Saturday, June 11, 2011

from the sublime to…

the just plain


My daughter isn't sleeping.

Just. Not. Sleeping.

She was up until midnight last night, weeping in my arms, so, so tired and yet completely unable to go to sleep.

This has been happening for weeks. Months, really. Nights getting later and later. My girl pacing the floor upstairs after we've said good night. Us going up. Her coming down. So many tears.

If we go to bed with her, she is all right.

If we don't, if we say good night, and go downstairs (like I've heard many parents do!),

the Worry Monsters come.

And they are BIG. They involve spider bites, mostly. Images of huge, furry spiders lurking in the corners of her sheets, waiting to pounce. Or there is a fear of appendicitis, fear of what headaches might mean, fear of hurricanes, fear of death.

And the Worry Monsters have started coming in the day too. Because when a girl routinely can't sleep, and gets insanely overtired, then they come when it's light. They come in all sorts of forms, sneak up behind her—often just as she's having the most fun—and trip her over.

Then she comes and tells me the Worry. She whispers it in my ear.

She looks at me so intently.

She says, "Will I be okay?"

I say, "Yes, sweetheart. You will be okay."

And then she says (and says always), "But how do you know?"

And I explain, and explain again,

and again

and again.

Because these Worry Monsters are tenacious. They stick. They are like burrs, frustrating, overwhelming, prickly, stickly things. Burrs that simply will not leave.

And as I'm reassuring her, and looking up 'anxiety' online, and planning ways to help (lavender baths, meditation tapes, warm milk, appointment with a naturopath, possibly a psychologist?), I am being

pricked and sticked
by Worry Monsters too.

This is why.

We began homeschooling my girl because she was incredibly anxious and unhappy at school. It has gone so well. Homeschooling has provided her with days of intense happiness, time to do the things she loves, and a growing realisation of who she is as a person, and the pride and confidence that comes with that.

But she is growing incredibly anxious again, and after nights like last night,
I think, Oh. Did I make a terrible mistake?

By removing her from school, did I stop her from finding her own feet, facing her anxieties head-on, becoming that word: "Resilient"? Did I create a warm space for the Worry Monsters to breed? Should I have been the mama the school wanted me to be—the one who could (or feels forced to) leave a crying child at the school gates, trust that strangers would take care of her, trust that she would be "fine" and walk away?

The thing is, I know logically that none of these things are true.
I didn't make a mistake.
And I could not be, and never will be, that mama.

But I worry. I hold myself responsible. It's as though I take all the tough, the hurt, the hard that my children face and say, "Ah. My fault." Or I think, "Homeschool. It's because I strayed away from the Path More Taken."

I fret and blame the one thing that has consistently brought my child joy. I fret and think, If I were tougher, and had more rules, and Consequences, and didn't cuddle, and listen, and talk things through… if I was more Seperate… would she rise to the challenges herself and become stronger?

In other words, if I was the opposite to who I am, perhaps my child would thrive.

It's ridiculous.

See how these Worry Monsters work? They take what is real, and true, and good, and bend it until you can't recognise it any more. They launch imaginary spiders at you and make you believe you are in danger, that you've made a mistake, that what is real and true and good is not actually there at all.

They aren't nice. They shouldn't be allowed to come over to play. They don't play fair and they don't play kind, and I'd like very much for them to leave.

I tried to be firm last night. I got cross, and I sent her to sleep in a different room than ours. I said there would be Consequences. I left her to the dark and to her tears because I thought, The other way doesn't work!

But the firm way didn't work either. I felt just terrible. And I wasn't true to myself at all.

She ended up downstairs again, despite all the Consequences that had been threatened. She was simply, and absolutely, unable to sleep. Simply and absolutely, in that moment, ruled by the Monsters. My poor, poor girl.

She ended up in my lap, wrapped up in my husband's big plaid jacket, weeping in my arms. She ended up drinking warm milk and honey in my arms. She ended up pouring out her fears and her feelings. She ended up coming to bed with us, back in our bed, my hand on her back. She ended up sleeping.

I don't have answers. I just see there is another journey to take.

And I am not going to leave my child to it. Leave her weeping at the gate. I am going to take a




And face the Worry Monsters with her. Hand in small, dear hand.



  1. Oh Helena. How I feel for you. I didn't leave my boy crying at the gate either. And my girl has the worry monsters at night (at least not every night) and it is just exhausting and soul destroying. Reminds me of why I wouldn't have another baby.

    But you are such a good mum. You will find a way. At least to cope. Sending you cyber hugs.

  2. Hi Helena,
    My daughter has had the same issues. I'm emailing you a response as it took too much space here!! Hugs!!!

  3. I can relate. I have that "If I were firmer, would she be less intense?" worry, but of course showing you child respect, filling them up with love and comfort CAN'T be wrong. I pretty much have three girls in my bed every night, and there's no (and never has been)an "it's 8 o'clock, get ready and go to bed." It's more of a gradual winding down, reading, teeth brushing, quieter talking, nursing the littlest, and eventually they are all asleep :) By then, I am usually drifting too. Or, if I have one of my insomnia spells, then I get up and finally have Alone-Time (or face down my own Worry Monsters)
    When they no longer want to snuggle with me to sleep, I know I will miss it, even if it can be exhausting Now.
    Peace to you, Helena. xxx

  4. Ah. Now I see why you wanted to sleep with me.

    My own 9 year old is a worrier, too. I am trying to remember that I only sleep well when my husband is home. i.e. I sleep well when I am not alone. So why should he be any different? Some of us are not meant to be alone in the night. Our dreams and visions are too sharp and too real, even as adults.

