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When Sleep Remains Fractured Despite Everyone Else’s Peaceful Slumber

October 7, 2010

For too many years my sleep was fractured because of my three children’s sleep issues, but those resolved a few years ago (mostly), and yet my sleep remains as tattered as it ever was when my kids kept me from blissful slumber. Even now, as they sleep around me quietly, sweetly, soundly, I’ve awakened repeatedly, shifted position, gotten up, paced, prowled, pet one of my faithful cats who sees me through the sleepless times. I finally gave up an hour ago trying to get to sleep and lay on the couch, the pain too omnipresent to fall back asleep, my fat orange cat lying on my chest, his loud purrs echoing in my ears.

As I melted into the couch, I slowly moved various aching, stiff joints in gentle circles so they wouldn’t feel quite so unyielding and pondered how my eyes and the skin around them could feel like bruised peaches and wondered if that feeling would take long to go away.

And still everyone slept around me except one cat who acted as sentinel for me. When the worst of the pain ebbed away, he leaped off my chest and paced to the kitchen, and I rose and followed to start the coffee, so that, here, thirty minutes before everyone else, I could sip my coffee (if I manage to pour it without spilling it) and put the night to bed by sharing it.

I can still, after all these years, count the number of times I have slept a five hour stretch on one hand, so rare is it to get more than ninety minutes at a time. Good nights are those where I am able to wake, think for a moment on where my mind chooses to dwell in dreams, roll over, and drift back to sleep most of the time, and only move from bed to couch once. Bad nights, I awaken mid-panic attack, out of dreams filled with images that remind me how akin to Stephen King’s books my dreams really are, and battle half-remembered demons I’m not even sure are of my own making.

So many parents of autistic children note how fraught with difficulty their children’s sleep is, how fractured, and how it disrupts the entire household, and it does. I know this from having lived it for the bright boy’s first nine years, until the stroke changed his sleep cycle and he began to sleep more normally. I welcomed that break, more than a decade ago, where the only person’s sleep issues I had to deal with were my own. The girls came along a few years later, and once again, I battled my own sleep issues and theirs, but theirs smoothed out for the most part a few years ago so that once again, my sleep battles were mine alone, and the nights the longest part of my days.

There are times that I can embrace that sleeplessness, the fractured nature of my nights and do my best thinking, no interruptions but from cats who wander by the couch I retreat to or recliner I cuddle in to visit a moment and question me as to whether they too might snack, but there are other nights I cannot look upon the sleeplessness, nor the pain that creates it, as anything other than an unwelcome intruder. It is not as I would wish for, and the day suffers for it.

The trick becomes on these kinds of far-too-early mornings to not let the people in my day suffer from my fractured nights, something far easier said than done.

Sometimes, limping through the day is the best we can do.

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