Sleepless in Vermont: Night Terrors and The Exorcist

Nugget has had night terrors for the past several nights.  If you’re one of the lucky ones whose child has not had night terrors, think Linda Blair.  The fact that my daughter looks like she’s possessed while having night terrors is not inconsequential; I absolutely hate anything having to do with the subject of being possessed, and its entertainment value is completely lost on me.

When I was around 10 years old, I was minding my own business, watching TV with my parents one evening.  There was a trailer (we called them commercials back then) for The Exorcist.  I nearly shat my pants. Before me was a crazy-eyed kid, about my age, crawling on the wall, making sounds like a cat in heat.

Note: In an attempt to post a photo of the possessed child of The Exorcist,  I Googled “Linda Blair” and the images of her in costume from the movie gave me a minor heart attack. Seriously.  But I discovered that she saves animals through her organization Linda Blair World Heart and her make-up is much better in real life, which is sort of a corrective experience.

I was surprised when mom and dad expressed excitement about it.  They called it a classic flick. That 15-second trailer revealed a new fact of life: the devil or one of his minions was lurking around my bedroom, waiting to pounce on me.  I was absolutely terrified.

My parents’ excitement for the movie indicated that they would be useless in my defense, so in anticipation of it being on TV, I hatched a game plan that involved being at the far end of the house while they watched it.  Hear no evil. See no evil. Speak no evil.

But something happened.  When the movie was supposed to air, Hurricane Alicia hit the Gulf Coast, knocking out the power for days. The power outage upset mom. No, it wasn’t the fact that the huge oak tree towering over our front yard was ripped up.  It wasn’t the possibility that neither car would start because they were so badly damaged by flood waters.  Instead, she was distraught because she would miss The Exorcist.

I thought that Alicia was divine intervention. Literally.

Unfortunately for me, there was quickly a hitch in God’s plan: dad remembered that we had a tiny, portable, battery operated, black-and-white TV.  Finding his treasure, the cigarette in his mouth bounced as he said “The show must go on.” He was completely amused with himself.

So, in the pitch black of the night, I sat on the floor of the living room while my mom sat on the couch with that piecer of a TV on her lap at full volume, watching the The Exorcist.  I wanted to flee to my bedroom, but the devil was waiting for me there.

I was sleepless for weeks. It would haunt me for years. To this day I’ve never watched that effing movie!

Back to Nugget’s night terrors.

She thrashes. Her face goes beet red with tears streaming down her cheeks.  Completely inconsolable, she wants nothing to do with my comforting words or touches.  And the screeching is unbelievable.  It’s like the sound of a car with really bad breaks. Or a really pissed off cat.  Or Linda Blair.

In the morning, it’s like it never happened.  She pops out of bed, ready to conquer her day, and I’m left bruised. Emotionally and physically. After being kicked throughout the night, I have to pep-talk my tired body through the day and I’m left asking “What happened to my child?”

I know night terrors are common, but I have only a basic understanding of them. Poking around on the internet, the best website about them is aboutkidshealth. Here’s the lowdown on night terrors:

  1. It’s a sleep disturbance. (Duh!)
  2. It usually happens 2-3 hours after they fall asleep, during the transition from a deep sleep (non-REM) to the lighter, dream sleep (REM).
  3. Since it happens from non-REM to REM it’s technically not a nightmare, and they don’t remember any images or feelings from the episode the next day. (Thank the Goddesses!)
  4. It’s a reaction to fear.
  5. They are not awake, but appear to be awake.
  6. It can be caused by any number of things including a change in sleep patterns.

There are two recent, significant changes in Nugget’s life: the Paci Fairy came for a visit, and she’s insisting on doing somersaults in lieu of sleeping during her “nap time.”

When she initially stopped sleeping at nap, we thought it was because she didn’t have her Paci. It made sense that not having the thing that she had had for her entire life would throw her off schedule.

It’s taken me a bit to realize that the loss of her paci is her first experience of loss. Even worse, she can’t make the connection between what she’s feeling and her words. I’ve tried giving her the language to talk about it. In the moment, I sense her understanding, but it’s too much for her to make the leap on her own.

I’m struck by how early the connection between pain and growth begins.

Yes, I’m feeling like a bad parent.  I turned my child into Linda Blair.  Is that my just desserts? Maybe.

All I know is our entire family is wandering through the world sleepless.  Has anybody else had this experience?

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About Mama's Tantrum

Midlife tantrum: Mothering a toddler while healing from childhood trauma. And trying not to throw a full-blown tantrum. View all posts by Mama's Tantrum

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