Halloween is hell

I love scary things. Bini is scared of "Scooby Doo."
I love scary things. Bini is scared of “Scooby Doo.”

I love Halloween. LOVE IT. In the Bay Area town where I grew up, the weather was always mild so kids roamed the streets for hours, collecting candy and scaring each other. And I liked being scared. Still do. I used to stay up way past my bedtime watching “The Twilight Zone.” I watched “The Shining” over and over.

I’m sure I inherited my love of horror from my dad, who used to tape old scary radio stories from the 1930s and 40s, like “Inner Sanctum,” “The Shadow” and “Suspense.” Dad would play these tales for us on long road trips, terrifying the snot out of us with stories of young coeds getting their heads crushed by tombstones, and nagging old wives who get killed and stuffed into pipe organs. Yes, really. My dad didn’t know from “appropriate.”

As an adult, I used to go to scary places on Halloween. One year, I went to New Orleans, which is super-freaking-fabulous on Halloween. Another year, I went to Austin, which isn’t really scary, but they have fruit bats that fly out from under a bridge. Another year, we were in Bangkok, which is terrifying for different reasons. Anyway, I think you get the point.

Of course, I hoped that my own son would enjoy Halloween, and being scared, too. No such luck. Bini is afraid of “Scooby Doo.” And ever since the neighbor kid showed up on our doorstep wearing a Michael Meyer mask, Bini has spent every October freaking out over Halloween. And by that I mean nightmares, super-crazy-energy, vacillating about trick-or-treating and just general disobedience. This year has been the worst yet. He’s older now, and everything this month has been an argument, topped off with crying jags and bouts of manic tumbling. Steve and I are at the end of our respective tethers.

So yesterday, I thought I’d try something other than screaming at him: I had him write down what was bothering him. My own therapist had suggested that I write down all of my top stressors, and possible solutions for each. So I got my little journal and wrote, and Bini sat next to me and complained.

“Just draw something, then.” I suggested.

“No,” he shot back. It’s the word of the month. Oh, you toddler mamas think they grow OUT of that? Har de har har.

“Well, I’m going to keep writing,” I said, describing on paper how my insomnia was stressing me out.

After a few minutes, Bini stopped drawing himself inside an army tank. “Mommy, can I tell you what’s scaring me?”

“Sure,” I said, taking his notebook and awaiting dictation. “Go ahead.”

Bini’s scary list is as follows:

  1. The Joker
  2. Clowns
  3. Men in Kabuki masks

So, there’s a theme here: My kid is scared by weird makeup and masks. I explained, in painstaking detail, that these were disguises. That underneath it all, everyone in a disguise is just like us — with regular skin and hair and eyes. Bini didn’t look convinced. So I took the low road, as I so often do.

“Bini, just imagine those scary people without any clothes on,” I said.

He started giggling. “What do you mean?”

“I mean, if you see someone in a scary mask, or dressed as a clown, I want you to think of them naked. Like, you can see their butts.” He looked at  me, agog.

“Mama! You want me to imagine people’s penises hanging out? That’s potty talk!” His eyes were wide, but he was cracking up.

“You’re darn right,” I said. “That’s potty talk, and potty talk is funny, isn’t it?”

“It is!” By now, he was laughing so hard he fell off his chair. “It is funny!” But then, he looked pensive again. “Won’t I get in trouble, though?”

Oh dear. Now I had visions of Bini pointing at a kid in the school Halloween parade and shrieking “TESTICLES!”

“So, let’s just imagine it, like in our heads, OK? And it’ll be our secret.” Super awesome. I’m just waiting for CPS to knock on my door.

“OK, it’s our secret,” said Bini, looking thrilled to have such a secret with his potty-talking Mama.

So that’s how I taught my son to combat his Halloween fears, ladies and gentlemen: Naked people.

I’ll let you know how that goes.

I’d give you everything I’ve got for a little peace of mind

A small sampling of all the things I've tried, over the years, to help me sleep.
A small sampling of all the things I’ve tried, over the years, to help me sleep.

