Sleep Deprived and Over the Edge

From last August until present, Milo has not been sleeping well and, therefore, neither have I. Up until last October, he never had a schedule or routine. Taking advice from a friend in my postpartum support group, I read the book The Baby Whisperer Solves all Your Problems, written by a British woman named Tracy Hogg. The author’s philosophy is to teach your baby to put himself to sleep. You don’t let him cry it out, but you don’t rock or hold or nurse him until he falls asleep in your arms. I liked that she took a middle-of-the-road approach, so I decided to try it.

I put him on a schedule in order to teach him how to nap during the day and sleep during the night, but I didn’t stick to the Baby Whisperer’s philosophy, which may be why he’s not sleeping through the night (she guarantees it works!). I don’t have the patience to pick-up and put-down my child for an hour while he cries. During the middle of the night. Multiple times. For several nights (two weeks, maximum!). I have learned some ways to get him back to sleep, mostly involving rocking, holding and, of course, the boob. I can just hear the Baby Whisperer in my head. Well, ducky, of course he’s not sleeping well. He’ll only sleep when Mummy’s nursing him. I have entire conversations with her in my head, most of them ending with me yelling Excuse me, lady, but you’re not the one who has to listen to him cry and try to figure out what the hell is wrong! Now go back to your country and leave me alone!

I’m sure Tracy Hogg is a lovely woman. If she’s reading this I hope she’ll forgive me.

Sometimes Milo is hungry, sometimes he’s not. My husband could take care of many of the night wakings, but he doesn’t hear Milo cry. With our first child, I thought this was just what men said to get out of midnight baby duty, but I’ve learned that mothers have a natural instinct which makes our ears perk up anytime we hear our baby emit even the faintest whimper. So even if Stewart were on duty, I’d have to wake him up. Which would mean I’d also be awake, and I’d still hear Milo crying. So that leaves me tending to him most nights. Some nights it’s only a couple times, some nights it’s five or six times. Those nights are tough. The following days are miserable.

There is a reason why sleep deprivation is considered torture. People nod their heads and chuckle a little about sleep deprivation because, hey, anyone who’s raised a baby has been there and done that. Let me be clear: It’s not funny. It just isn’t. The fact is, as a mom with postpartum depression, sleep deprivation takes me over the edge. I think it can take anyone over the edge, PPD or not. These are the times that can drive me to thoughts of harming myself.

While it’s true that severe depression can cause suicidal thoughts, my experience with PPD has shown that thoughts of harming myself are just thoughts of escaping. I don’t want to kill myself. But I would love to hurt myself just enough to go to the hospital so someone can take care of me, and someone else besides me can take care of my children. Just for a while, just so I can rest, just so I can become me again. I’ve had horrible thoughts, but I understand what the thoughts mean, so I am able to think my way back to the reality of the thought: I just want to escape.

Hmmmm…I could just cut myself. People do it all the time. Just small cuts in my arms or legs, enough to make me bleed. No one would notice, except Stewart. And if Stewart notices, then he’ll know that I need help. He’ll check me into the hospital or mental health facility. Then I can rest. I can just rest and get away.

I think these things because I need to get it out of my head, and move on and get better. It’s scary to admit these thoughts to anyone, but I have supportive friends and family who understand PPD, who also know what the thoughts mean.

However, there are those times when I’m not so sure I can think my way through back to the reality of needing to escape. One morning, after an awful night, I called my mom and told her I was coming to her house. I needed to go to her house. 

“I have to come over because I’m worried I might do something if I don’t,” I told her over the phone. I didn’t tell her what that something was. I wasn’t so sure myself.

I packed the kids into the car and started driving. She lives about 40 minutes away. That’s a really long drive for someone who hasn’t slept much. My eyes were closing and I forced myself to stay awake. I remember going around the curve of an on-ramp, thinking I could slow down a bit and maybe just crash into a guard rail or a telephone pole. A controlled crash. I wouldn’t die. I would just hurt myself a little, enough to get admitted to the hospital. I thought this, and then I realized I couldn’t do that, of course, because my children were in the car with me.

I just kept driving, and stopped to get a mocha and scones. Food calms me, and I understand all the horrible implications this has. I’m an emotional eater, I’m creating a cycle of unhealthy eating, I’m feeding myself sugary sweets when what I need is therapy. But, you know, there’s mocha and scones and there’s crashing your car on purpose. You do the math. I couldn’t think myself back to the reality of wanting to escape. It wasn’t the reality of the thought that saved me. It was my children, and, well, Starbucks.

