Catherine Cameron: I am not losing my mind. I am sleep deprived.
Often, when I share how tired I am with others, they retort with ‘there is a reason they used sleep deprivation as torture in the war.’ And every time I hear this, I have to remind myself, ‘I am not losing my mind. I am sleep deprived.’
I, like so many mothers out there, am months into surviving on very little sleep. I, like so many mothers out there, don’t know any different. And I, like so many mothers out there, still think that every sleepless night is worth it, just to have my baby in my life.
In fact I see myself as lucky. Lucky, to be complaining about something so small, as sleep. Lucky, to be a mother at all.
But the problem is, when I am in the thick of sleep deprivation, my brain farts on lucky. Every shred of positivity within me is burnt to ashes. I become a negative, cranky, hormonal, nagging and hollow version of myself. A version of myself I never knew existed in the old days of ‘I’m so tired from that one late night I had a week ago’.
Now, I am not this nagging monster every time I am tired. It depends on the level of deprivation, and the lengthiness of it. The moon of cranky Cathy does set, and the sun of my normal self does rise. However this setting and rising follows an unpredictable pattern, making myself, and those around me, weary.
So why am I writing another blog on sleep deprivation? Because I think it’s important that there is greater understanding around this struggle, for two reasons. One, that the support network of a mother can appreciate just how severe the effect of sleep deprivation can be. And two, so that the mothers reading this who too feel as though they cannot control the rising and setting of their normal and tired selves, know they are not alone.
It is important to recognise that the sleep deprivation mothers experience is not just a short and sweet phase. Mothers can be unhealthily deprived of sleep for months, or years, at a time. For those who are not experiencing the relentless of this deprivation first hand, it can be difficult to empathise just how mind altering it really is.
Recently, I came across a horrific example of the effect of sleep deprivation in the news. An exhausted mother thought she had put her baby to bed in his cot for his nap, when instead she had left him sitting in his car seat, in a hot car. The mother, severely deprived of sleep, thought back to when she had put her son to bed the previous day, and her warped sense of reality fooled her into thinking she had safely removed her infant from the car. In essence, this mother had lost control of her own thoughts and perceptions of what was real, and what was not. Tragically, the baby did not survive.
Sleep deprivation clouds your thinking. Sleep deprivation alters your judgment. Sleep deprivation heightens your emotions. Sleep deprivation makes you assume. Presume. Forget.
Sleep deprivation is destructive. It seeps its claws into every aspect of your life - your self worth, your relationships, and your common sense. Before becoming a mother, tiredness from work, or the occasional late night would affect my energy levels. Sleep deprivation is different entirely. It paints your entire world a different colour than what it was before. It feeds you with hypothetical worry, and distances you from the well-rested people around you.
I am now approaching my tenth month of multiple and lengthy night wakings from my sensitive and active little girl. To some that might seem long. To those ahead of me in the parenting game, it may seem short. I used to look ahead and wonder when she would sleep through. I would cling to that hope as if it was my goal.
‘Once she sleeps through the night, I will have aced parenthood!’
Now, I am smarter, and more realistic. My baby is not a bad egg because she is wakeful. Her sleeping is by no means any indication of our progress as a mother-daughter team.
So what is?
The first indication of our success as a team is she. The way she smiles when I enter the room. The way she reaches her chubby little arms into the air when she sees me walking away. The nature in which she is growing. The speed in which she is learning.
The second indication is myself. My resilience. The way I keep giving to my daughter. My unconditional love for her. My unfaltering instinct to do all I can to be there for her no matter what.
And that, is what we, the sleep deprived mothers, need to remember. Yes we are tired. Yes, the lack of sleep we are getting has made the mountain we are climbing in raising a child slightly rockier. But we are still climbing. We are still giving. We are still jumping out from behind pieces of furniture and shouting ‘Boo!'
And mammas, we will continue to climb. And one day, we will get to the top, and forget all about those nights that used to steal some of our fight.
So for those of you reading this who are living with, friends with, related to, or who even know a mother who is sleep deprived, please be patient. Understand that although she is not quite herself, she is doing her best.
And please, give her a hug from me.
If you or anyone you know are suffering from sleep deprivation, are struggling to cope, or need to talk, please contact the team at Maternal Mental Health, (to find a centre near you, contact HEALTHPOINT) or call PLUNKET line on 0800 933922.