Monday, April 01, 2013

Night Terror

My 4 year old daughter had been getting night terror since she turned two. From this website, the description of night terror is such: 
"Most sufferers will awake gasping, moaning, crying but more often screaming."

One particular experience described something like what my daughter went through, except that she is 4 and was not able to expressed how she felt as well the child in this description:
"My son is 10. He has had screaming episodes since birth, put down to trapped wind. He had some terrors when we moved house both times, so I put it down to that. Lately they are getting worse and scarier for me. He wakes, comes to me, and shakes uncontrollably like he is desperately cold. He says it's scary and he can't find me. I have to tell him to listen to me, (it's like The Poltergiest!!) and find mummy, he says he's trying but he can't, then he gets more agitated. He has pushed me out the way and tried to get out the door or window and I'm not sure one day I won't be able to stop him - he's not a small kid! I have tried the comforting, waiting for it to pass method but it makes him worse if he can't 'find' me, so that's why I tell him to find mummy, hear my voice, etc. They don't last as long if we do it that way. He settles quickly after but, as I said, they are getting worse for us both. He has never slept well, sometimes getting up for the day at 3am, which we are working on with the health visitor at his school. I am afraid he will get out the house or hurt himself. Is it normal that he has to 'find' me, like he is lost somewhere?? "
We had had this episode almost every night for the past two years. Both my wife and I were pretty worn .. imagine not getting deep sleep for 2 years straight. Our nerves are pretty thin. This also creates a lot of uncertainty - and for me, it also create questions of doubt of my faith. I know I should not question in light of challenges, these should be more fuel to fire up the faith, but it's easier said than done. 

I observed that this usually happens 3-4 hours after she started sleeping. I suspect that when she's in the REM sleep phase (rapid eye movement), when she's about to go into deep subconscious sleep, the fear in her emerge. She would start to scream, then trashed about, kicking here and there and bending her back, arching.. sometimes, if I carried her, she would kick and I worried that I may drop her. Or that she would kicked her legs on the wall and hurt herself. And her scream is high pitched and loud, we worry that our neighbours will start knocking on our doors with the police. She would be very OCD, claiming that her pyjamas pants are too short and that she wants you to pull it to cover her heels but if you pulled too long, her shirt will not be tucked in and she would get even more upset. This episodes usually last 15-20 minutes.. That's 20 minutes of non-stop screaming. How can someone be in such pain(?) or fear for so long? She would end up pretty exhausted.

We are, of course, very worried. As a father, when I see my child like this and there is nothing I can do, it also tears at the heart and makes you insane. There are a thousand and one thoughts flying through the mind. These are not behavioural, meaning I know my daughter is not doing this consciously to get attention. These are subconscious action and Buddhism is about bringing forth the potential from even beyond the subconscious mind - and if this is the realm of Buddhism/theology expertise, why is it that our chanting does not penetrate through? This is the reason I said I start to have doubts even though I should take this as an opportunity to challenge myself.

We are even thinking of engaging a child psychologist. But reading the website above, it seems it is pretty common and that it is something they will out grow themselves. But the experience above happens to a 10 year old. I really hope that my daughter will not have to go through this till she's 10!

They say fear is the most primary human feelings. And I think in my daughter's case, it is very prevalent and she's extremely sensitive to this feeling of fear. As such, she is very timid and shy among strangers, even in nursery, among kids her age. Her teacher said that she's very good when it comes to handicraft-solo activities but when it comes to joining other kids for games, she will not want to play and will stand by the teacher's leg and watch. Some attributed it to insecurity. But based on what we observed every night, it's probably beyond just insecurity. Fortunately, at home, she still plays with her younger sister, now 2 year old, so it's not as bad. But the fear is still inherent in her life and it comes out every night.

Sometimes it is hard to talk about this to people. Not many understand the extend that we went through. Most parents will think we are overacting. That it is just crying; that it is stomach wind; that she's just being difficult; that she's just a kid trying to get her way, so cane her; that, gosh, you are just spoiling her!

These thoughts do appear in my mind at times. I am constantly fighting between "are we spoiling her by giving in?" and "she's fearful, can't you see that? so why aggravate her further?"

I am at my wits end. They say she will grow out of this. I have waited when she was two. And 2 years have passed. Will there be more? I shudder to think about the effect this will have on the family!

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