I have a somewhat unhealthy relationship with control. I rely on having it a little too much. Throw me an unexpected traffic jam, and I’ll feel no more or less anxious than the next person. However, when control goes AWOL from the bigger areas of my life my stress levels sky rocket.
I have been seeing my psychologist for years now. Some visits neither of us have to work hard to tweak things. But whenever there’s a larger life issue I’m struggling with, my distress almost always comes down to my lack of control over an undesirable situation. For me one of the worst-case scenarios are sleep deprivation combined with the stress of a sick child. The reason this combination is so triggering is that it is kryptonite to my defences against a bipolar episode. (Sleep deprivation especially accompanied by stress is a major risk factor for developing manic and psychotic episodes)
This said, I firmly believe the universe sometimes sits back stroking its chin and assesses where I’m at. And then as though giving me a cosmic performance review, it points out areas for improvement, and gives me the opportunities to practice the life skills I lack. Clearly, I still need a lot of practice accepting a lack of control, because I have been sent the following homework:
It began two or three of weeks ago. My eight-year-old son started waking in the middle of the night and struggled to get back to restful sleep. The first couple of times didn’t overly worry me. But the pattern continued and worsened night after night. I dug desperately for more information. On the surface this was looking like anxiety. I probed gently for answers, for worries, issues at school. Nothing.
We saw a GP. She smiled benignly, did a quick check of my son’s mouth, chest, and ears and agreed it was most likely anxiety, advised us to keep doing what we were doing, and to revisit in a week if things hadn’t improved.
Things got worse. I was now up with him every single night from one, two, or three o’clock in the morning until he’d fall asleep around five, or sometimes not fall back asleep. I made an appointment to see my regular GP, who is extremely thorough. The night before this appointment proved the first GPs assessment of Anxiety wrong.
Our son started crying in the shower around eight pm. I towelled him dry and cuddled him in bed. It made no difference. Few things make you feel as overwhelmingly powerless as pouring all the love and comfort you can into your child and seeing their distress escalate by the minute. He stuffed tissues and his hands into his mouth. And could not tell me why.
I asked: ‘Can you talk’
He shook his head, eyes pleading with me to do something more useful than cuddling.
I told him: ‘We will take you to the hospital, to help you.’
He nodded his relief.
My husband drove. I ate my dinner in the car on the way, one hand on my son’s, the other manoeuvred the fork to my mouth, knowing that once you jump into the decision to head to the emergency department, it will be a long night
We drove through the darkness, streetlights blurring, saliva frothing from between our little boy’s lips. His profoundly distorted voice sounded like a slur while simultaneously having his mouth wedged open with a stick. This sound track of his distress made my heart feel as though someone were taking a vegetable peeler to it and seasoning each freshly shaved surface with salt. At the hospital – we were rushed through triage and into a cubicle.
It’s was a long night. My husband, who had dropped us off and headed back home to our daughter returned at two am to spend the rest of the night with our son, so that I could go home, take a lot of extra medication and get some sleep.
My son got a presumptive diagnosis of Benign Rolandic Epilepsy, which given the other things on the list of differential diagnoses, was a good thing. We got some Phenergan to help him sleep.
I clutched at these match sticks of control. We had two better nights. I dared to exhale. On the third night he had another partial seizure (distress, drooling, loss of voice, temporomandibular pain). The information hand out on Benign Rolandic Epilepsy says this type of seizure should last for about two minutes. It was still going twenty minutes later. I called an ambulance. Back to the hospital we went. The whole seizure lasted forty minutes. The layers being shaved off my heart must have been very thin by now. I didn’t know how there could be any of it left.
Another long night. We went home with a script for some anti-convulsant medication, and a promise his EEG (Electroencephalogram) would be scheduled sooner than originally. Again, hope fabricated the illusion of control.
At two thirty this morning his cries signaled another seizure. We cuddled him again. It lasted forty minutes again. My rational brain attempted to provide some scaffolding for my terror, but failed quickly:
Maybe the anti-convulsant medication takes time to reach therapeutic levels?
Maybe this is not Benign Rolandic Epilepsy?
Maybe these partial seizures are only the beginning of an endless nightmare of worsening clinical signs, diagnostic tests, a sinister diagnosis, brain surgery, radiation, chemotherapy, none of which work.
I slide into dangerous territory.
What if I am left utterly bereft of this little person whose welfare feels nowhere near in my control right now?
It doesn’t comfort me, but I know I will get my answers in time.
Until then, I will continue to medicate myself to the eyeballs to sleep when I can and keep the tatters of my heart crossed that I don’t overstep the level of sleep deprivation and stress that will trigger a Bipolar Episode and send me, useless, and wailing about my lack of control, into my own hospital.
As for learning to relinquish control? I understand the answers to my questions are beyond my control. But I still don’t like it.
For more on Benign Rolandic Epilepsy you can go to: