What’s it like to live with the condition known as “ sleep paralysis“? Ask anyone who suffers from it and they might have a unique answer. The condensed, somewhat universal description can be categorized as an awareness that one is asleep coupled with the inability to move or speak; it’s often accompanied by terrifying hallucinations or visions. It can either come on as a single episode or recur throughout one’s life. It’s terrifying and it can feel inescapable. That’s why art is a good way of processing the condition and learning that those who suffer from it aren’t alone.
Cue this short film from art student Andrew Ognibene, who made this animation for his 2D studio class at Pratt University, an arts college in Brooklyn.
“I started having sleep paralysis in middle school,” Ognibene explains in a voiceover. “The feeling was the same every time. My eyes would open and I could see in front of me but I couldn’t move.” He goes on to explain the ongoing struggle he’s had with hallucinations, and how they got worse with age. He describes the vision he had of a “silhouette, cloaked in shadows,” and later of a creature that evaporated into the darkness in front of his face.
Eventually, Ognibene took ownership of these night visitors, choosing to see them as protectors instead of hauntings. Which is a great perspective to have, and also a great coping mechanism. Ognibene can also comfort himself knowing that he’s among artists like Henry Fuseli and Fritz Schwimbeck, who have also depicted their experiences with sleep paralysis in their work.
For those with more interest in the subject, be sure to check out the 2015 documentary The Nightmare, directed by Rodney Ascher, which explores sleep paralysis and depicts the experiences of several people who regularly suffer from it.
Knowing you’re not alone is the best way to cope with something as debilitating as sleep paralysis, and art and stories like Ognibene’s can make a difference.
Images: Andrew Ognibene/ walrusclay