I was going to write about the science behind anxiety today. I had it a planned in rough notes, with little illustrations to make it easy-going on the reader. It is interesting stuff and something I really wanted to share with you all, after learning about it in my last group therapy session. However, I no longer have the energy to write it.
It’s around 6:30 am on a Saturday morning. My three-year old son is sat in the armchair opposite me, eyes glued to the cartoons after waking at five o clock and refusing to go back to sleep. He won’t eat his breakfast – despite the raging hunger I can hear in his stomach and his eyes are red from lack of sleep, yet nothing will make him go back upstairs to bed. I worry that he’s going to starve himself. He’s such a thin little thing and barely eats as it is but I can’t make him, in the same way that I can’t make him stay in bed to get the sleep that he needs.
The twins have just been put into their cots, after a night of constant waking. One will wake up the other and the night proceeds in a disjointed routine of bottle feeding, nappy checking, rocking and singing. I’ll get one off to sleep and then the other will wake up, screaming as if I’ve hurt him or her in some way. She doesn’t want a bottle, he doesn’t need his nappy changed, she doesn’t care that I rock her, as long as I am holding her, he just wants to lay on my bed, clapping his hands and screams blue murder if I lay him back down in his cot. They used to be such good sleepers – sleeping through from 9 weeks old. I guess it was too good to be true.
I sit now, catching myself nodding off as I write this. My stomach groans with the kind of hunger you get, when you’ve been awake all night. Can’t sleep now though. The three-year old is throwing a tantrum because he wants biscuits instead of breakfast. I try my best to remain firm – to concentrate on the rules me and The Beef have set in place. We’re both too tired to argue though, so we give in.
Over the course of the night, we snapped at each other with a sleep-deprived irritability. I criticised, he shouted, I cried, he sighed, I cried some more and admitted that I thought I would be better off dead. He looked at me with that lost look he has, when he doesn’t know what to say.
We’ve been doing this routine for the past fortnight, neither of us getting much more than a couple of hours sleep between us. We both know that we can’t go on much more like this, but there is no-one else to take the strain, no family to come and help out when we need them the most. They’re good at criticising and pointing out where we’re going wrong, but through their little window into our lives, they don’t see our dysfunctional world of sleep deprivation. They aren’t there to help when in the small hours, all that we want to do is crash and sleep.
I have a mug of steaming coffee sat next to me. It will take many more of these before I will feel awake enough to cope today, but like many other parents out there, who go through this nightly battle, we carry on. Why? Because we have no other option.
What are your experiences of sleep deprivation? Did you manage to crack the night-waking code? Are the members of your family supportive and give you a break once in a while, or do they expect you to carry on running on empty? I’d love to hear your thoughts.