humor

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Sleep Spiders – And You Thought Sleepwalking Was Creepy…

Published April 9, 2014 by Jen Rosado from MyAlternateUniv

One night, months after my son was born, I awoke to find a very large spider working its way down an invisible thread right over our bed. I shook my husband and said, in a strangled whisper, “Don’t move! Spider!”

My mind was racing. I had to prevent the spider from reaching the sheets, but how? I remembered easily moving a small spider hanging from the living room ceiling by gently gliding my hand above the spider, catching its sticky thread, and moving it to the safety of a houseplant. I decided to try that with this much larger spider, at least to get it away from the bed. However, I underestimated the weight of the spider, and when I ran my hand above it to catch its thread, the spider plummeted into the waves of the bed sheets below. I shrieked in horror and started patting and flicking the sheets, hoping to either squish the spider or catapult its giant, hairy-legged body out of our bed.

Meanwhile, my startled husband moved to the edge of the bed where he sat watching me, confused. When I asked with exasperation, “Didn’t you see the spider? It was HUGE!” he just shook his head, rubbed his hand over his eyes, and sighed deeply. (You know – the way people do when it becomes clear that you are nuts, and it’s too exhausting for them to even try to find logic behind something you are doing.)

Slowly, my mind cleared. There was no spider. I sheepishly apologized and told him that it was ok, he could go back to sleep.

That was my first “sleep spider” visit.

Sleep spiders are a relatively new phenomenon for me. Sometimes I wake up to see one skittering across the wall, or poised on the ceiling right above the bed, or hanging from a thread over me, like that very first spider. Naturally, I find them threatening and scary, but, in a way, also fascinating. For those first five seconds or so, the spider seems real to my senses. If I blink and focus on it and tell myself it’s not real, it doesn’t disappear right away. Instead, it fades gradually into the shadows as I become more alert or evaporates as soon as the lights come on.

How strange it is to have your mind play tricks on you, to be briefly caught between two plains of existence – the dream world and reality. Strange, scary, but kind of cool, if you think about it.

Writing this post got me wondering – why a spider? Of course I find them creepy, but I’m not terrified of them like I am bees and hornets. What was the significance of a spider?

In my quest to figure out my sleep spiders, I did a Google search of “seeing spiders in your sleep.” A few sites had a medical explanation about being deprived of REM sleep, how your mind continues the dream state as you are waking up, causing you to see things that aren’t there. That made sense – even after six months, our boy was still a terrible sleeper, and I was woken up repeatedly at varying intervals every night by his crying.

That explained the reason I was seeing things in my sleep but not why the things I was seeing happened to be spiders. So I looked up the symbolic meaning of spiders in dreams. Now I must say, there are many interpretations of what a spider means, but most books and sites agreed that the spider often symbolizes a feeling of being stuck or trapped (like in a web).

Aha! Ever since our son was born I had felt trapped in an endless loop of feeding and holding and rocking and diaper changing. Of course, there was my ever-present anxiety about being a mother (like something to be feared is lurking in the shadows), the disappointment that reality did not match my expectations (like a fading dream world overlapping reality), and the perception that things were beyond my control (like being stuck in a sticky spiderweb, unable to break free).  More than that, I felt like I had lost my identity. I longed for a sense of direction and purpose, a sense of accomplishment at the end of the day, a sense of self again.

My sleep spiders are so wise.  Mystery solved!

Well, perhaps not entirely.  There is one more explanation for my sleep spiders, and it is my least favorite: The spiders (at least some of them) might be REAL.

Before you shake your head, rub your eyes, and sigh deeply at that suggestion, I have one more story to tell. And, by the way, I was fully awake during this spider encounter.

Not long ago, my son (now older) was playing on my bed, while I stood by making sure he didn’t do anything that would result in an ER visit. As I pulled the curtain closed over the window at the head of the bed, the biggest frickin’ spider I have EVER SEEN fell onto my pillow. So humungous was this spider, that I actually HEARD the sound that its legs made as they impacted with the pillow. I pulled my boy from the bed and screamed something high-pitched and unintelligible to which my super-hero husband responded, leaping into the room with a “what-the-hell-is-wrong-with-you?” look on his face. I pointed at the spider and only left the room when I was sure that he did, indeed, see it and that it was not a figment of my imagination.

