Opinion: My family history includes depression and insomnia. Will my children be okay?| Trending Viral hub

I’ve wanted to sleep my whole life. Getting more sleep has been one of my New Year’s resolutions for decades. When telling stories of my insomnia in early childhood, my mother described how she would lay me in bed, wide-eyed, hyperactive, and insistent on making my presence felt at all hours.

I was reluctantly awake, gripped by fear and panic, devising strategies to calm my spiraling mind. Counting sheeps? For fans. I needed my back against the wall, the blankets pulled up to my chin, a hum of white noise, the door ajar, and a nightlight that cast a comforting glow.

After a quick goodnight hug from my parents, I began my nightly ritual: imagining all the ways my family could cope with her disappearance, planning my response to a possible intruder, noticing the shadows, urging them not to form shapes. terrifying from my nightmares. This process took hours. It still is, except now it’s compounded by the real and imagined terrors that accompany motherhood.

When I became a mother, I began to consider how anxiety and depression ran through my family like an heirloom. I remembered how as a child, many late nights, I would sneak into the kitchen for a glass of water or head to the bathroom, wanting to break the cycle of insomnia.

The eerie flicker of midnight infomercials illuminated my father, who was dozing on the couch, a lit cigarette in his hand. The couch bore scars from countless burns, with small holes forming constellations in the fabric. He would gently remove the cigarette, put it out in the nearby ashtray, and turn off the television and the lamp. I felt neither anger nor fear, only relief to see him at peace, no longer hunched over his desk, stressed and anxious about his struggling business or our finances. During that time, the term “mental illness” was not yet mentioned in our house.

In 1950s Texas, my father was born the only child of a couple who became parents later than was typical for their generation and region. Although my grandmother’s “manic depressive disorder” was occasionally mentioned, it was never talked about openly. Likewise, my father’s diagnosis, which I now understand as bipolar disorder, was not the subject of much attention. As for my mother, my sister, and I, we were like ships passing toward her stationary, darkening lighthouse, rarely acknowledging her struggles as we went about the routines of family life.

When I, at 15, could no longer stand the insomnia, a psychiatrist prescribed Ambien. At night, my father would come into my room and ask me if he could give me just one pill because he had already exhausted his supply. My mom warned me not to share medications with him, but I could see the tiredness in her eyes. It was that of a man worn down by decades of untreated mental illness, dealing with the incessant, unfiltered activity of a mind bent on distorting reality. No wonder he started abusing the painkillers on him. No wonder I inherited the addiction.

It is not exclusive to be tired. As a thirty-something mother of three, I know this because among the parents I talk to, exchanging comments about burnout is our standard mode of communication. But clear fatigue accompanies mental illness. It is exhaustion from trying to quell irrationality and intrusive thoughts, from remembering to perform basic tasks and take care of yourself. It is the mental tension of distinguishing what is real from what is not.

As an adult, I have found sleep at the bottom of wine bottles, in rotating combinations of sleeping pills (over-the-counter, prescription, and illicit). I found it in ways that brought me close enough to death that I felt like I was resting. This longing for respite eventually caught up with my father as well, who tore a final hole in our couch the day he died, and his heart finally failed after years of declining health and medication abuse.

When I asked my husband what he thinks about when he goes to bed at night, he responded simply, “Nothing.”

Nothing? He doesn’t doubt his actions or words, he doesn’t anticipate tomorrow’s worries, he doesn’t despair or check his to-do list for the next day. Simply nothing. He may fall asleep in the middle of a conversation, in noisy, well-lit rooms, and during dental cleanings or MRI sessions. I have come to understand that, for many, specific ideal sleeping conditions are not required.

Our son is among those people. Unencumbered by a curse like his father, he snores loudly, audiobooks blare on his Kindle, and headphones rest halfway up his ears.

But our oldest son keeps up my side of the family tradition. Our tween daughter needs a meticulously crafted bedtime routine that includes deep breathing, positive mantras, and melatonin, among other steps. I take her hand and we inhale, exhale. She asks if it will always be like this, if it will be so difficult to sleep. “Is there something wrong with me?” She wants to know.

Right now I feel guilt and frustration. But I imagine our family’s anxiety as a succession of Russian nesting dolls, each generation getting smaller as we gradually develop the skills to shrink them.

Skills I didn’t learn until adulthood, my daughter now has them at 11 years old. While my parents opted for silence and left the symptoms unnamed, my children possess an almost encyclopedic understanding of the connections between bodily sensations and emotions. In our home, at least, thoughts or concerns are rarely left unspoken. They know the family history. While we may never fully break the curse, I am willing to do whatever it takes to minimize my children’s uncertainty and ease their fears.

As my daughter begins her meditation, the guide tells her, “Imagine yourself as a vibrant, colorful bird resting in a tree.”

“Settle back in your tree nest. “You are ready for a wonderful, peaceful sleep tonight,” the meditation guide continues. When I close my eyes, they pluck my feathers. I’m a broiler on a narrow, dark factory farm. I am hanging upside down in a slaughterhouse, with my throat slit. I am a bird that cannot rest.

“Will it always be this difficult?” my daughter asks repeatedly. It still is for me. But I hope that maybe, thanks to our efforts, it won’t be that way for her forever.

Molly Wadzeck Kraus is a writer living in the Finger Lakes region of New York. He is working on a memoir about mental illness, addiction and motherhood.

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