My mom watched the kids that day and I was able to take a nap at her house. Once again, I was thankful to have that kind of support, which many women with PPD do not have. I told her about wanting to crash my car, wanting to go to the hospital. After I slept and after I talked, I was feeling all right again.

My son slept well that night, five hours straight during one stretch, and the next day I felt fine. I was happy, but I was also upset. I hate that a good night’s sleep can do so much to affect my mental health. No matter how much Zoloft I take, if I’m sleep deprived it doesn’t matter.* It infuriates me that sleep deprivation makes me lose control of my own thoughts.

I am still in the midst of sleep-deprived days. I wish it was easily resolved, but babies are trial-and-error, and sometimes there isn’t one approach that works for everyone. I am to the point of trying any and all things to get my child to sleep. I have tried withholding feedings, I have tried feeding him more, I have tried co-sleeping. The Baby Whisperer in my head says Well, luv, now you’ve really done it! That baby will never get to sleep without Mummy coddling him!

My response to her? When my baby is fifteen years old and wants nothing to do with me, I will carry the bittersweet memory of holding him in my arms, listening him to him cry, nursing him, cuddling him and knowing that I am his greatest comfort.

Oh, and, Go back to your country and leave me alone!

  

This was a difficult post for me to write, and even more difficult for me to put online for anyone to see.  One of my goals with this blog, however, is to be as honest and authentic as I can be, especially when writing about PPD.  *I wrote this back in late October.  I have since increased my medication, which has helped control these kind of thoughts.  I’m still sleep deprived, but I know “this too shall pass.”

I’d love to hear your thoughts about sleep deprivation, depression, reading parenting advice books, or anything else that comes to mind when you read this post.  Your comments on previous posts have been great.  I feel like this blog is both helping me and helping others, which is just what I had in mind.  Thank you to everyone reading!

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16 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Erica Collins
    Jan 26, 2011 @ 16:21:20

    Thank you, Thank you, Thank you. I have been unable to put into words that feeling of wanting to hurt myself “just enough” to go away and rest. Having my boys with me 99% of the time when I am home or in the car has been what has stopped me. I would never ever hurt them, they are my world. I am mad at PPD for making me feel disposable, like my family can and should do without me. This monster as someone else posted is taking too much from me. This blog is helping make me smarter and stronger to fight him off. Thanks!

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  2. Amber Dunham
    Jan 26, 2011 @ 11:37:59

    Just had to say, I love this! I love it that someone is finally brave enough to talk about the real realities of PPD. It is a big scary monster that intrudes into your life, unwelcome and never seems to want to leave! So many people don’t believe in PPD, but the reality is that they are just nyeve or uneducated about the seriousness of this illness. I am so proud of you Mandy! You are so brave for all of us that have been touched by PPD, so thank you!

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    • lorixmom
      Jan 27, 2011 @ 10:11:26

      Thank you, Amber. That means the world to me. It’s been scary to put all of this out there, but WOW, it’s so worth it! I don’t know if I’m brave or crazy (maybe both?), but I keep getting validation that this is what I’m supposed to be doing. So I’ll keep doing it!

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  3. Cassie
    Jan 26, 2011 @ 08:08:22

    “And if Stewart notices, then he’ll know that I need help. He’ll check me into the hospital or mental health facility. Then I can rest. I can just rest and get away.”

    I’ve always had this fantasy wherever I lived, of somebody (parents, roommates, husband-whoever I’m living with at the time) coming home, finding me all cut up and bloody and then taking me to the hospital “against my will” (because of course I couldn’t admit that I wanted to go).

    When I finally went to Pine Rest though, I had to actually say “I want to go.”

    Last April a friend of mine committed suicide – it was excruciating for everyone who knew him and an important reminder for me. You can’t wait for someone to else to save you. This pisses me off, but it’s true. Just last night I was thinking “I’m sick of being strong-especially since I feel like I am strong for everybody else’s sake more than my own.” That’s the way it is. If we need people to know how much we are suffering we have to tell them with our words. When they don’t “get” it, we have to try again, or move onto the next person (Kathy B was the person who finally took me seriously).

    So my comment was not about sleep depravation specifically (although it’s all related), but I hope it helps to know that I relate to the other thought.

    Stay strong – I appreciate your strength.

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    • lorixmom
      Jan 26, 2011 @ 09:43:42

      Thanks for your comment, Cassie. It does help to know that someone can relate. It’s very hard to talk about (although it seems to be much easier for me to write about). I’m glad Kathy B. was there to help you get the help you needed.

      It is hard to stay strong, isn’t it? Sometimes it feels like it would be easier to just throw the towel in, but when you start having more and more good days, it is so worth it.