“You know I can’t sleep, I can’t stop my brain
You know it’s three weeks, I’m going insane
You know I’d give you everything I’ve got
For a little peace of mind”

From The Beatles, “I’m So Tired.” The songwriting credit says Lennon/McCartney, but you know it was mostly John. John was a man who knew a little something about insomnia. Though his was probably due to heroin withdrawals.

My insomnia, on the other hand, is due to ordinary, average anxiety. About stupid stuff. Stupid stuff that’s normally two inches tall but sprouts to giant size when I’m horizontal and the clock is ticking. Ridiculous, mundane stuff that, when I’m rested, doesn’t even faze me. Like: Did I give the dogs their flea stuff? Are there wet clothes in the washing machine? Is Bini’s soccer uniform still in the hamper? Did we pay the credit card bill? Have we checked the credit card bill for credit card fraud? Why can’t I sleep? What if Bini wakes up with a nightmare? What am I going to do with two kids that can’t sleep? Should we adopt another kid?

To people with real health concerns, like migraines or Chron’s Disease or a herniated disc, insomnia must sound like a ridiculous problem. “Can’t sleep, you say? Well, I can’t walk upright without searing pain.” The answer to my problem is simple: Calm down.

I’ve tried everything, so don’t EVEN suggest a warm bath. I see your warm bath, and I raise you warm milk with vanilla, melatonin, valerian root, chamomile tea, Cortisol Manager, Ambien, Lunesta, Deep Sleep, Super Slumber Helper, Alteril — even edible pot. That was a bad idea. What do you get when you combine an anxious person with a drug that can make you paranoid? A very late, terrifying night.

So now, I’m on Lorazepam, which is a benzodiazepine for anxiety, and Seroquel, which is an antipsychotic. Yes. I’m taking a drug (albeit a tiny dose) that is given to people with schizophrenia.  Desperate times.

My insomnia comes and goes. It first started when I had a horrible job that I hated, about a dozen years ago. I wound up in Urgent Care at UCSF after a three-day no-sleep bender. The on-call doctor was very kind. I told her that I’d tried melatonin, I’d tried Tylenol PM. “That’s for amateurs,” she replied, and wrote me a prescription for Ambien.

I was so relieved to be able to sleep again that I took it, off and on, for years. Mostly off. But then, about a year ago, Ambien started to make me itch uncontrollably. I didn’t have any of the high-profile side-effects of Ambien, like sleep-driving or sleep-murder. No, my side effect was that the day after taking it, I’d want to claw my face off. Sort of like a meth addict.

Sleep study
This is me, all probed-up and ready to be studied.

I went to have a sleep study. That’s when you sleep overnight in an office building with probes all over your body and a sleep attendant watches you. All night long. Yeah, no pressure there. Of course, I had to take an Ambien — two actually — because it was difficult to sleep with probes all over my body, a CPAP in my mouth, and a sleep attendant asking me if I was OK every 20 minutes.

The sleep study showed, said the doctor who met with me, that I had restless leg syndrome. “That must not be a surprise to you,” he said. “You must have an uncontrollable urge to move your legs.”

“I think I would know if I had an uncontrollable urge to move my legs,” I said, and made an appointment somewhere else.

My new sleep doctor, Dr. William DePaso, did not think that I had restless legs. He thought that I was going to sleep before I was sleepy. And because of that, I was lying awake and working myself into a lather, which is not an ideal state for rest.

Dr. DePaso also told me that I needed to get up at the same time. Every day. Even on weekends.  And to vary my bedtime depending on how sleepy I was on a given night.

“Not all of us need 8 hours of sleep,” he told me. “It’s a nice round number that they throw out in magazine articles, and it makes sleep docs crazy.” Everyone’s needs are a little different, and most people need between 6 and 9 hours of sleep per night, he said.

Another rule? “No alcohol within four hours of bedtime,” Dr. DePaso said.  “We all break that rule once in awhile, but alcohol destroys sleep. The ‘nightcap myth’ is terrible.”

