September is a nightmare for me. Literally.

It is the end of September and the transition back to school and the million activities has gone with unprecedented smoothness.  Obviously me being at home this month rather than working full time has been the game changer.  Berrik’s transition back to school from being homeschooled has also been incredibly easy.  For the first time ever, managing school with Berrik has been completely simple and almost without any stress at all….for him or for me.

Yet, I am not sleeping well.  I am having almost nightly vivid nightmares that have me waking with a start, heart beating, covered in sweat and unable to get back to sleep for sometimes hours.  The theme of the nightmare is the same each night.  I am doing something wrong – although it’s not always clear what I am doing that is wrong, the anxious feeling of doing something you’re not supposed to is intense in these dreams. And each night, whatever I’m doing wrong results in a massive disaster about to happen, and that’s when I wake up.   Everything from police chasing me as I am driving, and then about to crash, to hiking up a mountain and slipping and falling off a cliff, to having a blow out with my best friend and her ending our friendship.  The story in my dream is almost always different but the impending sense of doom and the panic feel the same.

I’m no psychologist (perhaps I need to talk to one!), but my gut sense is this has something to do with having a child with special needs.  I think when anyone has a child whose path in life is not ‘typical’, whether it be learning disabilities, illness, accidental injury or any other situation that puts a child and family on an unexpected trajectory, there is a special kind of stress and thought process.  I don’t know this for sure.  I’m just speaking from my own experience.  I worry about all my kids.  I am heartbroken for them when life hands them a lemon or two (but usually glad for the teachable moment), and overjoyed when they find success.  But with Berrik, it’s a bit different.  He gets more than his share of lemons.  And that is truly heartbreaking.  But he’s resilient and works hard as a result, so I can see the lemonade for those lemons.  Where I really struggle is wondering deep down if his struggles are somehow my fault.  Did I do something during pregnancy that caused this?  Did I not intervene early enough?  Am I doing everything I can to help him?  Each year I learn more and more about how to help him achieve his greatness, but at the same time I question whether I am doing enough, and whether I am doing it soon enough.  It’s a ridiculous and unproductive thought process since we cannot turn back time, and intellectually I know we do many things to help him and that many of them are working really well.  Yet the thoughts are there.  Always lurking.

How does this relate to the nightmares?  I think that now that Berrik is in school and the majority of the daily responsibility for his learning has been handed over to his incredible and very capable teachers, I’m feeling some anxiety.  The school is really good with communication, so I’m up to date on how Berrik is doing in a general sense.  But the day to day, hour to hour progress is no longer available to me the way it was when I was teaching him at home.  I think that this is resulting in me feeling anxious about whether putting him in school will prove to be the best answer down the road; maybe trouble letting go of the control? My fear of realizing 2 years from now that I should have kept him home is my guess at what is causing these crazy nightmares.  I have looked back many times and wished I had made a decision earlier or made a different decision, or learned more about something sooner. Even though my gut tells me this school is going to be great for Berrik, I think my brain isn’t ready to accept a movement towards worrying about Berrik in the ‘typical’ parent worrying about a typical child way.  I think the nightmares are part of that processing.  I think they are related to my fear of impending doom if things don’t continue to go well in school.  And my panic about making the wrong decision but realizing it too late.  For years I have been in fight or flight mode, and perhaps now that some pressure is off and the cortisol levels are dropping, things are trying to sort themselves out in my head.

The whole situation has really got me thinking about the sequelae of raising a child with special needs.  I never like to diminish the joy that Berrik brings us by talking about the negative feelings, because the negative feelings have nothing to do with Berrik in the sense that he does not cause me to feel this way.  But the guilt, anger, and fear are feelings I have struggled with since we realized that his trajectory was going to look different than many of his peers, and different than that of his sisters.  Some hours, days, or months are worse than others, and almost always, our day to day life overrides these tough emotions, but those feelings are there, waiting in the background.  I know that in the big picture, his journey is considerably simpler and easier than so many others.  I also know that I am exceptionally lucky because I have a husband who is ‘all in’ when it comes to the kids, and a support system of family and friends that always have Berrik’s back and always have mine.  A friend recently reminded me to enjoy the ‘moments’ because every moment is a blessing.  She is one of those people who really understands what is important, and can look to the positive no matter how rotten the lemons are that are handed to her.  So instead of worrying about what I should have done differently, or about what challenges next week or next year might bring, I’m going to start trying to enjoy the moments of this week.   And here’s hoping this deliberate effort to adjust my mindset will chase away those nightmares.  I could use a nap.  🙂


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