      I appreciate your strength too, Cassie!

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  4. Elizabeth
    Jan 21, 2011 @ 20:43:49

    I can relate. Our daughter was a tough, tough cookie when she was young. She had extreme colic that basically included non-stop screaming from about 6 pm until 2 am every single day without end for about three months straight. After she finally calmed down and went to sleep we had to wake her up to feed her every 2 hours all thought the night, then hold her upright for 30 minutes afterward to help control her acid reflux. Add to that I was full time pumping every three hours during the night and it was insane. My husband and I can honestly admit that during that period we would take turns with our daughter, each one staying awake and dealing with her crying until the person attempting to manage our daughter felt like it was no longer safe to be in charge. It might be 4 hours, it might be 15 minutes, and then the other person was automatically back on duty no matter how tired they were. It was very isolating because I felt like nobody but my husband could truly understand what it was like. One night my parents offered to watch our daughter while we went to bed early. I could hear her screaming all night, but at least I wasn’t in charge. They had their bags packed and were standing by the door at 6:00 AM the next day and never offered to stay again. Just having the validation from someone else that it was hard was really encouraging and I got weeks of stamina out of it. That amazingly difficult time gave me a particular appreciation for single mom’s and also how parents can just snap when it becomes too much. I have never ever felt so thankful for a safety net of my husband in my entire life.

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    • lorixmom
      Jan 22, 2011 @ 08:01:24

      Oh, Elizabeth, that sounds like it was torture! I’m sorry you had to go through that. Thank you for your honest comments. It is nice to have some validation, isn’t it?

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  5. Tricia
    Jan 20, 2011 @ 16:22:04

    The honesty in your writing is inspiring. Keep it coming, Amanda. You are doing an amazing thing with these blogs.

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  6. Kasandra
    Jan 17, 2011 @ 16:58:50

    I do not have a child, but I do have a chronically ill husband who might as well be a child. Many of the things you talk about I feel in taking care of my husband, his depression, and his cancer. If he is not happy, then nobody is happy as is the case with Milo not sleeping. It is great you have the support you do so you can get away and recover.

    As for ideas for getting him to sleep, we found with one of my nephews if you wrapped him real tight in a blanket, he was better. It was weird because by the time he woke up he would be splayed out in the crib with the blanket on the opposite side, but the security of the tight wrap must have helped. The other thing I have done, which has created a monster now that he is 8 is always playing lullabies. Actually, it has not created a monster. When he stays at my house, he always asks for the lullabies I use to sing to him when I was his nanny. He does not use them at home. Good luck! You can always ship him out here to Colorado for a bit! :o)

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    • lorixmom
      Jan 21, 2011 @ 16:45:29

      Sometimes I have to pin down Milo’s arms in order to get him to settle down! He’s a mover. He does go to sleep well most nights, but we’re still trying to figure out why he keeps waking up 3-4 times a night. The past couple nights have been better, so maybe we’re turning a corner.

      The story of your lullaby-monster nephew is very sweet. That’s something I’m sure he’ll always treasure about his aunt.

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  7. bonnie
    Jan 17, 2011 @ 09:38:11

    Oh yes I remember well. I kept on trying to call you because it took over 2 hours from the time you called. (Didn’t know about the mocha stop!) Your brother was over, helping with the roof and told me to stop “freaking out”. Love you Mandy, you are doing such good work!!!

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  8. Tracey
    Jan 16, 2011 @ 19:14:36

    Branden is a “sleeper,” too. I’m ashamed to say I was at the cribside screaming “shut up shut up shut up!” in the middle of the night more than a few times just to try to wake him up. Didn’t work. Both of mine were up, literally, every 2-3 hours all night long from birth to 9 months. When I weaned and put them on formula, they finally started to sleep. Nursing was worth it, but the sleep deprivation was definately torture. I found myself losing track of what was going on around me often. Being completely disoriented at random times during the day. I was surely not safe to drive, cook, operate heavy machinery, etc. But I did. You have to, you know? With Larkin, I finally just turned off her monitor, shut her door and started to get a bit more rest toward the end. I could only hear her then when she really started wailing. I’m glad your meds are working and you’re feeling better! Hope Milo starts sleeping soon!!

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    • lorixmom
      Jan 21, 2011 @ 17:06:27

      Thank you for sharing this. I would never wish sleep deprivation on anyone, but it’s helpful to know that others have gone through it/are going through it. We’ve started giving Milo formula at night, plus some allergy medicine because he has had a runny nose and cough for quite a while. It’s helping a little (I think?), so I hope we’ll be turning a corner soon.

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