It’s 3 am and I am wide awake. The buzz of the turned-back-on TV does nothing to lull my exhausted mind toward blissful sleep, my husband is completely passed outside beside me, and not a single car has driven down our street in almost an hour. It’s safe to say, I am the only person in my neighbourhood awake right now. And it feels a little like I’m the only person in the world who is, too. As I lie in bed praying for sleep, my mind wanders.
I’m a mum, so the thoughts that keep me up are typically about my child. When they’re not, it is often other topics that somehow affect her — finances, my own health, relationships with other family members. And no matter what it is I’m thinking about, I always feel guilty because even if it has nothing to do with her, I know with each passing minute that I will be that much more tired for her in the morning, which makes me feel guilty. It doesn’t matter that I have to get up with her in four hours (in fact, that makes the anxiety even worse). Here I am, still awake, in a state I like to call “mumsomnia.” I’ve been living this way for over a year.
If we’re being honest, I’ve never been a great sleeper. I can so well remember nights in university when I’d have an essay or presentation on my mind and would lie awake staring at the ceiling, wishing I could just catch some much-needed shut-eye and work it through in the morning. But here’s the thing: Since becoming a mum, my insomnia has gone from an occasional stress-induced symptom of life to a full-on lifestyle.
My 19-month-old has always been a pretty good sleeper, so I can’t blame my lack of sleep on her. But gone are the days of essays and presentations; now in addition to deadlines and work obligations to fret over, I am raising a human. The life of another person is dependent on me. From her sugar intake to her social skills, language development to plain old cuddling, I worry constantly about her, about me.
Am I enough? Am I doing enough? Giving her enough? Teaching her enough? Does she feel enough love, enough comfort, enough limits? Will she be okay when she starts school in a few years? Is it wrong that I’m working from home to be with her during the day instead of putting her in daycare where she’d learn in a more structured way? Is it wrong that I nearly lost it today when she tantrumed for almost an hour and I found myself on Day Three without a shower?
Gosh, the questions are just endless. And those are just the now-questions. When I let my mind wander at night, I go way past daycare and preschool into the preteen years where her best friends might turn their backs on her, to her high school and uni days where we’ll have drugs, date rape and results pressure to worry about. No wonder I can’t sleep!
And it’s not that I’m not tired. Let me tell you: Running a business from home, keeping that home functioning well, and taking care of a toddler on my own from 8 am to 8 pm is not exactly a cakewalk. My daughter is very full-on; she needs constant attention, bores easily, and is always on-the-go. Being her mum is by far the most fulfilling role I’ve ever filled, but it’s also the most exhausting.
There are times when I sit down next to her on the couch for a half hour of “Sesame Street” and the pull toward sleep is so strong I have to stand up and watch, so as not to nap on the spot and leave my daughter to take care of herself. One would think that by the end of a crazy day in my life, I would let my head hit the pillow and be out. But no!
Once we put her to bed, my husband and I usually chat or watch television for a little while. A very little while. Bless him, the guy starts snoring about eight minutes after we’ve begun our wind-down routine. What the hell?
This is typically the precise moment that I start to “spin,” as I call it. All of the exhaustion of the day is not enough to take me off to Dreamland; rather I start thinking. Thinking about our marriage, our child, our home. The conversation I had with a colleague the other day in which I said something that came out wrong. Is that why she hasn’t texted me back? Heck, I’ll go so far back as a conversation I had six years ago that still makes me uncomfortable to think about.
Staying up until 2, 3, or later in the morning is bad for everybody. It’s bad for my husband because my tossing, turning, TV-ing, and so on, interrupts his sleep. It’s bad for my daughter because I am so groggy for the first hour we’re awake, she doesn’t get enough full-on Mummy that she really wants and needs. And frankly, it’s the worst for me because I live in a perpetual cycle of exhaustion and anxiety due to my sleep problems. So, what am I doing about it?
