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Night Terrors

By , Boulder, CO

I have struggled with night terrors my entire life. The first one I remember is one of my earliest memories, I must have been about three years old. I remember huge hairy spiders crawling out of my dream and onto my sheets. They snapped their pincers and their black eyes glittered. They were as big as a Jack Russel Terrier and totally unrealistic, but my brain wasn’t exactly being logical. These images, these illusions left me cowering in the corner, terrified of spiders that were nothing more than my own three-year-old imagination.


Everyone gets nightmares and bad dreams. It’s a part of life. But not everyone gets night terrors like I do. And there is a difference. Nightmares leave you with bad memories and a racing heart, but they do leave. After you wake up, they’re gone. Night terrors don’t leave when you wake up. Some never leave. They’re always haunting the back of your mind, leaving you with scars no one else can understand.


Night terrors start even before you begin to dream. Mine start before I even go to sleep, usually right around sunset. They give the panic signal to your brain. Your heart starts to pound with a ferocity. You begin to sweat and fidget. Dread starts to seep into your limbs and up your spinal cord to your brain. The tiny hairs on your arms and the back of your neck stand up. Then you go to sleep and the sensations begin. The first is the feeling that you need help desperately, but you know that no one can help. You call out but no one hears. You know you need other people to get rid of this, but no one is there. Then, do you know that feeling of nails on a chalkboard or metal scraping metal? The horrible sound that you need to get away from? It’s that but magnified by 100 times. You need to escape, to run away, but you can’t. You are left paralyzed by a dream that hasn’t even begun.
But they do begin, the dreams, the images. They can be normal or terrifying. It could be spiders or just people. It doesn’t matter. All you know, down to your most primitive instincts, is that you need to get out of there. So, you try to wake up. You open your eyes and look around.


But you don’t actually wake. The feelings still linger. The nails on a chalkboard sensation is still there. The fear is still very real. And the images get pulled out of your mind and into your surroundings. They crawl around your bed and walls, destroying a place you once thought was safe. You can’t fully escape these monsters that haunt your mind.


I used to get these dreams almost every night. I was six years old and terrified to go to sleep. When I closed my eyes, I felt myself getting farther away from the world, like I was seeing the darkness from the wrong end of a telescope. And when I opened my eyes, the world was still getting farther and farther. I felt my soul slipping into a world far from my own. And when I did fall asleep finally, I dreamed of crowds, of noise, of people. I’ve been afraid of crowds and loud noise ever since. I also dreamed about a crack in the world I knew, the gateway into the world into which I felt myself going. I’ve never told anyone about that. It was a traumatizing time for me. After a while, I stopped getting them every night, which was a huge relief. But they weren’t gone. They’d happen every time I went camping.


My family is pretty outdoorsy, so when summer comes they love to camp. And I do too. I love running through forests and roasting marshmallows and sleeping under a starry sky. But when we were camping, as soon as the sun went down I knew I would have a night terror. I still get them when camping. Every time. I don’t know if it’s the adrenaline of being outdoors or in the wild or what, but it happens every time, without fail.


I remember one time I was maybe seven or eight years old. We were camping in this beautiful aspen forest and I was having a great time. But as soon as I went to sleep, one of my worst night terrors began. I was in that same forest where we were camping, but it was on fire. Forest fire lit the entire world and trapped my family in flames. I couldn’t save them, I couldn’t move. The nails on a chalkboard sensation was ringing through my very being. I forced my eyelids open so I could be rid of this terrible scene, but the flames were not to be dispelled so easily. As soon as I open my eyes, flames were dancing along the sides on the tent, creeping along the sleeping figures of my family. There was no escape from the fire. I screamed but no sound came out. Tears streamed down my cheeks. The fear paralyzed me and left me helpless. I couldn’t wake my family. I needed help so desperately but I just couldn’t get it. I could do nothing but watch the world around me get burned from eyes that were open but didn’t show the truth. I have been terrified of forest fire ever since. To this day, fire makes me want to curl up in a little ball and be safe. When we have a fire when camping I triple check make sure every last coal has been put out beyond the point of ever igniting again. I’ve wasted my fair share of water this way and gotten on the bad side of my dad more than once.  My sister and some of my friends used to tease me about this fear because they don’t understand. They will never understand the terror, the pain, the horror that came to me that night.


The oldest I ever got a night terror at my house was when I was eleven years old. I was at my dad’s place and I just got the dread the fear right before bed. I knew I was going to have a night terror. I tried to ignore the feeling, dismiss it as jumpy nerves. But, sure enough, I got a horrible night terror that night. The image was tame, just a needle embroidering a purple cloth with golden thread, but the feeling was the same. I needed help, I needed out. I was shaking horribly, my pulse was rapid, I was screaming. My sister heard my screams in my sleep and woke my dad up. The two of them tried to snap me out of it. They escorted me to my dad’s bedroom where I could sleep the rest of the night.  And I was okay, for just a second. I said I needed to go to the bathroom and I walked down the hall. But as soon I entered the bathroom, I collapsed screaming. It was no longer just an image of a needle pulling three. My skin became the purple cloth and the needle was embroidering gold thread through my flesh. I screamed so loud, I think I woke the entire block. I was crying rivers and my eyes were the ones of a cornered animal, lost and afraid. It took a lot for me to calm down, and even once I did, I was scared. Now I am terrified of needles as well.


I still get night terrors, but I rarely remember them. My dad will tell me I was shaking and crying in my sleep or my friends at camp will tell me I screamed in the cabin. I apologize and blush. I am sorry, but these are my monsters that haunt me at night. These are terrors I’ve lived with since I was three years old. These are the fears I carry with me to this day.


I am the girl who can’t wake up from all her dreams. I’m the girl who cried and trembled when the coals lit themselves again after being put out. I’m the girl who refused to get a shot for fear of needles. I’m the girl who can’t stand crowds and who hates spiders with a passion. I put up walls and act tough, but just one of these fears and I become the little girl cowering in the corner from spiders that never existed. I’m the girl who’s afraid of spiders, crowds, fire, needles. But it’s not those things I’m truly afraid of. I’m truly just a girl who’s afraid of her own dreams.






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