A Mental Health Day
My daughter suffers from night terrors.
If you are lucky enough to have no idea what a night terror is, it is the very worst version of a nightmare. An episode of fear and in our case, sobbing tears, that is like no other. The sufferer is technically still asleep so there is no recognition in their eyes, no words that can calm their senses, very little you can do but sit there and wait for the storm to pass.
If you are unlucky enough to know them and to have witnessed them in your child’s life, you may know that this post is coming from a place of unconditional love. And exhaustion. And frustration.
But mostly love.
When she started having night terrors at the young age of 15 or 16 months, they were terrifying. I was convinced our darling first born suffered from mental illness. There was nothing rational about it, despite what I read, despite what I was told. Watching her scream hysterically, her eyes in a horrified blank daze, her ears seemingly deaf to my calming voice…even when it escalated into frantic yelling right in her face to try to wake her, to try to break through.
It wasn’t rational. It couldn’t be.
But every doctor we went to told us the same thing: she was perfectly healthy, she would outgrow them, they were more common than we knew, and (in an effort to reassure us) she wouldn’t even remember the episodes.
It was more traumatic for us than for her.
It was true. She would wake up happy, smiling even, no recollection whatsoever of the episodes, the tears, the hysterics.
But we just couldn’t forget.
She started to outgrow them through her toddler and early school years. We would go through a few months here and there where they were consistent and then months at a time when they wouldn’t happen at all. We started to learn the tricks to preventing them (if you want to hear those, email me and I am happy to share) and began to notice the triggers that would bring them on so we could avoid them, when possible.
We crossed our fingers at night for a proper night of rest.
Kai came along and had the odd (very odd) one and we would sit there with our heads in our hands, trying to figure out how most parents have never even heard of these things and we were lucky enough to have two kids go through them.
We crossed our fingers at night more and more.
Now she is almost eight. She still gets the odd night terror. It’s usually associated with a fever or a cold that has her stuffed up. I’ve read it may be related to sleep apnea. To stress. To fatigue. I still read a lot about them, the same posts and studies and stories that I read three years ago and five years ago and seven years ago, always in the middle of the night.
I’m still told it is common. She will outgrow them. She is perfectly healthy.
But last night, when I woke to that familiar muffled crying coming from her room just before midnight and I went in and found her there – the screams much more subdued than they were when she was a toddler, but her eyes just as frightened, just as blank – it felt to me like they were never going to go away.
They were never going to stop.
They were going to traumatize us forever.
But I didn’t have it in me to be frustrated. Exhausted, yes. But not frustrated. I spoke to her calmly, I tried to let it pass, I offered her sips of water and wiped the tears from her cheeks. And when she settled back into sleep, the storm passed, I stumbled back to my room and I cried.
This morning, she woke up but she wasn’t very happy. It’s like half of her knew something was off and the other half didn’t quite know what it was.
“Feeling tired,” she mumbled as I tried to wake her, no happy smile on her face.
“Me too,” I said, a small lump in my throat.
So we are taking a mental health day today. She is going to stay home from school and read and lay on the couch and try to get rid of this little cold. To hopefully bring a little energy back to her body, a little restoration back to her busy mind.
I am going to try to recharge between work obligations. To maybe sneak in a nap.
To remind myself that she is perfectly healthy, she will outgrow them and this is common.
And then tonight, we will cross our fingers for a better night of rest.
*footnote: that image above is NOT from this morning…she was definitely not looking quite that content today. 😉