I've been so obsessed with the concept of sleep (or lackthereof), that it keeps me up at night. And when I do sleep, it's with one eye open—my husband says it's creepy/sexy.
Of course all parents struggle with sleep deprivation at some point for a variety of reasons, but I thought I'd share my personal experience in hopes of helping other "Zombie Martyrs" out there. And I know you're out there. I can hear your slippers shuffling in the dark while you quietly mutter, "I don't need any help. It's fine. I'm fine. Everything is fine, fine, fine."
Child has a seizure and nearly dies—
Mum develops Post Traumatic Stress Disorder—
Mum tries to squelch down the horrible feelings because "she's fine. no really, it's all fine"—
Mum becomes an anxious/exhausted version of her former self—
Mum finally sucks it up and seeks help, feels better—
Mum shares her story in hopes of helping other Zombie Martyrs who are "fine, just fine and don't need any help thank you very much."
When you are a parent you're IN CHARGE of other people and as a result there can be moments that rattle your confidence and depending on the severity of the scare, the fear can linger and reek havoc on our life. And if you already have a tendency to worry, buckle up because you're in for a long bumpy ride down anxiety road.
When our daughter was three, she scared the hell out of us. She had the first of several life threatening seizures that, unbeknownst to her dad and I, were part of her chromosome deletion disorder. I don't have to tell you how scary it was to helplessly watch as paramedics worked to resuscitate our toddler. She had several Status Epilepticus seizures (the big ones that don't stop on their own without medical intervention) after that one until we found the right balance of meds.
When my mind told me it was finally safe to relax, my nervous system had other ideas. I was jumpy and twitchy and bitchy and sleepy and weepy—all the gross things that linger after living through a traumatic experience.
I eventually got it under control and barring the occasional freak out that comes with being me, life was even keel for several years.
Then this past summer, six years after that first horrible episode, our daughter caught some random bronchial virus and during the course of her illness she choked and stopped breathing. Three times. No air, no sound, wild pleading eyes, blue lips, your basic parental nightmare. We figured out it was related to an adverse reaction to the inhaler she was on. We got it sorted and she was fine.
I stopped sleeping for more than a few hours a night. I would lie awake listening for my daughter's breathing sounds and felt myself sliding back down into that PTSD pit. But this time I was determined not to go the Zombie Martyr route.
So I went back to the lessons I had learned the first time around. No magic fixes really, just the basic "heal thyself" protocol which includes:
1. Self talk (repeating positive messages instead of catastrophizing and focusing on the "what ifs?")
2. Talking it out (finding someone—professional or perhaps a friend—to open up to)
3. Meditation (I sucked at this. I spent the majority of my meditative state making grocery lists in my head or wondering "how is this even a thing?")
4. Breathing Exercises (Did you know there are apps that remind you to breathe and teach you to breathe effectively? I used to laugh at the thought. Then I learned to breathe in the good and exhale the bad and I stopped laughing and started breathing.)
5. Exercise (I was on a roll there for a bit and I reaped the rewards. High blood pressure? What high blood pressure?)
6. Sleep (Nobody is at their best without proper sleep, but me, I'm the worst. Like, THE worst)
With time and some 'DIY CBT' (Do It Yourself Cognitive Behavioural Therapy—I have a workbook....not even kidding) I was me again.
I took Avery out for a girls' lunch over the holidays and she choked on her burger. The "sputtering, eyes watering, face flushed, coughing, food went down the wrong tube", kind of choking.
The manager ran over to help, people stared, our server rushed over with a glass of water, while my friend watched nervously, and I sat paralyzed. Pretty much everyone has experienced this "went down the wrong way" kind of choking. It's not generally serious, but my nervous system took it very seriously.
Avery was shaken, but okay so we carried on with our lunch. It wasn't until the actual darkness later that night that the figurative darkness covered me like a heavy blanket in my bed. That's the thing about PTSD—it never really goes away. Another episode is always just once shot of adrenaline away.
I cracked out all the "fix thy self" strategies once again, but this time sleep was impossible. Not only did it take hours to fall asleep, when I finally drifted off, I couldn't stay asleep for long.
After five consecutive nights of insomnia (I wondered if I could actually set some kind of Guinness Book Record) I knew I needed help. You can only carry on like a "Zombie Martyr" for so long until everyone (including yourself) grows tired of your "I'm soooooooo tired" routine.
So I commando crawled to my doctor and she prescribed a short term dose of sleeping pills. Just enough to allow my body to rest and reboot.
I'm not saying every Zombie Martyr needs to pop pills. Sleeping pills may not be what YOU need. But they were the thing I needed, but was afraid to accept. A friend told me that anti-depressants helped her through a bout of Post Partum Depression. She said, "There's no shame in taking meds if you need them. If you were diabetic, you'd take Insulin, right? You need to sleep, so take the damn pills."
So I took the damn pills.
And I slept.
And once I was less zombie and more me, I was then able to focus on doing the helpful healing things like breathing exercises, and walking, and even meditating (which I still struggle with but I'm getting better with practice). I still jump when Avery coughs and I get a queasy feeling whenever I hear an ambulance scream through our neighbourhood, but I'm far more capable now of controlling the fear and worry that left unchecked, can twist me into an ugly, miserable, Zombie Martyr who sleeps with one creepy/sexy eye open.
Pssst, hey Zombie Martyrs, you may want to read this too! -> "Stop Wearing Sleep Deprivation As A Badge of Honour!"