I am more frustrated than it seems reasonable to admit. We are physically incapable of staying late at parties with our children, and it drives me nuts. I can almost hear the disparaging comments after we leave, even though they probably only get made inside my own head.
The truth is that staying late at parties is only one tiny part of the things we do not do, and have not done in years. We don’t see films. We don’t watch tv – not from any high-minded decision to abstain, although the quality of tv makes such decisions attractive, particularly surreality tv. Instead we leave early, collapse into bed early, and in various other ways withdraw from society, from a desperate need to sleep when our children are sleeping.
Our girls are nearly 3 and 7. The 7 year old only disturbs our sleep occasionally, apart from a dreadful inability to sleep in – she wakes at dawn, regardless of what time she went to bed. Late nights result in a massively grumpy small person for days. But that much we could (probably) live with. It’s the silent reflux that our 3 year old suffers that completely does us in, sleep-wise.
“Silent” reflux is, in fact, anything but. It should be called “screaming hysterically reflux”. It always leaves someone screaming hysterically. Sometimes the victim, sometimes the collateral damage – us. Until she was diagnosed, she was waking screaming once an hour. These days, with medication and a gradual identification of her triggers, she usually only wakes 2 or 3 times a night, although we still do have horror nights from time to time. We are very slowly getting to the point where she actually sleeps through, although that is still a rare cause for celebration, rather than a normal event.
All of our friends know we have various food intolerances in our house. But few people really understand the full impact of this on our daily lives. Our eldest almost certainly had silent reflux, too, although she was never diagnosed, and wasn’t quite as bad. She also grew out of it earlier. I hope that our 2 year old will also grow out of it eventually, but I am not holding my breath. Indeed, holding my breath would take too much energy away from my main endeavour, which is trying to hold myself together.
7 years of sleep deprivation has made it seem so normal to me that it’s only occasionally, when I glimpse the lives of others, and their reactions to our circumscribed and limited lives, that I realise how drastically it has changed us. From what we can and cannot do, or contemplate – such as visit incredibly dear friends and family overseas. There is simply no chance that we would consider voluntarily risking jetlag and extra lost sleep – to how we behave. Have you ever tried to be bright, sociable and outgoing when all you want to do is collapse, and you can barely hold your eyes open? Have you ever tried to do that every day for 7 years straight? It is only now, as the sleep deprivation recedes slightly, that I realise how different I have been. How introverted (me?! Normally the extroverts’ extrovert!) and depressed I have been.
In truth we are incredibly lucky – our kids are not seriously ill. They have nothing life threatening, growth threatening, or developmentally challenging. But they, too, suffer emotionally and socially when their sleep is bad. Our two year old is incredibly shy, and the worse her reflux is, the more shy and introverted she becomes. It is fundamentally difficult to cope with life when you are permanently on the edge, sleep-wise, and downright impossible when you spend most of your time over that edge.
It’s getting better. One day it might even get good. But in the meantime, I offer this glimpse into our lives as a small, yet heartfelt apology for the events not attended, the parties left early, and the relationships not tended the way they should be. Trust us – we’ll be back!