(Written for and inspired by Ryan Jetten)
Deceived By God
A phrase uttered by G.R., a female prone to Night Terrors. Her comment was made during a tirade against the masculine sex–in particular, St. Jerome and his view that “Woman is the gate of the devil, the road of evil, the sting of the scorpion.” We never understood if man or woman, saint or slut, or both were “deceived.” Few victims of Night Terrors remember them; however, there are exceptions and G.R. can be counted in that minority. She claimed memories of “enigmatic bodies,” “garments,” and “shame.”
With patient U.L.’s hypnagogic sleep paralysis (HSP), we were able to study the narcotic taint of evolution. HSP is considered rare, hereditary, and often geographically episodic in nature. True to this generalization, U.L.–a Southeast Asian–would have nightmare-like hallucinations of ancestral ghosts, many of which tried to strangle him while he was paralyzed. He described them as “swollen” or “decayed” and two wore “blue paint on their faces.”
Blood of Beauty
Typical of those with DSM-IV AXIS 1:307.46, C.C. awoke screaming, profusely sweating, and unable to explain what he had seen or felt before waking up. His heart rate measured 163 bpm. He stated that the symptoms started at age ten, during the week he got braces and went to stay with cousins in Iowa. He described being in pain ever since.
Dismembered Nervous System
Patients like M.T. were often told that Pavor Nocturnus was caused by distressing reactions between foods like cheese, pastry, and bad wine and the “gut brain.” Later, psychoanalysis moved the cause to the central nervous system. But now, neurogastroenterology is making a comeback with the study of the enteric nervous system, which is composed of the esophagus, stomach, small intestine, and the colon. Perhaps that “blot of mustard” really is to blame.
Stage IV, the deep non-REM stage of sleep, is at once empty and crowded. Nightmares do not occur in this stage, but Sleep Terror Disorder, somnambulism, and enuresis all take place in this dark warehouse of the mind. R.E. refused treatment even though he suffered from screaming fits. When asked why he did not want treatment, he stated that he heard “prophetic transmissions” in the “dronings.” He was especially sensitive to the pitch of Db and was frequently incontinent.
Congregation of the Wicked
As Frazer tells us, sexuality and religion are culturally one and the same. He writes of a Javanese custom in which a man and a woman have intercourse in the fields after the day of planting. Psychologically, the transcendental nature of this seemingly incongruous pair can be seen in the story of B von O.-a twelfth-century mystic. He began his meditations by wrapping his genitalia in rosaries. He also bit part of a fellow monk’s finger off while he was “possessed.” It is believed that some of B. von O.’s “visions” were Sleep Terrors.
Buckets of Bile
R.N. suffered from an anxious melancholia that was relieved only through intense and various autoeroticisms. Stress is often a catalyst for Night Terrors and R.N.’s melancholia provided a fertile ground for the prickly flower of Pavor Nocturnus. Her Disorder memories included “handkerchief,” “arson,” and “rottweiler.”
Raped by the Dead
“When I first felt the Famine–it really stung. The end was pointed and it broke right after it blistered me. I woke up and had something like gravy on me. It had chunks like old toothpaste, but it was brownish.”- E.H.
It was usual for P.E. to wake up from dreams and not be able to move–except for his eyes. P.E. had CSP or Common Sleep Paralysis. He stated that over time his condition did not bother him, in fact, he began to use the episodes as a time to plan meals.
“The night-mare hath ridden thee.” People used this saying to explain disturbances during sleep. They were explained as a type of possession–hence the subsequent depiction in various art forms of devils riding on the backs of humans. T.S. is one of the only recorded twentieth-century seers of the she-horse. He kept a horseshoe under his bed to keep her away.
“Sin spits my mind back at me.” ~ X.
Stephen McClurg teaches and writes in Birmingham, Alabama. Recently, he spent a week writing haiku for the Washington Post‘s blog. He has written for newspapers, journals online and otherwise, and has published in the anthologies You Ain’t No Dancer and Voices from a Safe Harbor.