Lives of Quiet Desperation

It was Henry David Thoreau who said in Walden: 

The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation.

I think he must have meant not just men, but women also. Sometimes I feel a huge discord between the life I talk about and the life I experience internally. Quiet desperation (and at times not so quiet) has been the theme of the last two weeks for me. I tend not to blog much about difficulties at home, and I suppose that’s why I don’t talk about them in real life either. It seems ungrateful and like I am craving attention when I begin to talk about the things that I am finding hard.

But the last two weeks have been hard. Hell, the last two years have been hard. Hard in a different way to the years before them. When baby F arrived I thought I could never have a sad day ever again. But of course it is impossible (I think?) to spend every day of your life in joyous rapture – unless you are Buddha. And baby F was sent to test my parenting skills to the absolute limit. After my husband moved out, we had a week of calm at home. The children were all sleeping. I was sleeping. No one was arguing. I was planning a long period of early nights and restoration of my poor weary soul.

But toddler F got sick. It started with a cold, and then a cough. That developed into days of extreme fever (105 degrees), which gave way to more coughing and then a severe sinus infection and still the coughing. The result of all that is that she has woken around 4 times every night for two weeks without a break (up from the usual one or two wakings that have never settled). She goes from silent sleep to blood-curdling screaming in an instant. It never fails to shock my system into panic as I hurtle into consciousness. It’s a distressing and depressing thing to deal with every night. It starts around 22:30, which is usually not long after I’ve fallen asleep. She will then wake at midnight, 2am and 4am. Every. Single. Night.

And the screaming never seems to stop. In the daytime she is as demanding as ever, freaking out if I misunderstand what she is saying, or don’t give her exactly what she wants. She often screams on the entire school run, and then clings to me red eyed and silent while I wait in the playground, refusing to walk or stand on her own two feet. She is afraid of seemingly everything (refusing to get out of the car at the beach today, for example, and crying to go home). She screams blue murder when I try to get her in the bath. She cries if I walk too close to someone’s dog.

She can’t sleep unless I am in the same room at bedtime, which is not easy when it comes to doing bedtime for the boys. She sleeps around the same number of hours as my 6 year old and I am sure she is constantly exhausted.

On top of that, my 8 year old is rarely asleep before 9:15pm, and cannot seem to stay in bed before that, so there is no evening time for me to unwind. By the time I’ve settled him and crawled into bed myself, it’s not long before toddler F starts up the first screaming session of the night.

As you can imagine, my state of mind is not at its best. I’m irritable with the boys, impatient with everyone and everything. All I want to do is sleep and yet I never can. I’m a crappy, miserable mother and my empathy for my children’s problems has been much reduced of late. So then I add guilt and self-abhorrence into the mix. My children are crying and I don’t care, but then I do care and I regret feeling so detached and then I cry because it all just hurts and feels so bloody hard and they deserve better than I can give.

My husband took all three children out for the day yesterday and I crept back into bed at 9:30am after saying goodbye and didn’t wake up until 2pm. Today he was here and I had to creep upstairs and sleep for 90 minutes in the afternoon because I couldn’t think straight and was losing my patience with the kids yet again.

My exhaustion feels bottomless and I have no idea how to stop the night screaming that is disturbing all of us.

Add to that my period (nice timing), and the fact that I have started having regular nightmares again for the first time in years (I think caused by the general unease of my husband not being here at night), and I am an all round basket case. I’m in tears one minute and laughing the next. Then I’m shouting at everyone for some stupid misdemeanour that wouldn’t normally bother me. It’s a horrible, unpredictable, exhausting way to live.

So I am leading a life of quiet desperation at the moment. I am praying for easier days (and nights). I am hoping that the haggard, lined and faintly surprised face I see staring back at me in the mirror starts to look a little less sallow and a little less aged at some point soon. I will take my quiet desperation out into next week, on the school run, and to all the activities that I do. And hope that someday soon I get enough rest to feel a sense of quiet happiness instead.

Through The Night

Having decided, after 21 months of incessant night waking, to let baby F cry it out, here’s how it’s gone:

Night 1

I moved her cot back into her room as she had spent the last week in with me and was getting even worse at night-waking, crying up to six times a night for a cuddle, even though she was sleeping right next to me (so much for that idea). I had an errand to run so the husband put her down at bedtime. This in itself was a recipe for disaster and she cried for a while before dropping off. She was exhausted after another day of barely napping so thankfully it didn’t last too long.

She then woke at 11pm and had an almighty screaming session. After a few minutes I went in and gave her a cuddle, mainly to reassure her that I was home. She then slept until around 5am. This is a HUGE block of sleep for her, and I was frankly astonished she lasted so long. I left her to cry for a few minutes at 5am and she stopped and went back to sleep. She woke again at 6:30, which is our getting up time. Not too bad for the first night.

