I have severe anxiety about my kids at night or anytime that they leave my side. Overnights and even day babysitting trips with the grandparents are always difficult for me because I image all the worst things happening to them. From falling down the stairs, to drowning in a baby pool to having a T.V. fall on them and being smothered at night – if you can name it, I’ve probably imagined it and have been totally paralyzed by the fear.
This weekend though, I really needed a night. It’s probably been over a year since I’ve slept through the night and even with a video monitor on my son, I’m not totally calm. On average, I probably wake up at least four times a night to either check on the kids or because one of the kids is calling out for me.
My daughter is a horrible sleeper and almost never sleeps through the night. We dealt with night terrors for a few months and every now and then one pops up. My son is Okay at night, but at almost a year he is still waking up at least once at night to eat. I’m sure it’s for comfort, but I’m not entirely ready to cut it out yet because he hasn’t been the best eater.
This weekend I knew my husband and I had reached the breaking point. We’ve been on edge with each other, we are both stressed out over work and have been in the middle of small kitchen renovation that has been taking forever. We needed a break to keep us from going insane and that included at least one night of uninterrupted sleep. It was time for an overnight visit to grandma and papa’s house, my son’s first overnight visit.
I started prepping myself the week before. Anytime I would image them without me, I could still see all the bad things happening and could actually feel the anxiety and panic rising in my body. I believe a physiologist would call this an “intrusive thought”, which according to basic physiology and Wikipedia is “an unwelcome involuntary thought, image, or unpleasant idea that may become an obsession, is upsetting or distressing, and can feel difficult to manage or eliminate.”
To myself, I’ve often thought about it as my Parent After Loss (PAL) PTSD. I thought it was just my issue since I lost my son. I had no idea so many other people felt so similar until I started talking to them. In reality, it’s like every mom I know has Mom PTSD.
Now, I’ve found out that this is actually something pretty common and people who have post-traumatic stress disorder, are depressed, have postpartum depression, obsessive compulsive disorder and anxiety disorders. Based on the recent study that came out about postpartum anxiety being much more common than originally thought, I would venture to guess that intrusive thoughts are also a big part of that diagnosis. I would also venture to guess, based on conversations with other moms, that almost everyone suffers from it after having a child.
The first time I heard the term “intrusive thoughts” was last year after my son was born and I admitted to private Parent After Loss Facebook Group that I felt like I was having some symptoms of Postpartum Depression. I told them about how I was feeling paralyzed because I was so afraid of something bad happening to my kids that I was having a hard time wanting to go anywhere. I was even terrified to send my daughter to pre-school.
A friend in the group told me that she had been having some symptoms of PPD too after her son was born. Oddly enough, she told me she had a slight episode when we (a group of us) were visiting the monkey and gorilla house at the nearby zoo. She kept imaging a kid falling in and was freaked out. Imagine that.
Last summer, I did end up talking to someone about my post-partum depression. We only had two sessions because the person I was seeing wasn’t covered by our insurance, but it really helped me each time. I exercised, I forced myself to shower and put on make-up and I went back to work (which heightened everything for a time).
As time went on, the depression side of it has lessened, if not completely dissipated. However, I’ve had these bouts of anxiety since getting pregnant with my daughter after my son died, which is probably why I’ve always attributed it to my own special PAL PTSD.
Recently, my anxiety has been on high alert again. With the anniversary of our son’s death on Father’s Day, work complications, things that need to be done around the house and the breakneck pace that the summer is moving, filled with events or things we have to do each weekend, I’ve been up till almost midnight each night worrying and stressing about all of it. (I even mentioned to my husband last week that if I still feel like this after the craziness has ended, I want to go see someone again.)
So, while I really, really needed this overnight with the grandparents, it just compounded everything else I had been feeling lately.
This is the part where I tell you I didn’t come up with a magical solution about how to get through this weekend. There is no 5 Step Plan in this blog post. Leading up to the day, I took deep breaths and tried to push any bad thoughts out of my head. I tried to focus on something else, which was honestly something I did often while I was pregnant with my two, living children.
When I dropped the kids off, my father-in-law showed me how their television was anchored, which is something I had been especially worried about. I told my daughter to always hold grandma or papa’s hand when they were in public and I kissed them goodbye.
During the day my mother-in-law sent me pictures of the kids. My husband has always jokingly called the pictures “Proof of Life” photos. For me, it’s not really a joke.
As the day wore on I began to relax a little more, as I always do. I began to enjoy my child-free day that I so badly needed. In the SHARE Support Group that I am a part of at the hospital, we often talk about how the anxiety of leading up to certain days or events is worse than the actual day or event itself. I always find this to be true and because I have that knowledge, it makes it easier to push through some of the anxiety.
Later that night I received two photos of my happy, exhausted, sleeping children. I smiled and curled up on the couch. My anxiety had disappeared. For some reason, I wasn’t worried about something happening to them overnight. Maybe it was sheer exhaustion. Maybe my rational brain was once again in control.
Our night was uneventful. We didn’t want to go anywhere or do anything. We just wanted to relax at home. My husband fell asleep at 9 p.m. and I stayed up till midnight, not worrying, but reading.
When I finally went to bed that night, I knew my kids were safe. Part of me was happy they weren’t home because I couldn’t go check on them multiple times before falling asleep. Instead, when my head hit the pillow, I fell asleep within minutes. I woke up at 8:30 a.m. Sunday morning feeling rested, relaxed and knowing I could make it through another sleepover if my reward for all the stress was eight and a half hours of sleep.