My anxiety comes with a fistful of triggers, which I do my best to avoid, or plan around. As a parent, however, some of those triggers are unavoidable, especially when it involves my little one. Struggling with her to let me change her diaper, driving in the car while she screams and cries in her car seat, and a public meltdown are just a few of these triggers. The hardest of them all, however, is trying to get her back to sleep in the middle of the night. On a bad night, I usually struggle with this and have to get my husband to tag me out before my brain spirals out of control. Normally, I don’t last more than an hour. A few mornings ago, my little girl and I passed out on the couch together after a successful three-hour attempt to get her back to sleep. “Successful” you exclaim. How is three hours successful?
For me, it’s a win. My daughter has been getting up between 12 and 3 for the last few days, and it has been a trip trying to get her to fall back asleep. I have no interest in sleep training her, and for the purpose of not wanting to gear off topic, I won’t go into explanation as to why I don’t. Besides, it’s 2019, and how I raise my child is mine and my husband’s business. Long story short, she wants to be close to mom or dad, and wakes up looking for comfort.
Wanting to be there for my daughter, during the late hours, has been something I have spent a long time trying to work on. As an anxiety trigger, however, it has been extremely difficult. This has been the hardest part in regard to dealing with my anxiety, and it has brought on depression and panic attacks. I want to be there for her, regardless of what time it is, but when I’m functioning on little to no sleep, it is difficult. Not enough sleep increases my anxiety, but being unable to comfort my daughter when she needs me is just as debilitating. I suffer either way, and in the end, so does my baby.
Our little one occasionally struggles with sleep. This is expected, considering she is just a child. I am 30 plus years old and I still struggle with sleep myself. I’m not a pro and I defiantly don’t expect a little person to be either. The reasons for her night time wakening’s are different each time, but she usually falls into a bad pattern for a week or so.
Sometimes it’s because the temperature is not comfortable, and this can continue for a few nights, especially when the temperature outside constantly changes. Getting the temperature inside to be just right can take several attempts before she starts sleeping through the night again.
Sometimes, her reflux bothers her, and she has to sit up for a period of time. Other times, her choreographed sleeping pattern has changed and she is struggling with settling into a new routine. Most nights, she wakes up lonely in her caged in crib and she just wants to be close to somebody.
When these patterns start, however, so does my anxiety. The first couple of nights, my husband and I probably spend about four hours between the two of us getting her back to sleep. As the nights roll on, the exhaustion has amplified my anxiety, and I am up multiple times checking on the baby, punching my husband to stop him from snoring, chasing the cats out of the room because they decided to have a cat-fight in front of the crib, double checking the dogs pill alarm, double checking the door, double checking the stove, and checking off the never ending list inside of my head. By 1am, I have made a complete round of the entire house, and have gotten out of bed 15 to 20 times.
Around 1:30 to 2am, as sleep finally creeps in, I hear rustling in the crib. Baby is now up and needs our attention. Frustrated, I climb back out of bed and I spend an hour to an hour and a half getting her back to sleep. During this time, my brain fills up with all of the issues I am currently having, turning the anxiety dial up even further. My arms hurt from holding her for so long, I am completely exhausted and just want to sleep, I’m too hot, I’m too cold, my hair is falling in my face, I have an itch on the edge of my noise and I can’t reach it. My thoughts become cluttered with negativity and my anxious filled mind screams for release. Just when I feel like I can’t take much more, she falls asleep. I attempt to place her in her crib, but she quickly wakes up.
A simple task of picking her back up and starting over is overtaken by an overwhelming feeling of needing to cry. Drained from being so exhausted and frustrated that I can’t be calm enough to sooth her, my anxiety goes into over drive. I can feel the weight start in my chest and my throat starts to ach. Tears build up in my eyes as I struggle to hold myself together. I find myself saying, “Just go to sleep,” to a little girl who is struggling just as much as I am.
Finally, my husband steps in and I crawl into bed, defeated and angry. The guilt consumes me as I hear my little girl whine for her Mama. Tears fall onto my pillow as I hold my breath, waiting for the silence of a sleeping baby to settle the knots in my stomach. I have allowed the anxiety to win again and I can feel the misery circulate through my veins. The depression seeps in.
As the nightly pattern continues, I’m overtaken by multiple days of sadness, irritability, exhaustion, and lack of enthusiasm. I sit on the floor during the day and watch my daughter play with her blocks. She looks up at me and smiles. I muster up the strength to smile back, but even as my mouth turns in the direction that it is supposed to, I still feel numb. I wear the same clothes for multiple days at a time and the dust gathers around the house. The laundry and the dishes pile up. The minutes tick by and the hours just mush together.
The days continue to roll on and the weight in my chest grows heavier. By the fourth or fifth night, I don’t even move when my daughter stirs in her crib. I don’t have the energy or strength to sit up. I just lay there and let my husband comfort her. The weight increases and the darkness consumes me.
Before crawling out of bed the following morning, I cry in to my pillow because I can’t do it. I can’t be her mom today. I can’t be anything except a heavy pile of darkness underneath the bed sheets. It’s hard to breathe, but I dig deep and find whatever strength I can, and I push myself up. I know that I have to. I stumble to the bathroom and wash away the tears right before I face my child and husband.
These are usually the days I find myself clutching on to the walls of the bathroom, waiting for the demons within to finish with their torments. I struggle through a panic attack while my daughter sleeps quietly in her bed during her afternoon nap, not aware of the hell swirling on in the next room. I collapse to the floor and catch my breath as the darkness slowly fades away to its original resting place, where it waits for the next go-round.
After the damage is done, I spend the next couple of days putting my tiny, little world back together, quietly so no one else notices the chaos around me. Only me. I suffer alone, and then I clean up alone. The disadvantage of a silent illness.
Once the disorder is put back in to place, I can resume my responsibilities. I can meet my daughter at her crib side at two in the morning, I can tend to her needs effectively, and she can fall asleep in my arms – certain that she is taken care of. I can place her gently beside me on the couch, kiss her forehead, listen to her breath and be there to settle her back to sleep when she wakes up. I can be thankful for that moment when I get to be there, fully present and calm. As I watch her sleep, I pray that I will be a little bit stronger the next time the darkness creeps in and tries to take this moment away from us.