Two years ago Gill Vickers, 55, started suffering from a pain in her ear. What happened next is incredible...
￼Feeling someone grab me in the darkness, I screamed for help.
‘Get away from me,’ I yelled, kicking and hitting with all my might.
When I’d gone to sleep, my husband Mark, 55, was snoozing next to me. But as I fought for my life, there was no sign of him.
Had the intruder attacked him too?
Suddenly, a familiar voice cut through the terror.
‘Gill, it’s me!’ Mark puffed. ‘I’m not going to hurt you.’
Finally realising I was safe, I collapsed into his arms.
How had I not recognised my own husband?
But the shocking reality is that it wasn’t the first time I had mistaken him for an attacker.
It had become commonplace since I started sleepwalking two years ago. When I doze off, I’ve been known to drive the car, binge drink and even play with knives.
It first started when I experienced a horrific pain in my right ear. It was relentless and I’d cry in agony. Nothing eased the excruciating ache.
‘I can’t stand it, Mark,’ I’d sob as he did his best to comfort me. But it was my actions once my head hit the pillow that affected me the most.
Mark woke up and found me walking back through the door with my car keys in hand. ‘Where have you been?’ he gasped, seeing me still dressed in pyjamas.
But I simply ignored him, heading back to bed. When I woke a few hours later, I had no memory of it.
‘Are you joking?’ I asked in disbelief when he told me what I’d done.
I’ve been known to drive the car, binge drink and even play with knives...
But as days passed by, my sleepwalking antics became more bizarre.
One night I set off the smoke alarm by frying food. Another night I ate a block of chocolate even though I’m lactose intolerant and usually avoid it.
I also watched Dirty Dancing on repeat, made strange art out of fruit and sang songs by the Bay City Rollers at the top of my lungs, despite not knowing a single lyric when awake.
My behaviour was so strange that Mark began to take pictures and videos to prove to my doctors what was happening. When he played them back to me, I didn’t recognise myself.
I was eventually diagnosed with geniculate neuralgia – a rare disorder that causes deep ear pain. I was given medication to help control it, but I continued to sleepwalk.
Our kids, Naomi, 34, and Frances, 32, weren’t living at home anymore, but they were shocked when I told them.
My behaviour soon became even more dangerous. One time, I took the car out and came home with half a tree wedged under the bonnet.
Mark suspected I’d driven into someone’s garden and knocked it over in my sleep.
Then another morning I woke with a terrible hangover only to discover an empty bottle of vodka in the kitchen. Normally I barely drank!
Once I sang songs by the Bay City Rollers, despite not knowing a single lyric when awake.
If I went to bed angry or upset, I’d find knives all over the floor.
One time I even stabbed them into a wooden chopping board. I was lucky to not have cut myself.
But the worst thing of all was that I started to attack Mark in my sleep.
Once I tried to escape through the window and when he attempted to stop me, I wrestled him to the ground.
I listened in horror as he told me how I’d punched, hit and screamed at him because I didn’t recognise him.
Since it started, Mark and I have visited doctors begging for answers or different treatments, but nothing has helped.
So every night Mark tries to stay awake to make sure I don’t hurt myself or set fire to the house. I feel incredibly guilty. He’s even had to sell his business so he can look after me full-time.
In an attempt to control the situation, Mark hides the car keys and padlocks all the windows and doors so I can’t escape.
We’re even forced to sleep in separate rooms so Mark can lock himself away when I’m violent. It’s a sad way to live, but we cope the best we can.
‘I love you in sickness and in health,’ Mark reminds me. ‘I’ll never leave you.’
He gets frustrated when I don’t recognise him, but we do our best to make light of the situation.
He jokes that he has two wives – his lovely Gill who he married 36 years ago and the imposter Gill who only comes out at night. This second Gill is his worst nightmare.
Mark hides the car keys and padlocks all the windows so I can't escape
I’ve now been given a stronger sedative to minimise the sleepwalking, but the benefits are marginal.
But we’re stll desperate for a cure. We now live in hope that someone will see our story and help us – before I hurt someone.
Mark, 55, says:
The last two years have been a living nightmare. It has rocked our marriage more than ever before.
It’s particularly hard when Gill doesn’t recognise me and thinks I’m a stranger attacking her.
No amount of reasoning will change her mind – it makes me feel so helpless and sometimes I get really angry with the situation.
But I won’t rest until I find someone who can help my wife.
We’re both constantly exhausted and stressed because of lack of sleep – we would give anything for one whole night without her sleepwalking.
But we carry on because we love each other. It’s that simple. When we married all those years ago, I took a vow to support her no matter what and I meant it.
I just want one Gill in my life – the other one needs to leave!
Originally published in that's life! issue 51 - 24 December 2015