Years before I met my husband, I lived in a cute little apartment in the center of a small town, right above the beauty salon. I lived alone, and every night I pulled two kitchen chairs in front of the door and piled pots and pans on them. No, I didn’t do this because I was afraid someone might break in; I was worried that I might get out.
What I did next was to tape a sign above the doorknob and place several other signs on the floor at regular intervals back to my bedroom door. On the signs, in bold, black Magic Marker, was written, “STOP! GO BACK TO BED! YOU ARE ASLEEP!” The purpose of these signs (and the booby-trap of pots and pans) was to keep me from sleepwalking out my apartment door, only to wake up when the door slammed behind me, locking me out.
If that had happened, it wouldn’t have been be the first time, and living alone meant there was no one on the other side of the door to let me back in. Hence, my paranoia.
You see, my friends – that is why I always wear pajamas to bed. No sleeping in my underwear or a slinky nightie for me, hell no! It’s flannel pajamas, or shorts and a t-shirt at the very least. I have to be proactive and practical about my sleep issues in order to limit both the danger and the humiliation.
The truth is I never thought the fact that I was a sleepwalker was particularly odd until I went to college. I have five siblings, and all of us were sleepwalkers and/or sleep-talkers as kids. Three of us (that I know of) have continued this behavior into adulthood, which I guess is unusual. We often share our funnier stories of sleepwalking at parties and family gatherings, because…well…they’re kind of weird stories, and after a few drinks they can be downright hilarious.
The sleepwalking story I share is one from college. I was dreaming that I was trapped in some kind of a large box. I couldn’t find my way out, so I thought of my friend, Bob, who was really smart. I knew he could figure out how to rescue me from the box. When I awoke from the dream, I was banging on my dorm room wall, exclaiming, “I’m trapped in this box! I need some help! I need Bob! Go get Bob!” And if that wasn’t mortifying enough – there were a few drunk guys in the hallway banging back and laughing. (I’ll admit the story is probably not as funny on paper. Try having a few drinks, and then act it out very dramatically, putting special emphasis on Bob, who is very smart and who is the only one who can save you from the box.)
But I digress.
I don’t always sleepwalk. My sleepwalking gets worse when I’m sleep deprived or under a lot of stress.
That’s right: “sleep deprived” and “under stress”. For a new mom, the “sleep deprived” part is pretty obvious and expected. Some of us, however, are taken off-guard by the intensity of the “stress” part – the stress that comes from bonding with a little human being that is totally reliant upon you for his very survival.
The author, Elizabeth Stone, said it best: “Making the decision to have a child – it is momentous. It is to decide forever to have your heart go walking around outside your body.”
Yup. That’s it, right there.
As you know, I had anxiety before I had my boy. For me to feel so attached to and so protective of this completely vulnerable and precious baby – to feel like my heart no longer resided in my chest but with my boy…that just scared the shit out of me. It was like giving a Red Bull to someone who was already hyped up on caffeine.
I worried about him all the time. Is he eating enough? Is that what his poop is supposed to look like? Why is he making that face? Why isn’t that rash going away? What IS that rash anyway? Is he crying because he’s in pain or because he’s bored? Is he meeting all his milestones? Why does he seem different than the other babies?
All this worry carried into my subconscious, too. Almost every night, I would dream that the baby had rolled from my arms and was buried in the bed sheets. I would wake up to find myself frantically digging through the blankets looking for him. (Logically, losing my baby in the sheets would not have happened because I never brought him into bed with me…for this very reason!)
I also almost injured my poor, snoring husband several times as I dove across him to catch our imaginary baby as he fell off the side of the bed. Sometimes my sleepwalking brought me into the hallway where I dreamed that our boy was just about to fall down the stairs. Always my dream was of me searching for him or rescuing him from impending doom. Even in sleep, my mind just could not rest.
So I’d like to take this opportunity to give props to Mother Nature for the brain chemical/hormone cocktail she invented for the purpose of mother/baby bonding. Seriously, that is some powerful stuff. You are handed this rashy, stinky, screaming baby that keeps you up all day and night and pushes you to the very brink of insanity. But you stick around, tending to his every need for survival, protecting him from real dangers and rescuing him from imaginary ones. Why? Because you are totally and completely madly in love with him.
Let me tell you – awake or asleep, consciously or unconsciously – I loved this baby something fierce. And as that bond grew stronger, so did the intensity of my anxiety. My subconscious mind had to come up with more interesting and creative ways to channel that anxiety – like, for example, “sleep-spiders”…but that’s a topic for another post.