After about fifteen minutes of thumping, banging, cursing, and moving of furniture, I heard the toilet flush and my husband emerged from our bedroom victorious. He guessed the spider had probably made its way in through the window and had not been living in our room for long. He also reassured me that although the spider was big, it was not dangerous. Pssh…who cares?! I slept with the light on for about a month after that.

Now when I awake to see a spider, I wonder – Is this my subconscious telling me that I’m stressed out and feeling trapped in my life? Or is that just a really big-ass spider dangling threateningly from an invisible thread over my head?

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Sleepwalking – Why I Always Wear Pajamas to Bed

Published March 31, 2014 by Jen Rosado from MyAlternateUniv

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.

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Colic – Holy Crap, This is One Crazy-Ass Baby!

Published March 25, 2014 by Jen Rosado from MyAlternateUniv

If I were to pick a movie soundtrack that would define my baby years, I think I’d pick the “When Harry Met Sally” soundtrack, with jazz standards and big band favorites performed by Harry Connick, Jr. Now I’m not saying that I was a particularly “hip” or sophisticated baby, but the mood of the music…the smooth sound of brushes on the drums, the sweet, sometimes understated melodies played on the piano, the occasional blaring of the horn section just to be sure you’re paying attention…that fits my personality as a baby.  I was a calm observer of the world and a self-soother, with a furrow in my brow and my thumb in my mouth.

My husband’s baby soundtrack (according to him) would be “Pee Wee’s Big Adventure”.  He was an easy-going, playful, and happy-go-lucky baby and (given the frantic nature of this music) apparently had A LOT of energy.

That brings us to our boy.  My husband and I had imagined that our baby would be a balanced mixture of both our personalities, and since we had been “easy babies” there was no need to worry that fate would deliver karmic payback for anything we had put our parents through.  But here’s the thing – your baby may have half the chromosomes of mom and half the chromosomes of dad, but he is 100% his own temperament and personality.

We weren’t expecting that.

If I were to pick a soundtrack for our baby’s first few months of life, I would choose the theme to “2001: A Space Odyssey”. You know the one – It begins with the trumpets quietly playing the first note, gradually building in volume through the next two notes, then the orchestra joining in with two more spine-chillingly loud notes, followed by the reverberating tones of the drums.

Baaaa….Baaaa…Baaaa…BA! BA! (Boom, boom, boom, boom)

Ah yes, that was our baby boy.

His doctors had a medical term for his behavior – “colic”, which I assumed meant “really cranky and irritable for reasons we can’t determine”.  Colic is actually distress caused by gastrointestinal pain.  My little guy very likely had some stomach issues that were causing him discomfort, and we were giving him medicine for acid reflux and gas. But the more I read about colic the more I felt like that wasn’t the whole picture of our baby. He often didn’t appear to be in pain, he just seemed…discontented.

Our boy required nearly constant attention. He needed to be held, but not just held – he needed to be walked and danced and bounced.  Feedings were a nightmare, because every time you took the bottle from his mouth to burp him he screamed and screamed and refused to burp.  And he rarely slept. The longest stretch we could get him to sleep in his bassinet was 3-4 hours at night.  He did take naps during the day, but only if he was being held.  If you tried to move him ever-so-gently into his bassinet, then carefully slide your hands out from under his sleeping body, and then…DAMN IT!  His eyes would pop wide open, and that would be it.

So I held him.  A lot.  I carried him everywhere and became quite adept at doing things one-handed. My husband made mix CDs of songs that a baby might like, and my boy and I danced up and down the hallway for hours.  As he slept in my arms on the couch, propped on a pillow, I napped as well.  (Otherwise, I would never have slept.)

Time started to lose its meaning.  One day seemed very much like the one before, and they all blurred together, with no breaks to signify when one day finished and a new day began.  It felt like a long, endless, dark tunnel.  No light at the end.

I tried to create those peaceful scenes of motherhood, even the “scapbooking on the porch” scene I mentioned in my last post. But those scenes were desperately out of reach when your baby was not content to sit quietly in a swing, when he cried and howled and demanded your full attention at all times.

Exhaustion set in, and with the exhaustion came disappointment, bitterness, even anger, that my motherhood experience was so unlike the image I had created in my mind, the image of motherly bliss that I knew my alter ego was enjoying.

So I went in search of answers.  My search brought me once again to the “Parenting” section of Barnes and Noble, where I found, The Fussy Baby Book by Dr. William Sears, which helped me properly label my boy, not with “colic” but as a “high need baby”.  It was  comforting to read quotes from parents who had been in my position and had survived to tell the tale.