And for the most part, these three rules have made it possible for me to calm down and sleep OK in the last year. I had my backup prescription of Lorazepam, for those nights when my mind was going like a hamster wheel. But until August of this year, I slept OK. Then, everything went to shit.

I don’t know why, but when we were in Boston for my cousin’s wedding, I couldn’t sleep. I tried taking up to three Lorazepam — hell, I even drank Children’s Benadryl one night — and I still was a zombie. In retrospect, it could have been the jet lag. It could have been that we said no to our first referral for a little boy. Whatever it was, it’s stuck around. Over the last two months, my insomnia has been persistent, and terrible.

I went back to Dr. DePaso. He gave me the sleepytime cocktail and told me it was temporary. It doesn’t feel temporary. It feels like every night, I have to take something to get to sleep, and I don’t like that. I don’t like that I can’t just fall asleep, like I’ve done on thousands of other nights. What’s different? Why now?

Dr. DePaso warned me once about “turning my insomnia into a project.” I understand where he’s coming from, but if you’re not sleeping, night after night, it’s all you think about. It’s incredibly frustrating and very lonely. Lying there night after night, with my body resolutely refusing to do what comes naturally to 99 percent of the world is bewildering, and it’s scary. The effects of my insomnia spill over into my life in destructive ways. My fuse is shorter, my brain is duller. I feel sad, I feel anxious. So yes, my insomnia has become a project, because I refuse to live like this. And I will fix it.

I just don’t know how yet.

A little sympathy, please

I’m always frantic. I see that quality in other people and it drives me nuts. I prefer easygoing people who take life’s speed bumps in stride, which is why I married my husband.

But last week, I had a week that put all my other “I’m busy!” weeks to shame. And I would like a little freakin’ sympathy, please.

So, I haven’t been sleeping well since August. I’m a chronic insomniac and I’d had it under control, for the most part, until we were in Boston for my cousin’s wedding. It could have been the jet lag, or the fact that we finally said no to a little boy in China that we had already fallen in love with. Those seem like decent reasons to have trouble sleeping. But it’s OCTOBER. And my insomnia, which usually goes in two-to-three week cycles, is still going. I have a whole post about insomnia coming. It’s riveting, I promise you.

All right. Issue no. 1: I’m not sleeping. My doctor gave me this delightful drug cocktail “to get me over the hump,” and it makes me very groggy. It’s also partially intended as an antipsychotic. I can’t really think about that right now. Moving on, to …

Issue no. 2: I had a bad head cold. So I’m not sleeping, and I can’t breathe. I was thisclose to being addicted to Afrin, but I pulled myself back from the brink.

Issue (opportunity?) no. 3: I had to cover an event last week, write 750 words about it, and choose and caption 16 pictures. I’ve covered lots of events, but usually I’m covering the substance of the event — who says what, etc. This time, it was coverage from a social angle. Who was at this event? What bright and interesting things did they say at the VIP reception? I went overboard on my prep for the event, and then doped myself up on Sudafed and went to cover it. It’s difficult to be smart when you’re on Sudafed, but I did my best. Still, the whole thing stressed me out, and I wasn’t exactly calm to begin with.

Issue no. 4: It was conference week at Bini’s school, so they got out early every day — 11:45 on Monday, Tuesday and Thursday, and on Friday, they had NO SCHOOL AT ALL. For an insomniac with a deadline who may be addicted to Afrin, this is difficult.

And then … on Thursday, right before I walked in to see a matinee screening of “The Boxtrolls” with my kid and his friend, I got a call from our adoption agency. They had a file for us to look at — and we had 72 hours to respond.

Holy shit. I mean, really. HOLY SHIT.

This week looks to be better. I filed my story and did my captions and made my deadline. We said no to the file from China, because we couldn’t make an informed decision in the time allotted (See? Everyone was right! It DOES get easier and easier to pass on human beings!). Bini is in school ALL week, regular time, so I can catch up on all the stuff that I fell behind on last week, like returning e-mails and transferring wet clothes into the dryer. Things are looking up.

But I’d still like some sympathy, damn it. Thank you.