Night 2

She fussed so much at bedtime. She didn’t want to go to bed and cried as soon as bath and stories were done. I went back in about ten times after putting her down as she was crying and screaming in her cot. She finally dropped off at about 19:20. She woke at 1:15 and screamed like crazy. She was crying ‘Mama! Mama!’ so I went into to check her (can you see how I’m not very good at this??). She was fine, so all I did was say ‘Sleepy-time’, which she understands, and I walked out without a cuddle or doing anything else. She screamed for 15 minutes and went back to sleep at around 1:30.

She woke again at 2:10 and screamed hysterically. It was very, very angry screaming. Again she was repeating ‘Mama! Mama!’, but with real rage. I felt awful, but kept reminding myself that we have literally tried EVERYTHING else out there, and we have reached this point because neither of us has slept a whole night in almost two years. I never left the boys to cry, aside from a short phase of bedtime screaming when L was a toddler. They never needed it – sleeping through was something they just did that I took for granted. Baby F is actually waking as much now as she was at three months old and I am losing my ability to parent my children properly because I am just so exhausted all the time. After 25 minutes of total rage, she cried a bit quieter, still just saying ‘Mama, Mama’. It was so awful. But all that she ever really needs is a cuddle.

That’s fine in theory, but when you have to get up six times a night just to cuddle your toddler for five seconds so she can go back to sleep, you know you have created a habit that is bad for both of you. I reminded myself repeatedly of all the reasons I had decided to do this while I laid awake listening to her. She cried on and off until 2:50 when she changed to saying ‘Out! Out!’ but it might have been ‘Ow! Ow!’ so I went in again (how can you not? How can you know they are okay?). Well, she was fine, sat up in the cot. I laid her down, said ‘Sleepy-time’, and left the room. She started crying again.

One minute later she started calling out ‘Bee Bee! Bee Bee!’ which is her special blanky. I sighed and went back, because maybe she couldn’t find it in the dark. I gave her Bee Bee, said ‘Sleepy-time’ and came back out. She started crying again immediately, now back to ‘Mama! Mama!’. Are you bored of this story yet? Because it was very trying in real life. She carried on crying until 3:50am and I didn’t go back again. Then she slept til we all get up at 6:30. Waking up felt like I was surfacing the titanic.

Onto night 3.

Night 3

She went to sleep at around 8pm after a lot of fussing and crying, and me going back around 8 or 10 times to cuddle her.

Then she slept through, without a peep, until 6:30am.

I KNOW, RIGHT??

Like – what the hell happened?????

The FIRST EVER TIME she has slept through the night. EVER.

I on the other hand woke at 1:30am for the bathroom. Then at 2:18 because I was hot and fidgety. I stayed awake until around 3:30 even though I was so tired because I just couldn’t get comfortable (restless legs is real, people. As weird as it may seem to those who have never suffered this evil ailment). At 5:45am C came in because he’d lost his teddy. At 6:30 we all got up.

I don’t know if this was just a fluke because she was so tired after night 2, or whether the multiple conversations I had with her about sleeping and not crying for Mummy in the night actually made a difference. I can’t imagine that this will be repeated, but at least I know it’s possible. That’s more than we’ve had for the last 21 months!

A Trip To Wit’s End

That’s where I am right now. I am at my wit’s end. I don’t get here very often to be honest. I am not a patient person, but I am born problem solver. However, I am all out of ideas.

Last night, for the third night in a row, baby F woke several times. She’s now waking up to 5 or 6 times overnight. Last night it was 10:30 (I was probably asleep by 9:30 I was so tired), 11:45, 12:40, 3:30 and 5:30. She screams each time, and settles when I pick her up and put her back down. At 5:30 this morning that didn’t work. She just cried and cried and cried. But it was toddler crying – more like constant wailing. There were no tears, it was noise in order to protest something (what?? If only I knew what??).

Yesterday was the second of two day’s I’ve spent clearing out my uncle’s flat.


I don’t think I con convey in a photo the extent of this job. I haven’t shown the worst of the dirt and clutter in the kitchen and bathroom, and the blood on the floor where he fell.

Eric was a hoarder and a collector of things. The amount of stuff he had was incredible. There were things in his flat that I remember seeing in my grandparents house when I was a child. A box of lots of old tobacco tins containing nails and screws that used to live under their stairs. Paintings that hung on the wall in my house when I was a child. It was so sad.

My mum is on full benefits and has been having problems with falling over so there is no way she could manage it. I am the only other person Eric has that cares enough to do the right thing.

My uncle died in social housing with no will, no estate and no assets. His rent, at £200 per fortnight, is due from Sunday if the flat isn’t vacated. House clearance companies (I tried three), all said the same – it would cost from £200-£600 to clear the flat and they couldn’t come until the week after the bank holiday.

