The Old Hag

When I am about to awake, the limbs and trunk of my body refuse to move. My eyelids flit up and down, but my eyes won’t stay open. Maybe I manage to lift my head a bit, but it weighs an impossible ton of bricks. I need to scream, but my voice can only manage muted moans. A sense of impending capture and/or death go along with all this, so I reeeeally need to lift my body and go. Impossible. I’m paralyzed.

Death is not at hand, but the paralysis is quite real. And I am far from the only poor sleeper to suffer it. “Sleep paralysis,” lasting seconds or minutes, is accompanied by terror, panic, and hallucinations. Vivid horror.

Some folklore call this experience “The Old Hag.” The Old Hag might be a mare, witch, or damned woman who flies around at night resting here and there on rib cages. Her weight presses hard, pins you down, and renders you paralyzed. Tag this feeling catalepsy, narcolepsy, hypnogogic hallucinations, evil jinns, science fiction, alien abductions, lucid dreams, ghouls, haunts, and The Nightmare by Henri Fuseli. There are plenty of tips on “sleep hygiene” out there, and in my experience they work. Don’t despair.


From the August 2011 issue of Happiness Pony. [PDF]

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