Borderline Personality Disorder

I Was Very, Very Afraid of the Dark

In retrospect all that paranoia was—I’ve been told—an early warning sign of my borderline personality disorder, bipolar, and severe anxiety.

I Was Very, Very Afraid of the Dark
By Patrick Marlborough

I suffered from acute night terrors and paranoia as a kid, and I still feel the after-effects today.

Night terrors, aka pavor nocturnus, is one of two non-Rapid Eye Movement sleep arousal disorders in the DSM-5. It’s a lot like sleep paralysis, but instead of being stuck in a sort of limbo waking state, you’re frozen by sheer terror. They often come accompanied by screaming and panic attacks.

I always had a hyperactive imagination: no trouble conjuring up stories and bullshit. And sure, most kids suffer from nightmares and hallucinations; but mine were abnormal —debilitating—and lasted well into my teens.

The main problem was the way my sense of horror and paranoia bled into my awake hours as well. I remember once in 1999, my parents have left me home alone for two hours to attend an Australian Labor Party branch meeting. When they left, I was sitting in front of the TV playing Lylat Wars on 64, telling myself I was fine.

But as soon as that front door close, I ran around the house switching on all the lights and barricading the doors. I barred the entrance to the living room with a sofa. My parents—once big in the world of indigenous education and worker’s rights—had a large collection of aboriginal weaponry from their years up north. I set about arming myself: boomerangs, clubs, a throwing spear.

My great-grandfather had come back from the Bore War with a quiver of poison-tipped arrows and a bow, so I slung it over my back, put myself in a brightly lit corner, and waited.

I was certain that murderers were out to get me. I was certain that ghosts were waiting for me to fall asleep so they could snatch me out from my bedroom window. But of course, nothing happened and I just stood around heavily armed for hours.

I grew up in Fremantle, and people were fond of saying that it was “the most haunted town in the world.” That didn’t help. Plus our house was convict built; a duplex, only half of it got sun. It creaked and shuddered while atmospherically throwing up strange shadows and tricks of light. You could hear my neighbours stomping down their hallway, but it sounded as though they were walking past my room.


One Comment

  • Caz.

    I’ve always been terrified of the dark. My answer is just to not sleep unless I can’t keep my eyes open one second longer. I stay awake reading or watching things until I am so exhausted I sleep deeply for just a few hours. Then I get up again, and read or get busy. The trouble is, I thought it kept the night terrors away, but then all the next day I remember and have flashbacks of the nightmares and horrific dreams I did actually have the previous night. It’s the easier option to cope with though. At least in the daytime they don’t seem quite as bad. I don’t know what the answer is to getting rid of night terrors and horrific dreams for good, because we can’t control them.

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