At about 11:30am yesterday I sat on the floor in Eric’s lounge and felt utter despair. I had already shifted around 20 black bags of clothing down nine floors and into my car, on my own, but the flat didn’t really look any emptier. There were hundreds of china and wooden ornaments that together weighed a lot more than the clothing. I couldn’t even imagine how I was going to get the furniture out.

I called housing, the benefit office and citizens advice. They all took the same hard line – rent is due from Sunday. Citizen’s advice weren’t even offering advice any more because they are restructuring.

Then I googled my situation and of course, the answer was there. With no estate and no means for me to clear the flat, I have to hand the keys back and walk away. The council will then clear and clean the flat, using taxpayers money.

And of course – this is what happens to every elderly person who dies alone with nothing but a house or flat full or possessions gathered over the decades. I felt horribly guilty. So much so that I phoned the housing office and explained I was going to hand in the keys and I apologised and cried.

Yesterday afternoon we closed the door on Eric’s life and walked away. It feels wrong in every part of me not to tidy it away properly, but it would have taken me months, in all honesty, to get everything out of the flat.

The warden for the block said that there are many other tenants with flats full to bursting with stuff. One of the house clearance men I spoke to on the phone said,

That’s just what people do when they get old. They hoard.

It is so sad, and so worrying, that we place such value on things. When I went to the tip to get rid of all the black bags in the car, it was heaving with people dumping stuff.

How can our planet hope to survive when we live in a throwaway society? Where is all this rubbish going to go when the space runs out?

Back to last night. Baby F has been sleeping in with me, her cot next to the bed, since her illness. I thought she would sleep peacefully there because she seems to need me so much in the night.

However, if anything, things are worse! She is waking more than she ever has. I feel like I am dying inside. She’s 21 months old and she has never, that I can remember, fallen asleep and not cried at some point overnight. 

She hates sleep in the day too. She’s tried to push through two days this week without a nap at all. I honestly don’t know how she’s doing it. My 6 year old is pretty much always asleep before her each evening, and baby F is always the first to wake.

Well, as I was saying, I am at my wit’s end. I cannot deal with being screamed at, multiple times a night, for what is turning into years on end. I’ve had enough.

Baby F is going back in her room today. I am going to put her to bed tonight when I am sure she is tired and I am not going back til 6:30am. And that’s what we’re going to do until she sleeps through.

It may sound harsh, but I just don’t think anyone can understand how desperately difficult it is to be woken multiple times every night for almost two years.

Life and Loss

A young Eric. Sideburns were all the rage.

On Tuesday we had a lovely family day out at the zoo. We bumped into a friend from school so all of us toured the zoo together and all the children had a brilliant time.

We arrived home and within a few minutes the phone rang. It was my Mum, and she’d been trying to contact me all day.

My uncle – her brother – died somewhere between Monday night and Tuesday morning. He was found dead in his bed, although the police said there was some blood on the floor and they think he’d had some kind of a fall. The body will undergo an autopsy to determine cause of death.

He celebrated his 70th in May. That makes him sound old, but he was physically well and active, running car boot sales most weekends. Also, in my mind, he was always Uncle Eric, aged about 40. Pitch black hair and a big crazy laugh.

Mum saw him on Monday and he was fine. On Tuesday he was gone. She is devastated. They lived in the same town and did everything together.

Last night baby F woke and screamed like mad at 10:30, 12:30, 3:30 and 4:30. She’s been back in with me since the peak of her croup/fever/infection last week, the cot taking up all the floor space in our small room. Each time I was jolted out of sleep and then (of course), remembered that Eric had died, all over again.

Usually you only get that effect in the morning. Like a broken heart or other tragic news or circumstance you re-live all the grief and pain in a tough moment of remembering each day, until it becomes integrated into who you are and you no longer go through that moment of “everything is ok” followed by “oh my god everything is not okay”.

I feel totally shattered this morning, both physically and emotionally. We also managed to leave C’s bedtime bear at the zoo yesterday, so we need to ring them and hope someone has handed him in. C cried for ages last night before he finally fell asleep exhausted.

I am so fed up of trying to deal with life through a constant treacle-fog of exhaustion. Life is too fucking hard to feel like you are dragging a boulder around behind you all the time, but that’s how life has been for so long. Everything I do, my running, looking after the home, the children, my business, it’s all twice the effort because really, all I want to do most days, is go to bed and do nothing.

How long can a person keep fighting the current before they give up? You need to be fit and strong to thrive in this world. Bad news and obstacles will forever be out there, waiting to show themselves at the craziest of moments.

