The Devil Was Sitting on My Chest

John Henry Fuseli – The Nightmare

So I want to say last night the single most terrifying experience of my life happened. 

  I was in the midst of a sewing frenzy. In total I made two pairs of pants, a chemise, and five shirts. I’m meeting up with my dad do some historically accurate 1840’s camping this weekend. Of course I wait until the night before to get all my sewing done. The serger and I have become good friends now, but that’s another story entirely. 

By the time I’d actually completed all my sewing it’s was around midnight. Midnight is super late for me to still be up, I have to get up at six for work during the weekdays. In fact my boyfriend Brian was already asleep when I came upstairs, which NEVER happens. 

I get into bed, super exhausted, still trying to shake that feeling of there’s some stuff I still need to do before we leave for this weekend. I turn off the light. We have the kind of lamps where you can touch them anywhere on the metal base to turn them on or off. Sometimes they turn on by themselves, but usually it’s no big deal. I fall asleep pretty quickly.

The first thing I notice when I wake up is that the light has turned itself on. My brain says, 

“Brian, can you turn that off?”

 but nothing comes out of my mouth. 

I go to nudge him instead, but my arms feel bolted down. Very suddenly I hear what sounds like a woman screaming, in pain. There’s this crushing feeling on my chest. I can move my eyes though, and I’m sure they’re darting around like a mad woman. 

I cannot breath.

I trying so hard to open my mouth and nothing is happening. In my head I’m panicking. I’m screaming,

 “Brian please wake up, I think I’m dying!”. 

Then I start hearing this whooshing sound, like a helicopter, but louder and lower pitched. It is deafening. All the while, I still cannot breath. My adrenaline is going through the roof. 

A thousand things start running through my head, all pretty illogical in retrospect, but pretty convincing while this ordeal was happening. 



picked the most sensible explanation though. I was being abducted by aliens. That was the only answer. I’m laying here in bed and my dog and my boyfriend are completely unaware of my impending doom.

Aliens are going to start crawling through my window any minute now. I wait for flashing lights. 

I wait for the tractor beam.

What feels like an hour passes and It’s still the same. I am trying to will my arm to nudge Brian, my hand is actually touching his thigh! I can’t move that fraction of an inch. 

I can’t move it. 

I still hear the whoosing and the lady screaming. I feel like it might drive me insane. 

The side table lamp flickers, but remains on. 

This is what I get for making fun of ancient aliens. This is what I get for mocking how fake the xfiles aliens look. They’re obviously trying to prove me wrong. 

I really don’t want to be probed at this point. I wonder if I can take a martian in a fist fight. 


Can’t he hear the noises? I am more full of fear than I have ever been in my entire life. 

Suddenly, everything stops.

I slowly lift my arm up and touch Brian. I can’t believe I can move. 

Am I in shock? Am I dead? 


I tell him to turn off the light. I must look terrified.

“What is it?” He says again. 

“Didn’t you hear that woman screaming? What about the whoosing noise?”  His eyes narrow at me. 

“Are you f*cking serious?”

 I let about thirty seconds pass by before I say, 

“I think was just abducted by aliens.”

His jaw drops open, and he mouths “what?!”.

 He lets out this long and pained sigh, turns out the light, and goes back to sleep. 

So now I’m in the dark, not able to sleep. I start actually rationalizing what happened. Thank god I troll the internet like a madwoman, because suddenly I remember about

Sleep Paralysis, or more commenly known as when “the devil sits on your chest.” The wiki page explains it quite well. 

Physiologically, sleep paralysis is closely related to REM atonia, the paralysis that occurs as a natural part of REM (rapid eye movement) sleep. Sleep paralysis occurs either when falling asleep, or when awakening. … When it occurs upon awakening, the person becomes aware before the REM cycle is complete, and it is called hypnopompic or postdormital. The paralysis can last from several seconds to several minutes, with some rare cases being hours, “by which the individual may experience panic symptoms”. As the correlation with REM sleep suggests, the paralysis is not entirely complete; use of EOG traces shows that eye movement is still possible during such episodes, however, the individual experiencing sleep paralysis is unable to speak.

I’m still listening for the noises I heard. I think I hear the woman again, but when I listen closer it’s the next door neighbors dog howling. Then a train goes by in the distance which is very similar to the whoosing. 

Hypnagogic and hypnopompic hallucinations are symptoms commonly experienced during episodes of sleep paralysis. Some scientists have proposed this condition as an explanation for reports of alien abductions and ghostly encounters.A study by Susan Blackmore and Marcus Cox (the Blackmore-Cox study) of the University of the West of England supports the suggestion that reports of alien abductions are related to sleep paralysis rather than to temporal lobe lability.There are three main types of these hallucinations that can be linked to pathologic neurophysiology.These include the belief that there is an intruder in the room, the incubus, and vestibular motor sensations.

Many people that experience sleep paralysis are struck with a deep sense of terror because they sense a menacing presence in the room while they are paralyzed which will hereafter be referred to as the intruder. Sensing a malignant presence in the room during an episode of sleep paralysis is believed to be the result of a hyper vigilant state that is created in the midbrain.More specifically it is believed that the emergency response is activated in the brain when individuals wake up paralyzed and feel extremely vulnerable to attack. This feeling of helplessness can intensify the effects of the threat response well above the level typically found in normal dreams; this could explain why the hallucinations experienced during sleep paralysis are so vivid.Normally the threat activated vigilance system is a protective mechanism used by the body to differentiate between dangerous situations and to determine whether the fear response is appropriate.This threat vigilance system is evolutionarily biased to interpret ambiguous stimuli as dangerous because the survival of the organism is greatly increased if it is more likely to interpret situations as life-threatening. This could serve as an explanation as to why the presence sensed by those experiencing sleep paralysis is generally believed to be evil.

So basically my brain was going bananas and pulling from my surroundings and fears to create the hallucination. Which explains why the sounds were so deafening to me. From what I understand it’s very similar to hallucinations from drugs. So like reality, only way way worse. 

I totally have the lasting feeling of terror, my adrenaline levels are all screwy and I’m very jumpy today. I’m also glad that Alien Abduction wasn’t just something that I alone thought was going on. I mean for thousands of years people just assumed a demon was trying to possess them, at least I’m not that unreasonable.

Everything aside, I think I’m going to cool it on my X-files marathons for awhile, just in case. 

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