My dearest ethically sourced taxidermy: 

It’s finally time to dive into the legend of The Hat Man.

I am currently at the top of the hormonal roller coaster known as PERIMENOPAUSE. I know you know because I can’t stop talking about it! I am not sorry! This is not a fun ride!! This is some extremely unpredictable Batman Ride bullshit. Careening through the air 200 feet up over some terrible exurb trying not to vomit up the churro you just ate. That’s menopause.

One of the most exciting features of THE CHANGE (barf) is INSOMNIA. I will fall asleep just fine, but wake up in the middle of the night and be up for HOURS. Just like, staring at the walls. Counting sheep. Trying to move the dogs in the bed so I can actually stretch out. Readjusting my ear plugs. Getting up to pee. Worrying about extremely high level shit like death and climate change and ALSO extremely low level shit like is it still safe to get a gel manicure and why did I leave that cringe ass comment on someone’s Insta story today. Let me just go ahead and listen to Dan Carlin talk about the rise of the Japanese empire in his very even tone for the next hour and hope the sleep paralysis demon takes me.

In order to combat my insomnia, I turn to Pharma’s greatest weapon: Benadryl. Benadryl is the over the counter thermobaric vacuum bomb of sleep disorders. I fucking LOVE this shit. I take two jaunty little pink pills and in an hour I am rolling in the deepest, blackest sea of somnolence. An ACTUAL thermobaric weapon could be detonated outside and I would simply roll over on top of the dog. Maybe readjust the ear plugs. I am absolutely knocked the fuck out until I wake up 8 hours later in the same position from a wild dream about (1) flooding (2) not studying for finals YES I STILL HAVE THOSE (3) losing all of my money and having to go back to being a lawyer ALWAYS A POSSIBILITY ACTUALLY. Benadryl is the fucking king and I would take it every time over actual prescription medicine.

So last year when I saw this tweet about Benadryl and the Hat Man, I laughed because yes, in the depths of a Benadryl coma your consciousness will do strange things! I myself woke up frozen into place on my side by these damn dogs only to look out the window and see THE HAT MAN. Right there. On the retaining wall. It was actually a shadow molded into the watchful presence of A MAN WITH A HAT by Boss Benadryl’s chemical effects on my very tired hormonal brain. I went right back to sleep because I was drugged!

A tweet from @MIMI_ZIMA from 10/25/2022 that reads "I can't take Benadryl anymore bc I owe the hat man money and I don't want to see him"
A twitter exchange between @locallystupid and @bootleghinata on 11/24/2021 that reads: You ever get so tired you start seeing spiders?/Me after I take 17 Benadryl and start seeing the hat man/THE WHO/Oh this is not a safe space suddenly
A twitter exchange  where a user tags the verified Benadryl account "just consumed 70 Benadryl feel the hat man kicking my ribs." Benadryl responds with a suicide hotline number and a request the user calls their customer support number.

Every time I saw the Hat Man meme, I laughed. Bc Benadryl is crazy! Lol! Right! Right, Gen Z???

Hahaha NO. I was wrong. Though it seems to me like two Benadryl are enough to fell a tiger or sleep through a nuclear war, the young folks are purposely overdosing on it to get high and hallucinate. It took a moment for this to penetrate the light dementia of my menopause brain. These kids are taking HOW MANY FUCKING BENADRYL? AND THEY ARE STILL ALIVE!?!!!

These little psychonauts are taking EIGHTEEN BENADRYL and experiencing hallucinations – presumably from an actual near death experience? Are they seeing the Hat Man as they transition to the other side?? Is he there to escort them to the Underworld? Stay away from the light, you guys!!

Now, we did some extremely stupid shit when we were young. Kids huffed aerosol cleaners (we called it Glading lol). We took drugs from total strangers at parties, we drank shit like Cisco which was basically alcohol in cough syrup form, which should have killed us via diabetic shock before we even got to the liver damage. We smoked cigarettes laced with questionable substances that we got from random dudes at a Pool Hall in San Mateo. We should have died many times over . . .but NO ONE TOOK 20 BENADRYL. That is truly some next level shit.

A shadow figure in a wide brimmed hat with a Benadryl pink overlay

Terror in Cotton Candy Pink

The Hat Man has basically become a tulpa fired by medication abuse and brought to life on social media. Extreme late capitalism vibes on this one. As Dante said, “he’s the new Slenderman!” A tulpa is an imaginary creation brought to life through thought and focus. It can be the work of an individual or a collective. In this context, jokes and memes about hallucinating a character brought it to life.

I think it helps that the Hat Man has a separate life in folklore and human imagination. It’s been around for way longer than the little pink pills. The Hat Man shows up in all kinds of ghost stories, urban legends, and paranormal reports. He’s mostly associated with sleep, but I know people who have seen shadowy figures and ghosts that look like tall people wearing hats in their waking lives. The sightings are often attributed to apophenia – the tendency of humans to see shapes and patterns where there are none. When I looked out my window and the shadows on the wall, my brain translated them into a man with a hat. IIRC, I was researching the Salem Witch Trials at that time, so I was even more primed to see a villain in a big hat.

Hat Man sightings are also linked to sleep paralysis, a condition that occurs when people gain consciousness while waking up or falling asleep. Their bodies are paralyzed, but they can see and hear and report terrifying hallucinations. People often see terrifying images of beings standing over them or at the foot of the bed. Sometimes they feel like they’re being suffocated by them. The Hat Man is a frequent flier in sleep paralysis hallucinations.

I think there’s probably an element of trauma in these sightings, too. Beyond inventing patterns where there are none, the brain seems to be pretty good at externalizing fears and experiences that humans want to keep buried. I just did a bunch of research about UFOs and Alien Abductions, and all I could think was damn, something bad happened to these people and IDK if it was aliens.

The Week reported some absolutely harrowing shit about Hmong refugee populations dying of heart attacks in their sleep. The deaths were attributed to “Brugada syndrome, a genetic condition which affects people of Southeast Asian descent typified by irregular heartbeats and . . . an increase in the risk of sudden death.” In Thailand, Laos, and the Philippines, this condition is called “nightmare death syndrome.”

NPR’s Invisbilia covered the experience of trauma in Cambodian refugees in San Jose, finding that many were prescribed anti-psychotic drugs because they were seeing ghosts and monsters. These were often concurrent with sleep paralysis, and the cultural understanding of this phenomenon was demons or ghosts. Patients described a big black shadow sitting on them or pinning them down. The Hmong attributed the paralysis to the dab tsog, “a malevolent force that came during the night, pressing on a victim’s chest and attempting to suffocate them.” The Cambodian patients understood the paralysis in a similar way, and doctors interpreted this as hallucinations.

The Cambodian refugees were all stressed, overworked, and not getting enough sleep – prime conditions for sleep paralysis. They were also recovering from an astonishing amount of trauma, as I imagine the Hmong were too. To me, it makes perfect sense that folks who survived unimaginable horrors would subvert those real experiences into nightmares, visions, and feelings of suffocation. The dab tsog is real, in a sense. Stress and terror are steadily corroding the mind and body, disrupting sleep and lives and peace. The Hat Man is real when you’re in it.

I hope you enjoyed Internet Urban Legends Corner this week. USE YOUR SLEEP AIDS RESPONSIBLY.


The painting The Nightmare by Henry Fuseli - a small demon figure sits atop a sprawled woman in a white gown, while a horse's head peers over from behind a curtain

Henry Fuseli, The Nightmare, 1781