None of us can afford to neglect our mental or physical health, because if we’re running around with a badly maintained engine, any bump in the road could veer us off course and into a ditch of depression, self-pity, despair or worse. And then we have all the effort of getting back out and moving forward again. And often we have to do that ourselves – there isn’t always a recovery truck on hand, someone who cares enough to stop and help.

I’m kind of rambling with this post, but I’m sat here in bed this morning and I feel so very tired. I’m helping Mum collect up Eric’s things today. We need to rescue bedtime bear from the zoo (if he has even been found). Tomorrow is C’s 6th birthday. I have lots to do to get the boys ready for their return to school in 12 days. The house needs cleaning from top to bottom. I have piles of paperwork to deal with. There will be a funeral to organise. I have to break the news to my little brother today and he will be so upset. There are lost relatives to track down (Eric was estranged from his own son and his brother).

I need to get out of bed and get on with it.

Keep pushing through that treacle.

Toddler Sleep Update 20 Months

The fact that I am even writing a sleep update tells you everything, right?

But first, a quick tantrum update

I blogged a while back about the screaming from baby F that was driving us crazy. I don’t know when it happened, but at some point that has all settled down. She still has her moments, but the complete hysteria seems to have abated. We did actively ignore several massive tantrums, returning only to see if she was going to quiet down, so I think that might have been the key (ignoring also worked a treat when L was a toddler and he became obsessed with throwing things – it’s really hard to do, but it seems to be just about the best parenting strategy for horrible behaviour!).

So that’s good.

The sleep thing

Almost two weeks ago baby F picked up a vomiting bug, and as is so often the way with illness, her sleep routine has now fallen apart.

For the last few months she has been going down at around 8pm (late, I know. She hates sleep). Then, she might have a bit of a cry at around 12am/1am. Then she would sleep through til around 6 to 6:30am.

This wasn’t too bad – I tend to be in lighter sleep in the first half of the night and sometimes I didn’t need to go in, she’d just settle back down.

Now she is waking at least twice a night. She does the 12am/1am cry and then at 4am/4:30am she does a much bigger cry. I always have to go in, pick her up, soothe her, and try to resettle her.

On top of that she is getting ever more demanding at bedtime. She goes into her cot for 6:45pm. We follow a bath-teeth-pyjamas-story routine that we have done since forever. Once she’s down I start bedtime for C. He’s 5 and he needs to be down asap after 7pm because  he needs more sleep than average. He’s a great sleeper and is normally asleep within 10 minutes of being in bed.

However, Baby F meanwhile is crying on and off and calling for mama. This means every few minutes I pop in to reassure her, while also trying to get C into bed. She will be fine for a few minutes and then the crying starts again.

The husband has been coming home earlier since F was unwell, so we’ve gotten into the habit of one of us sitting with her to keep her from crying. However, it will take an hour, or sometimes longer, for her to actually fall asleep. We can see she is exhausted, as she’s rubbing her eyes and looks completely worn out. But she fights sleep for as long as she physically can. I swear, most nights, she passes out from sheer exhaustion.

Too tired to keep on doing this

The whole bedtime crying, followed by 1am crying, followed by 4am crying is taking its toll. My joint pain is getting worse as the days go by and I’m still struggling to recover from the run I did on Sunday (it’s now Wednesday). Not to mention that my patience and tolerance for everything is really low.

Last night I left her to cry at 4am, which she did for around half an hour before I finally got up, told her everyone was sleeping and came back to bed. And she went to sleep straight after I’d been in there.

It seems to me that she just has extreme anxiety about being left alone – either because she is unhappy being on her own, or because she feels she is missing out on what the rest of us are all up to in the house.

I don’t know how to solve this, and I feel awful today. All I can think about is how much I want to spend the next 48 hours in bed. Preferably sleeping and maybe watching a movie when I’m awake enough to actually have my eyes open. The lure of the soft blankets and the dark room…

Sigh.

Solutions, no solutions

So what shall I try? The rational part of my brain says I need to steel myself for a few nights of wailing and just ignore it. The fearful, guilt-ridden part of my brain wonders if I’m going to give her some awful sleep complex if I do this.

One alternative is that we move F into our room and see if her being in there helps. At least that might allow me to get some sleep. But then I have the problem of the cot being back in our room, which I don’t really want. And maybe going through all this again at some future point.

I know that she’s not hungry, and some days she will barely nap for 40 minutes, so she’s not sleeping too much in the day. I am certain it’s an emotional, not a physical issue. How best to calm it?

I have even thought of changing the room sharing around and putting her in with C or L to make her feel less alone (perhaps she wonders why everyone else shares a room??).

Maybe I should put all three beds in one room, and use the other room as a playroom?

I just don’t know. I am just so worn out and tired today, I can barely do the minimum required to parent three kids, let alone anything else.