At the same time my husband found an amazing video by Dr. Harvey Karp called The Happiest Baby on the Block.  Dr. Karp is the Obi One Kenobi of baby soothing.  Seriously, he’s like a “baby whisperer”.  His techniques (along with a swaddling blanket aptly named “The Miracle Blanket”) helped us tremendously in understanding and controlling our boy’s superhuman powers over sleep and temperament. It became clear to us that our boy simply did not experience the world the same way that we had as babies. We just had to make him feel safe and comfortable until he reached the point that he could start to soothe himself.

How did my husband and I survive those long, long months with our sanity still intact?  Humor.  It felt so good at the end of a rough day to look at each other, shake our heads and say, “Holy crap, this is one crazy-ass baby.”  We shared rueful but heartfelt laughs about the absurdity of what our lives had become.

When I asked my husband to think back to those days and pick what he thought our baby’s soundtrack should be, with a little smile and with no hesitation he looked up the video on You Tube for, “What Does the Fox Say?” by Ylvis.  I laughed – clearly he had either mentally blocked out the experience of our son’s infancy, or he was not taking the question seriously.  Of course his song choice doesn’t make any sense, but, then again, logic and reason had been pretty hard to come by all those sleepless months in this crazy alternate universe.  Best to just acknowledge that fact and laugh.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Optimism – Hoping for the Best, Even During a Zombie Apocalypse

Published March 17, 2014 by Jen Rosado from MyAlternateUniv

As I finished writing my last post about leaving the hospital, it struck me how incredibly positive I was despite all that had happened since arriving at the hospital a few weeks before.  I had given birth to my son by c-section, woke up in an alternate universe, was incredibly exhausted from my attempts to breast-feed, and had learned that my boy may have mutant superpowers in regards to sleeping and temperament.  Yet somehow, somehow I still clung to the hope that my image of motherhood was attainable – that tomorrow I would be sitting in the warm summer sun on the back porch holding my peacefully sleeping baby, sipping iced coffee, and chatting in a “hey-look-at-me-I’m-totally-relaxed-even-though-I’m-a-mom” way with some friends.  Oh, and we would be scrapbooking, too.

Could it be that I am actually an optimist?

This comes as a bit of a shock to me, because I have always considered myself a pessimist.  Living all my life with anxiety naturally puts me in the frame of mind to assume the worst possible outcomes to situations.  But imagining the worst outcomes gives me the ability to prepare for them.  “Expect the worst, but hope for the best,” I always say.  If I were a pessimist, I would just expect the worst and not bother to imagine the best outcome or try to change things for the better.

Not convinced that I sound optimistic?  Here’s a theoretical example of how a person with an anxiety disorder could be viewed as an optimist.  Back in December of 2012, the date of the Mayan Prophesy (12-21-2012) was fast approaching, of which one possible outcome could have been a zombie apocalypse.  A pessimist would assume that they would be “zombified” or eaten pretty early on and would do nothing to prepare.  A person with an anxiety disorder might (hypothetically) begin stocking up on water and canned food, gather tools and farming equipment that could be used as weapons, and buy several books about survival and “living off the land”.  This (hypothetical) person with anxiety assumed that they would not only survive the zombie invasion, but live long enough to go through all their food rations and begin hunting, fishing, and gardening for survival.  In my opinion, that is amazingly optimistic.

I haven’t mentioned “the realist” yet in this scenario.  The realist would know a zombie apocalypse was not coming because the whole idea is ridiculous and would not waste time and money preparing for it.  I know a lot of realists.  They are super-nice people, but sometimes they aren’t much fun at parties what with all their “It is what it is” and “Bigfoot doesn’t exist” talk.

So I’m not a pessimist or a realist, but the term “optimist” just doesn’t fit me.  I am NOT an “Always look on the bright side of life” sort of person.  At all.  Really.  I would say that I’m practical, and I use all my knowledge and abilities to prepare for situations that may or may not arise (no matter how unlikely those situations may indeed be).  I guess that makes me a pragmatist.

One final thought from this semi-optimistic pragmatist with an anxiety disorder: Always remember the story of the ant and the grasshopper.  The ant spent the whole summer gathering food and preparing for the winter.  When winter arrived, he survived.  The grasshopper spent the whole summer happily singing and hopping around without a care in the world and didn’t prepare for winter.  When the winter arrived, he was eaten by zombies.

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