After three doctors in a row prescribed yoga (already doing that), meditation (a nightly go-to), massage (stresses me out even more), and appointments with other doctors, I finally found one who gave me a prescription for sleeping pills. I was hesitant to try them but went for it. The first night, I fell asleep within 30 minutes of taking the pill and woke up eight hours later, feeling amazing. Same deal on nights two through seven.
A week after I started, the pill didn’t work. Confused, I called my doctor. He suggested I up the dose with another half pill. That worked for another week and then stopped. Enough, I thought, flushing the pills down the toilet. I’m not going to go on adding a half dose every week for the rest of my life, nor do I want to be reliant on medicine for sleep. I decided to go rogue, do some research, and listen to friends and family rather than doctors, for now, anyway. And some of it’s helping quite a bit.
First, I do not bring my mobile phone to bed anymore under any circumstances. It used to be a great escape from my insomnia; I’d scroll Instagram, hop on Pinterest, re-read a work email, and so on. But it’s not helping at all — not only does the glow suck me in, but the busy-ness of social media cranks my mind up to full speed. Now, I plug my phone in to a charger in another room before I go to bed and I don’t see it again until the morning.
I use the TV as a last resort. Instead, I’ll start with meditation and positive thinking. (Picturing complete darkness and the shape and scent of a lemon is a trick I learned years ago, I don’t remember where, and it usually helps me calm down for whatever reason). If this fails me after a while, I’ll take out a book. Yes, the mind is still active, but it’s not as intense as TV. Eventually, this typically makes me very sleepy while giving me something to focus on other than my own thoughts, and I’ll manage to get to sleep. On the very worst nights, I do still rely on the television, but I make sure to tune to something that truly doesn’t interest me and doesn’t have much of a plot. That tends to help bore me to sleep, if nothing else.
Finally, I’m working on my life. I will never be a person who is cured of chronic anxiety; anyone who suffers from it knows it’s a roller coaster. The thing is, my anxiety is at bay during the day and I’m handling life pretty well; it’s only at night really, that the old demons come out to haunt me. And while I will probably continue to go on and off anxiety medicine as needed under doctor supervision for the rest of my life, I have gotten into the driver’s seat recently and am doing absolutely everything I can to make my actual life easier and less stressful. This way, I can more readily identify what is actually stressing me out and what is just the medical anxiety keeping me up at night.
For over a year, I’ve been working too many one-off writing gigs that do not pay in a timely manner and answering to clients who don’t fulfill me and add nothing but stress to my life. Recently, I’ve cut way down, only taking the assignments that I can manage and that pay what my time deserves. This is helping me to create a work-life balance that means I am very rarely working at midnight and am almost never lying in bed worrying about work.
Also, I am taking control of my obsession with my daughter’s health, happiness and growth curve. I am no longer reading every article whose title stresses me out and second-guessing every single decision we make as her parents. I talk things over with my husband, we make an action plan, and we stick to it. I will always strive to do my best for my daughter and expose her to all the good I can. But I can’t keep up with exactly how many milligrams of sodium the mums down the street are giving their kids in a day or beat myself up because she got a mosquito bite or cried in the aisle at the supermarket because I took her out too close to nap time.
Mum life is never going to get easier, it’s going to get more complicated. I have to ride the waves with peace and trust myself to do what I can for her without beating myself up with doubt and worry. At night when I start to feel that fear and stress bubbling up, I have to tell myself calmly, sometimes forcefully, “You are doing a good job. You are a great mum. Really.”
Are positive affirmations and mobile phone avoidance going to cure my chronic insomnia? Absolutely not. And down the line, I might need to try another sleeping medication when it gets really bad. But I know for a fact that shifting my tendencies is helping, and even if that only knocks out a few bad nights per week, I’m already feeling a difference. Of course, I could still use a cup of coffee right about now.
More mum confessions:
- How Being a New Mum Helped Me Cope with Skin Cancer
- Endometriosis: What it Feels Like to Suffer From it
- The Reality of Teaching My Kids About My Mental Illness