Sleep and anxiety. They are quite literally very bad bedfellows. I’m sure most of us have experienced sleepless nights when your mind and soul are so troubled or stressed about something that you can’t get to sleep or perhaps you just can’t stay asleep? Sometimes it feels like your heart is beating out of your chest, like you can’t breathe properly. A million thoughts race through your mind – thoughts that in the daylight hours seem silly and inane, but at 2am in the morning seem insurmountable and overwhelming!
The boys have both struggled with anxiety. Anxiety is often comorbid with autism and can be caused by so many different factors from being in a high demand environment, sensory challenges and social demands. Poor T went through a very difficult stage with his anxiety last year. He was sleeping very badly. I would often find him asleep under his bed, or curled up out in the lounge room with his faithful dog. He was constantly in a state of hypervigilance – of fight flight! His anxiety manifested as rages, irrational behaviour, emotional outbursts, aggression and sleeplessness. We are so fortunate to have wonderful support in the form of a psychologist, a psychiatrist and my Dad. I don’t know what we would do without any of them.
It took about six months to stabilise T’s anxiety and it’s taken me about another 6 months to recover from the trauma of it. I only say it was traumatic because I just couldn’t understand it. I had never seen anxiety present in such a high end, irrational and unmanageable way. With the support of our therapists, I feel we all have a better understanding of T’s anxiety now and he is generally sleeping better and feeling better.
It’s heartbreaking to see your child so crippled by fear that they want to stay in bed all day. It’s so hard to hear them say that they feel like people are going to come and kill them in the night, and they’re too terrified to even come in to get you because they are so paralysed with fear. It’s awful to find your baby barricaded in and hiding under their beds at night because they feel unsafe. It’s so hard when they are so exhausted from fear and lack of sleep that they lose interest in the daily activities they once really enjoyed. You will do whatever it takes to help. You will move them into your room or your bed with you so they feel the loving and secure presence of loved ones around them. You will locate the best specialists you can find. You will consider medications and/or alternative therapies and activities to bring some peace to your child’s world. It is very hard for any parent to see their child unhappy … for me it is the most heartbreaking thing in the world.
I know it’s no fun to experience anxiety at any age but my heart goes out to these little people who manage chronic anxiety on a daily basis. Anxiety can be such a monster. Having to deal with it at a time in your life that should be a happy, secure and carefree time seems very unfair. It is possible to manage the monster with vigilance and good direction and advice. Building a quality and supportive community of care around your child and yourself is the best way we have found to help T find his happy and carefree space again. And it feels pretty amazing.