Sleeping Alone

Sleeping Alone

Tonight is the second night in a row (ever) that my child has asked to sleep in the bed alone. Now, if you’re not a parent or caregiver of a child with anxiety, you’re probably rolling your eyes and going “big deal”. Well, it IS a big deal in our house. In 3,061 nights, she has always slept with someone else who made her feel safe and protected, and she even wiggled around in the bed reaching out with her feet whenever I would get up in the middle of the night (cause, after Menopause, you never sleep through the whole night again).

When your child is struggling with anxiety, those things that a lot of kids deal with for a few weeks or months (like being afraid of the dark) linger on well past the ‘normal’ age range. In our house, you can be in the room farthest away and still hear someone on the opposite side of the house clear their throat. Yet, as small as our house is, she would not go from one room to another by herself until very recently.

When she was younger, in 4year old preschool, I noticed that she would count her steps or just count when she was not sure of a situation. This was also the same age when her daddy, my husband, had a heart attack although I didn’t document if the counting came before or after. I tried my best to keep her daily routine the same while family & friends came into town to help out during his hospital stay. Then, six months later, my youngest step-son (25 years old) was killed instantly in a single vehicle car crash very early on the morning of Easter, April 20, 2014. Three days later, my mother was undergoing surgery for 18 hours for a cancerous tumor in her face, which left her face permanently altered and her speech changed.

The real glaring symptom of anxiety was in 2016 after my mother passed away. My daughter and I had moved in with my mother who lived 150 miles from us, in order to care for her as she received biopsies, treatments, went to oncologists appointments, and eventually went into hospice care.

I had to take her out of public school and homeschool her there, which we all rather enjoyed. My mother, my daughter’s only grandmother, was our ‘school principal’ and would check the school work when she felt good.

In August of that year, a few months afterwards, my daughter was to be in a wedding and she was so anxious about it that she was biting her arm and leaving big bruises and teeth marks in her skin! A trip to her pediatrician confirmed that the level of anxiety she was having was more than usual, and I started taking her to therapy with an expert in children’s play therapy and EMDR.

After a tumultuous first half of second grade in public school of sobbing and shaking with fear, I transferred her to the local Montessori school, which has been a blessing. She started to get some of her confidence back concerning school, but the lingering fears still remained.

At our one year follow-up with the pediatrician, I was honest with him about the things that therapy had helped, and things that it had not. We discussed my family history of depression and anxiety, and decided to try an antidepressant that the doctor has years of experience prescribing and closely following patients on this medicine.

Since starting the medicine, I have noticed small, positive changes in her mood. She is singing more and not getting as upset over small things as she used to, and not being so sullen and contemptuous about simple things like brushing teeth and hair.

But the biggest leap forward, by far, has been asking to sleep alone in the bed. I always knew it would happen when she was ready, but I’m sure going to miss those (not quite so little anymore) feet in my back and hearing her laugh sometimes when she’s dreaming.

You hear this as a new mommy, and as you go along your parenting journey you realize, there was a last time you could carry your child on your hip, there was a last time you rocked your child to sleep, there was a last diaper you needed to change. But they don’t come with warning. They just slip by. Since this is my only child, I wonder if it hits young mommies the same way it hits this 51 year old mommy. But I know, no matter how melancholy it makes me feel inside, I’m going to be proud of my child for making this large step forward and I’m going to tell her how proud I am of her.

Ironically, it’s 9 years to the day after I found out I was pregnant, and my daughter doesn’t need Mommy or Daddy beside her to fall asleep any more.

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