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A Mental Health Day

2015 March 19


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. 😉

15 Responses leave one →
  1. Jennifer permalink
    March 19, 2015

    Sadly, I can totally relate to this post. And I wonder why my almost six year old is perpetually tired! There was a time when each night consisted of one nightmare and one night terror and then an early wake up. He’s still up every night, but fortunately, not with the same agony. It’s so hard. And now my toddler daughter has developed nightmares. Thanks for the reminder that I’m not alone.

    • WWGD permalink*
      March 21, 2015

      Thanks so much for sharing, mama. I truly believe that sleep begets sleep so once they are overtired all the time, the challenge gets even harder 🙁 You are definitely not alone, so come by and vent anytime!

  2. Eva permalink
    March 19, 2015

    My son, now 9, also had the same night terrors and nightmares as you described with your daughter. It was awful, frustrating and scary. Our pedia also said it is normal. I noticed it usually happens when he is sick, usually with fever. I’m only thankful he didn’t get seizures instead. It has improved a lot and I believe it’ll pass. Just hang in there and give her cold remedies With lots of love.

    • WWGD permalink*
      March 21, 2015

      Thank you, Eva! Glad your little guy is progressing. Our girl is as well but now that they are more rare, they are almost harder to watch…if that makes any sense?? Anyhow, thanks for sharing your experience. xx

  3. Sara permalink
    March 19, 2015

    This post resonated with me completely. My almost 8 year old daughter has had night terrors since she was 3. For years it was a nightly event. In the last year they have subsided to 3-4 times per week. I’ve done the research in the middle of the night, gone to the doctors, and have been told the same thing, she’s healthy, she will grow out of it. Still waiting for that. Still doubting it’s true. I picture her as a grown woman having these terrors, when I’m not there to stop her from walking down the stairs or dry her tears – I try to not ‘go there’ but it’s hard to pretend.

    We’ve had 2 kids after her, and luckily they do not experience night terrors.

    Anyways, just felt compelled to comment and say ‘I hear ya’

    • WWGD permalink*
      March 21, 2015

      Thanks, mama. After writing this post I had a few people reach out who suffered from them as kids and totally grew out of them to go on and have lots of good, healthy nights in the long run. So there’s hope! Hang in there. xx

  4. Carolina permalink
    March 19, 2015

    I can relate this is very exausting but mostly heart breaking because you find that nothing helps while it’s going on.. I mentioned it to his pediatrician and he agreed with me that is possible he is just too tired to “turn off his brain”. So we try to enforce naps even if he fights them; I know for certain the day he does not nap he will have nightmares. It took me a while to figure that out. He is almost 5 but has been having them since he was 2or 3. Sleep deprivation can affect anybody in the most odd ways, as adults makes forgetful and puts us in a bad mood, little ones are no different.

    • WWGD permalink*
      March 21, 2015

      Totally agree. And then one sleepless night leads to another, which leads to another…it becomes such a bad cycle. Keep me posted on your little guy’s progress!

  5. Jen permalink
    March 19, 2015

    In case this helps anyone else… my brother had night terrors too, and my mom found that if should could steer him toward the toilet he’d pee and go back to sleep. I saw a few, and they are pretty upsetting; sometimes he’d remember the dream but mostly not (and even then, he’d remember the plot – not that he’d been up walking around crying). He’d dream about battle scenes and war even as a toddler, such intense specific things I think it made my pretty Christian mom reconsider the possibility of reincarnation. He grew out of them, but not until middle school. From what I gather from his wife, he is still a pretty active sleeper – no night terrors, but gesturing, mumbling, sitting up in his sleep and whatnot.

    My dad and husband are also sleep walkers/talkers so I’m eyeing my 6mo old boy warily. He’s already had obvious nightmares =( (wakes up *screaming* and totally freaked out!).

    • WWGD permalink*
      March 21, 2015

      Yes! That’s worked for us, too. But sometimes when they are in the thick of it, getting them to the potty is near impossible. Sigh. Thanks for sharing – I feel like we have strength in numbers on this one 😉

  6. Erica permalink
    March 20, 2015

    I hear ya! My brother had them for years and my eldest experienced them too. Both grew out of them, both seemed to be triggered by fatigue. My mom was told (way back when) that they tended to happen in highly imaginative/creative children, which helped her look at the silver lining during those rough nights.

    • WWGD permalink*
      March 21, 2015

      Ooh, love that. Ha ha, let’s all hang onto that one — highly creative kids for the win! xx

  7. Helena permalink
    March 23, 2015

    So, I’m an adult with night terrors. They don’t happen every night – I’ve never been able to figure out my triggers. But basically within 1/2 hour of going to sleep I’ll dream that someone or something is in my room and I’ll start screaming. My husband (not usually in bed when I have them) doesn’t even come check on me anymore – he’s over it. I usually wake up pretty quickly though – different from when I was a kid – and then it takes me a little while to realize that I was asleep – that whatever it was wasn’t real. So I guess what I’m saying is, even if she doesn’t outgrow it, maybe it’ll be a little easier to deal with?

  8. March 24, 2015

    I can completely empathise with your situation. I suffered from night terrors my entire life until I had my first child at 31. He is now 2 and a half and has suffered from night terrors since he was 9 months. We find he is more likely to have an episode when he is tired. Outside of that I recognise the pattern you describe- periods of more frequent episodes and then periods of respite. It is horrible to see your child in this situation. As an adult who carried night terrors into my 20s, all I can say to reassure you is episodes became less frequent as I got older but again I had periods where night terrors were more frequent. I often warned night time visitors in advance so they weren’t overly terrified and by the time I reached my late teens I was able to snap myself out of the episode relatively quickly (no idea how- I think my body just learned new tricks). Finally, I have never suffered from mental health issues and am an extremely happy and optimistic person- I hope that offers reassurance…. We have just had our second child- lets hope we avoid the night terrors this time. Much love.
    PS my parents were amazingly supportive in dealing with night terrors- and had to do so for for too long….

  9. Katelyn permalink
    June 18, 2015

    I’m 26 and I’ve been having night terrors for years (not really as a young child though but I’ve always been an active and talkative sleeper). If I don’t scream loud enough to wake myself up, I don’t remember them (other people in my house tell me they happened) but if I wake up I am terrified, my heart is pounding, adrenaline is surging and it takes a lot for me to get back to sleep. I have noticed some triggers as well and some helpful ways to make them less likely. I just know it is comforting to hear from someone else who understands the difficulty.

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