The nightmares.
June 18, 2012

On Saturday night, Charlotte fell asleep in Donald’s arms.  A few hours later, in the dead of the night, she released what can only be described as a rather piercing scream.  It woke my husband and me up in a flash.  She began whimpering and crying out.  “Stop her!” I said to Donald.  “Wake her up!  STOP HER!”

He woke her up gently.  He whispered to her, calmed her down, and she was asleep again in a heartbeat.  Donald was asleep again a few minutes later.  And then, there I lay, in the dark.  Thinking.  Thinking.  Thinking.

UNRELATED: Donald and Charlotte made brownies this weekend.  Charlotte took her job Very Seriously.

When I was eight or nine, I began having nightmares and they never ended.

It didn’t take long to figure out how to manage them.  My parents told me that I was in control of my dreams and I trusted them, so I learned how to wake myself up, calm down, and go back to sleep.  Later, I learned how to stop a dream and tell myself mid-nightmare “I don’t like this dream.  Let’s try it again.”

To this day, interrupting my dreams is how I deal with the vast majority of nightmares.  Still, a few times a week, a nightmare is bad enough that the only thing my mind can handle is to wake me up.  And a few times a year, a nightmare is so vivid that I have trouble remembering reality.  I wake up my husband in tears and I spend days, sometimes weeks, re-dreaming the nightmare over and over and over again until my brain learns how to tame it, how to “fix” it.  Usually this only happens when I am exceedingly stressed.

I wrote about one case here, when I was newly postpartum with Charlotte.  I dreamt about the world ending every night, dreamt about my baby dying in every horribly way my imagination could conceive, woke up several times a night Every.Single.Night screaming or in tears or both for nearly four months before I figured out how to control the dreams.

Nightmares are just how I deal with stress.  I frequently compare this situation to natural disasters.  Having lived my entire life with earthquakes, even the big ones no longer bother me.  Give me an earthquake over a tornado any day of the week.  Those scare the shit out of me.  And don’t even get me started on blizzards.  I will never understand how someone can live through a winter knowing that a blizzard could happen at any time.  No.  Effing.  Way.  It makes me shudder just to think of it.

Nightmares are my personal earthquakes.  I know people who live with all manner of inconvenient conditions.  I know how to handle nightmares.  Give me those, please.

But this is the third time I’ve heard my daughter having one in the last year and every time it happens, all I think is please please please don’t give them to her.

*** As I am typing this, Charlotte is still asleep and I just heard her burst into peels of laughter in the bedroom.  I ran back to check on her and found her completely asleep chuckling to herself and mumbling about her ballet slippers.  So I guess vivid dreams aren’t all bad.

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  1. By Karen on June 18, 2012

    Ughh! Somethings we just hope we don’t pass on to our kids! But I guess you are so much better prepared to parent Charlotte through this having had to deal with this yourself. My son is 27 months and is starting to act terrified of having to talk to anybody outside our immediate circle. To the point where he doesn’t want to go outside to play as the neighbors will greet him. I also struggle with feeling shy and socially awkward in many situations especially with people I don’t know well, but will be having to interact with again. I hope this is just a passing phase for him, but if not I guess at least I’ll understand the struggle and can teach him the strategies I’ve learned for dealing with it.

    Oh, and I grew up in the Northeast and the Midwest. I’m totally fine with blizzard, you just have to hunker down and wait it out. But earthquakes are freaky scary! I guess it’s all about what you know. (Although that doesn’t apply to tornados… having your whole world ripped off the face of the earth in a few seconds could never not be terrifying!)

  2. By on June 18, 2012

    Having lived in Kansas most my life, tornadoes are nothing. When the sirens go off, we all run outside to see if we can see the damn thing. Which is probably why so many die when there is a big one. Blizzards are actually really fun. If you stocked up your house before hand. You just hunker down and enjoy some time with the family. And the world looks a blissful white. Its really very pretty.

  3. By on June 18, 2012

    What a beautiful girl!

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  4. By Molly @ Little Stories Everywhere on June 18, 2012

    Yuck.  Sorry you have to deal with nightmares. Every night before bed we pray for protection and safety and it seems to really soothe my little.
    Give it a shot…maybe it will work:).

  5. By on June 18, 2012

    My son has started having night terrors and is only one!  I feel terrible about it.  Nothing quite chills me to the bone as him screaming during one of those.  Maybe he will just have a wonderful imagination.

  6. By Sarah Christensen on June 18, 2012

    Karen - I think it really is what you’re familiar with.  We had an earthquake here the other night during dinner and we rode it out for awhile before we decided that it was worthy of mentioning it to Charlotte so that she knew to steer clear of the sliding glass door during an earthquake lol.  When you live with them, you learn pretty quickly how to determine whether or not you’re in any danger.  The thing is that honestly about half the time we’re not even sure that an earthquake happened.  We look at light fixtures to tell us because you can’t always tell!

  7. By tara pollard pakosta on June 19, 2012

    I think you are describing what’s called, “night terrors”.....when you see her scream, does she look wide awake, but she’s really not? the boy I used to be a nanny for had them really BAD! he would scream this blood curdling scream and not be able to be woken up very easily!
    scary! hope she isn’t getting them!

  8. By on June 19, 2012

    Not that you probably are oblivious to this but I know when my 3-year old starting having them, I read that when the little ones are extremely tired (either from being wide open all day or being over stimulated on a day or staying up late…) that it can bring on the nightmares/terrors.  I guess that makes sense given your problem with them when you are stressed…

  9. By Sarah Christensen on June 19, 2012

    Tara - No, it’s definitely nightmares, not night terrors.  She does not look awake and she wakes very easily, then goes right back to (peaceful!) sleep.

  10. By on June 19, 2012

    I grew up having night terrors. My pediatritian described my case as having such vivid night mares where when I awoke, I would hallucenate that the people or things in my nightmare were in my room. Almost like sleep walking but mixed with nightmares….not fun! I batteled with them for the majority of my childhood and into my teens. Thankfully the hallucenations have gone away, but the nightmares have stayed. I remeber when I was younger, my older brother told me to think of my brain as a television and to turn the channel… then he would tug on my ears to turn the channel to the station I wanted to watch :)

  11. By on June 19, 2012

    I still have horrific nightmares. Sometimes I write or draw them out. One particular had me writhing and sobbing and drawing the picture of the house where I saw my daughter murdered in my dream. I completely understand.

  12. By on June 20, 2012

    Poor you and poor Charlotte! I am also prone to nightmares, ones which cause me to wake up crying and grasping for my husband and stay with me all day - but one thing I have noticed is that I am FAR more likely to have them when I overheat in my sleep (more likely in winter when I am under a huge pile of blankets so get warmer during the night). A number of people I have spoken too have noticed the same thing - do you find that there is any correlation between temperature and your nightmares?

  13. By Kaleigh on June 23, 2012

    I literally used to have nightmares over and over and would wake up crying EVERY night. Turns out I had SEVERE anxiety issues, and the nightmares were from eating too much sugar and overheating! When I laid off the sugar and regulated my temperature, they went away almost completely. Whew. Poor Charlotte though! :( maybe turning on a fan at naptime/bedtime to keep the room cool and her temperature low would help with the nightmares?

    A combination of things caused mine and it took a few years to figure out :(





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