    She will not be scarred because you allow her to come to you with her fears. She will only be scarred if she is forced to face something on her own that she simply cannot face right now.

    If I could convey the seriousness of my own dreams in words... Well. I'd be a very well-paid writer by now, to say the least.

    Here's to hoping we all get a good night's rest tonight...

  5. Oh Helena...I am SO sorry to hear about all of these Worry Monsters! I sincerely hope things improve for you soon! I agree that leaving your daughter to fend for herself in the face of her fears is not the way to go. For her to know you love her and are there for her is what will pull her through it.

  6. One of my girls too :(
    Email me if you want to know what helped us.

  7. Oh, Helena, I'm so sorry!
    We don't have this at our house, though I could see Trev being totally out of sorts if he didn't sleep with us. I agree with Tracey - some of us just don't sleep well alone.
    I think true resilience can should come best out of an unshakable sense of security and being loved... otherwise it's just a defensive, self preservation. Certainly not something we want for our children! (We spend so much of our moments and days loving them, why wouldn't we want them to Know it?)
    Anyway - I hope you've gotten some great advice from some of the others that have responded.
    Sending love to all of you.

  8. Oh Helena..isn't that just like life? One day it is glorious and the boy is 11 and winning awards and the next it is back to worry. But you will get through this. I am emailing you too. I have something to say that isn't commentish. [I know, not a word :p]

    Love you girl.

  9. I can relate to this - if I don't have a distraction at night, my brain goes around and around and sometimes it's an actual cacophony of scary NOISE. I have suffered night terrors all my life and have gone through periods where I am too afraid to go to sleep because of what might await.

    Anyway. If I may offer a couple of practical suggestions?

    Firstly, how about falling asleep to music? Not fast, raucous music, but happy classical? My kids both have CDs in their rooms with happy, soothing music.

    If that is not enough of a distraction, how about Old Time Radio? My husband and I have fallen asleep to the sounds of The Jack Benny Show, Gunsmoke, Dragnet, etc. for years. You can get them on cassette tape, CD, or mp3 CD (which is more compressed and less expensive - 80 stories for $5). There are many shows that are kid-friendly - comedies like The Aldrich Family, for instance. I would be happy to point you to the place I buy my discs from, and to help you figure out which shows would be a non-scary distraction from the Worry Monsters.

    (I don't know anything about Australian Old Time Radio, these suggestions are American. If you are interested and they won't ship to you, I would be happy to have them sent to me and ship them on to you)

  10. I can relate Helena. Completely. We've found seeing a clinical psychologist really helpful for our anxious boy. She had many many ideas and suggestions that have helped immensly and given our son some realistic tools which he can use/access when things are particulrly tough. He still has some trouble falling asleep but it has improved hugely. Guided meditations and gentle audio stories have really helped too. He also made a Worry Box, into which he put his worries (that he drew) each evening to keep them safe and out of his head so he could quiet his mind for sleep. Much love to you (and your daughter) Helena.

  11. I just wanted to add, and of course you know this already, but just some more support for you...

    Our son's anxiety was a big factor in deciding to homeschool, he was only attending part-time preschool ('transition' at a regular school) and the trauma it caused him, all of us, was so severe we are still recovering 12 months down the track.

    Our psychologist fully supports homeschooling and said in fact that pulling him out of the school environment when we did was the best thing we could have done. She said in no unclear terms that expecting highly strung/sensitive/anxious kids to 'build resilience' within the school environment is damaging to the child. I know you know this. But I thought you might like to hear that the so-called experts (psychologists specialising in children with anxiety) agree.

  12. Helena, my 12 year old is having trouble sleeping at the moment and my other son did at the same age. I didn't expect it from the younger one, though, because he is NOT anxious by nature! He says there is nothing bothering him except that he can't sleep!
    So I'm putting it down to the onset of puberty hormones. He feels tired, goes to bed and then lays there for hours until I hear him tossing and whimpering when he does begin to be distressed by it. And now that it's happened a few times, it's worse because he expects it to happen!
    Now we will go through the same things we tried with our older child- watching what they eat, no video games before bed, warm milk, a warm bath, soft music, putting a light on and reading. But truthfully, we do all those things as I need to be DOING something to help; I think he will grow out of it when he's ready.
    Wishing you and your daughter peace and calm and sleep.

  13. I am catching up with your blog and have to say - I have a non sleeper, he just can't get to sleep and he doesn't seem to need much sleep... so that's fine I am used to him in bed reading and reading and reading... But I have one child prone to wild panics and he woke me at least every two hours for at least ten years of his life... now that he is older he does cope much better with it, we leave a light on, he can come to us anytime whatever - just no screaming and waking everyone up - it really became dire!!! All my kids are still happy to sleep in one big bed - even though a couple of them have their own beds... it really is safety in numbers and when I see anyone who is just not coping with their days I immediately assume it is sleep related and suggest a sleepover. I am sorry you are battling and I do hope you find a resolution, and I have no great pearls of wisdom, I just wanted you to know that you are really not alone.


I love hearing from you! Thank you for your heartfelt, thoughtful responses—they lift me, and give me light.