simply let go and trust that this a natural phenomenon and will pass soon enough. It does not bother me in any significant capacity, as it did when I was younger (sometimes I would not sleep on my back the entire night after a bad episode, as I have noticed a correlation between sleeping on my back and the likelihood of experience SP).
I do this by keeping my eyes absolutely shut no matter how curious I get (as I have learned it is never as interesting or real as it seems in the moment, and the only thing you have to gain is being disturbed and shaken up) and focus all my concentration and energy on my breath, a mindfulness meditation technique. While this does not get rid of the auditory hallucinatory component entirely, I've found I can just tune as much as I can out, stay completely still, surrender and do not fight it, and constantly refocus on the breath, reminding myself that this will pass over and over. I have since learned that if I can do this completely, the sleep paralysis will fade and if my eyes have been kept close, I can easily transition it into a lucid dream state.
Submitted by Anonymous