a dark hallway with looming shadows and a door glowing red

Behind the Red Door

Imagine laying in your bed awake, but completely unable to move, or speak, while intruders approach your bedroom. You just lay there passively waiting for it to be over while your worst nightmares come to life.

This is the scary reality of hypnogogic or hypnopompic hallucinations that those of us with narcolepsy experience regularly.

When your worst nightmare comes to life

On this particular day, I was in Bali having a nice afternoon nap on the couch. It was one of those naps that I hadn’t really planned, but laying down and reading a book was a recipe for disaster. Who knows how long I had been asleep for, but when I opened my eyes I immediately noticed the hotel door glowing red on the other side of my room. I wanted to get up to see what was going on, but I couldn’t move. I tried to scream for help, but I couldn’t make a sound. My body was frozen, and I was trapped inside of it.

Then I heard it. The loud footsteps coming down the hallway. thump thump thump. Followed by black silhouettes walking back and forth past the glowing door. It was as though that door was the gateway to hell and these silhouettes were coming to collect me.

It felt too real to be a dream

My heart rate increased and my anxiety went through the roof, I tried again to call for help. But still, no sound left my mouth. I lay there, eyes fixed on these black figures, watching them, and waiting for them to come for me. I close my eyes and listen to their footsteps pacing, with each second their intensity increasing as though they were approaching. It feels like this horror is lasting for hours, and I have no power to stop it.

Suddenly, I can speak and move again, the door is white, and there is no one in the hallway. I look at the clock, and only 20 minutes had passed. How did all of that happen in 20 minutes? Had I been asleep? Was it a dream? No, it felt too real to be a dream... But I had no idea what had happened that afternoon.

What exactly happened?

After my diagnosis, I realized that what I had experienced was a hypnogogic hallucination. I had experienced these before, but never quite as extreme as this. Normally my hallucinations were very minor, and over very quickly. I was used to small auditory hallucinations or seeing shadows briefly move around the room.

But this felt like it went on forever like I was stuck in a feature-length movie that I didn’t want to be in. This felt like reality.

Unfortunately, I have experienced more hallucinations like this since that day, but knowing what they are and why they are happening is incredibly helpful. I no longer feel like I am crazy, or making things up. I know that this is a symptom of my narcolepsy and that I have tools I can use to cope in these situations.

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