Night Terrors


Featured in That Time of the Month Storytelling show on 3.10.2013 in Nashville, TN

I woke up in the dark to see a man at the foot of my bed pointing a double barrel shotgun at my head. He had long dirty blond hair and didn’t speak a word. A few feet behind stood the figure of another man. I laid there frozen for a few seconds before deciding, “This was it.” I was either going to die there in my bed from a gunshot wound at pointe blank range to the face or go out with a fight. At least I had the element of surprise if they thought I was asleep. In one fell swoop I grabbed for the gun, kicked at the man’s head and screamed bloody murder. The next thing I heard was glass breaking somewhere in the room and my boyfriend, Zach, next to me yelling, “Wake up, you’re asleep! Wake up!”

I sat up, stunned and shaking. I was sweating like Kanye West at an outdoor concert. My heart beat in my ear while I let everything register. Where is he? Did I scare them off? Are they still in here? Did I get the gun? All these things were running through my head, but all I could muster was, “I thought I was going to die.”

“Yeah, I could tell.” Zach answered. “You were screaming at the top of your lungs, and punching and kicking all at the same time. Worse than I’ve ever seen you do.” He got up to turn on the light and I sat up and looked around. Apparently I had thrown my nightcap glass of wine at the window, and then threw all my pillows in to the puddle of wine. Zach walked around to look at the glass.

“Are you coming over here to help me?” I asked meekly.

“No, I’m going to the bathroom, now that I’m awake.” He answered.

I looked at my phone and realized I’d only been asleep for about 45 minutes. I grabbed my wine soaked pillows from the floor and went back to bed, like nothing had happened, like I hadn’t just fought off a bunch of hillbilly mobsters. It was just another normal night terror.

It’s hard to explain the difference between night terrors and regular nightmares, especially to someone who doesn’t even remember their dreams, like my boyfriend. It’s not like a dream where a bunch of random things from your subconscious come together to put on a shenanigan filled vaudeville variety show in your head. It’s not even like when you dream you’re flying on a magical pink toilet and then you wake up in a warm puddle. At least for me, it’s as if I’ve woken up in my own bed, in a completely realistic setting, only my worst nightmare is playing out in front of me. Then, instead of just waking up from the bad dream, my body starts acting out what I’m doing until someone wakes me up, or I flail around and make enough noise to wake myself up.

I’d been having night terrors mostly since I graduated college and lived alone in a house in Franklin, Kentucky’s version of Skid Row. I was constantly afraid of someone breaking in while I was asleep. My night terrors were always the same; home invasions. Dark shadowy figures of men coming into my room while I slept. Sometimes they were standing over me, sometimes in the doorway, sometimes at the foot of my bed, and sometimes even in the bed with me. I’ve woken up kicking the wall, punching the air, yelling, fighting my sheets, and once even clutching and aiming the .22 pistol my dad gave me for a graduation present. Don’t worry, now it stays in a box, in my nightstand and unloaded.

I also no longer have glass on my nightstand and all my wine glasses are plastic. Then there is my cell phone which I keep inside a sandwich bag lined with a Santa Claus beard just in case it should happen to get thrown across the room. This was discovered during Christmas time night terrors. We ALL know that criminal activity is higher around the holidays.

I thought everyone had night terrors from time to time. My mom has had them, so I thought they were pretty common. After a little online searching I found out that they occur in less than one percent of adults and usually end in the late twenties. I bet there is also 1% of the population who can’t wait to turn 30. Although, I’m 28 now and they are more prevalent than ever, with no signs of stopping. I have learned ways to adjust to them.

Early instances included me waking up in my bed upside down as a teenager thinking there was a bird in my room. I hid under the comforter thinking the bird was attacking me until I realized it was morning and the bird had mysteriously disappeared. Another time as a child I thought I was being strangled by a boa constrictor and woke up with my bedside lamp cord wrapped several times around my neck.

I stayed at a friend’s house recently, and after lying awake for hours, finally fell asleep, only to wake up screaming and punching a pillow which I thought was a Sasquatch. The next morning I woke up to a text from her letting me know that her pets were all acting really weird and nervous and for me to be careful around them.

Zach likes to bring my night terrors up as a conversation starter at dinners with acquaintances. Their wide-eyed looks let me know this is not something normal couples wake up to. Sometimes my boyfriend will text me around lunchtime and say, “do you remember your dream last night? You were screaming but not punching this time.”

He has a good sense of humor about it. I think he’s just trying to stay on my good side though. I let him know that a lot of night terror victims attack people in their sleep, especially if they try to wake them. Zach believes I don’t attack him because of his soothing monotone voice.

From what I’ve read online, night terrors themselves are not treatable, but usually an indicator of a deeper lying mental disorder. So I’ve got that going for me. Every time I try to take some precautions to prevent them, they seem to evolve. I was noticing that I usually awoke screaming while lying on my back, so I made an effort to only go to sleep on my side or my stomach. Well, what you do you know, but I woke up screaming into my dog’s face who sleeps in the middle of the bed. He promptly ran away the next morning when we went for a walk.

I also thought I was more prone to thinking there was a home invasion if I had any doubt that the doors and windows weren’t locked, that uncertainty leaks into my subconscious. I told my boyfriend this so he could understand how important it is that all doors stay locked at night so I can feel safe. Shortly after I locked myself out of the house and was able to break into the front door with just my Kroger Plus card. The same boyfriend who takes a week to change out a blown light bulb, installed a brand new deadbolt, the very next day.

You may wonder why I would let this go on so long without talking to a therapist. As a part-time public speaking instructor at a community college and full-time aspiring comedian, you may be shocked to learn that I do not have health insurance. I also tried substitute teaching for private schools on my days off, but it turns out that for someone with lifelong insomnia and frequent night terrors, being on call at 6am to go preside over the classrooms of Nashville’s future elite is not the best idea.

One thing does make me proud. I have asked a lot of people what they would do if they woke up to a stranger in their bedroom with a gun. Most say they would freeze, try to reason with the gunman and comply with their demands. But me, I can say without a doubt that I would wake up swinging, ready give them fight of their lives.