Sleep disturbances are common with bipolar disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), both of which I've been diagnosed with. I suffer from sleep paralysis and sleep-related hallucinations, which have become more frequent in the past few years. Sleep paralysis is when you wake up but can't speak or move. Hallucinations are sensing things that aren't really there - seeing, hearing, feeling. Sleep-related hallucinations occur in the transition between being awake and asleep. Hypnagogic hallucinations occur when falling asleep. Hypnopompic hallucinations occur when waking up.
Ironically, the incidences of sleep-paralysis and hallucination episodes have increased on anti-psychotic medication for my bipolar disorder. The episodes usually happen together and typically happen when I am in a very relaxed or sedated state. For me, there is sometimes a mild visual hallucination when I am falling asleep - like a light show. It's when I am waking up that the intense and often scary hallucinations happen.
Sleep paralysis is when the mind is alert but the body is still unable to move. It can feel terrifying not being able to move or speak. Sometimes I have woken up suddenly in a panic, unable to breathe properly nor move.
The first time I remember it happening to me was about the time I had my first breakdown. I was lying on the bed having a nap but I was aware that I was aware with my eyes open but I couldn't move. It felt like a cat was walking on my back. Then when it stopped, I was fully awake and was able to get up. I was going to church back in those days and people said that the house was possessed. I no longer go to church and since have learned about a more rational explanation than demons. Sleep paralysis and sleep-based hallucinations when one is halfway between a dream-state and being awake.
I have had past trauma and nearly all of my hallucinations I can connect with those traumatic events in metaphor. Usually some kind of monster that is metaphorical for a 'monster' who harmed me in the past.
The hallucinations are like very vivid dreams but with extra sensory components to them that seem very real. I'm actually aware that I'm experiencing one and I try to tell myself to stay calm and just to let the unpleasant sensations happen. At first though, I would become extremely panicked and my fight or flight system would be activated. Often they would be triggered by something I saw or heard earlier. I think they are my brain trying to process the trauma but combining it with other elements from recent and past events a bit like dreams but more 'real'.
Here are some of the hallucinations I have experienced (typically with paralysis):
My mind analyses these all to be related to traumatic experiences for me. Two sexual assaults (one as a child) and someone I previously loved threatening to hit me and then being punched by a stranger. I froze and shut down during these events and I feel like my nervous system is trying to discharge the energy from what would have been in a fight or flight state. There are strong physical sensations in all the hallucinations.
Sleep paralysis and sleep-based hallucinations are also common with a sleep disorder called narcolepsy. I don't drive long distances because I am prone to falling asleep. One of my biggest barriers for not being able to work full-time is that I have difficulty waking up and staying awake. So far, my sleep issues including excessive tiredness during the day has been attributed to my bipolar disorder (including side effects of medication) and PTSD.
I guess it gives me some comfort knowing there is a rational basis behind what has been for me very unpleasant experiences.
Xanthe finds writing and painting to be therapeutic. She has lived with mental illness for over 25 years. She has been diagnosed with bipolar 1 disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and social anxiety disorder after originally being diagnosed with 'treatment resistant' depression with general anxiety.