If you are a parent you know exactly what I'm talking about. It must be a rite of passage set up by the gods of parenthood "Holy shit. If I can get through this I can do anything." I remember thinking to myself. "Soldiers fight wars in the midst of sleep deprivation. How the hell do they do that? Not only are you sleep deprived but you're sleep deprived during this incredible emotional marathon of raising a newborn baby. I mean what kind of twisted, sick combo is this? When you need your emotional and physical reserves the most you have the least available. It's like a vision quest that goes on from 3 months to, in some circumstances, years.
I remember being in physical pain I was so tired. My wife and I would trade off one hr sleep shifts because Sam would only sleep if he was held upright, and it was so intense with the crying and the sleep deprivation, that neither one of us wanted to leave the other with the baby for too long. That hour of sleep felt so sweet. A part of me was waiting for it the entire time I was holding Sam. "Oh my god. Fifteen more minutes. Just fifteen more minutes."
One of the hardest things about lack of sleep after a while for me was that I didn't recognize myself. Where did I go? Where's my sense of humor? Where's my sense of trust in the universe? Where's my fucking personality. My mojo has left the building. Will it ever come back? Will it always be like this? There was a sadness there. I'm gone and i'm left with this sleep deprived man in the shape of Mark Stelzner but this isn't Mark Stelzner. He used to be able to think straight. He used to be more creative and intuitive. How do I live my life this way? It was a mourning of my old life. I mean yes my life completely changed when I had a child but this was more specific. I didn't have access to all of me because of the sheer exhaustion.
After a while the only thing to do was make peace with it. This was part of my lesson of acceptance on the journey of parenthood. I've never experienced this before. I have never had this little sleep. This is a whole new ball game. I have limits that I didn't have before and if I don't accept them and myself within them it's going to be so much harder.
I said to myself "I'm going to have a different experience as a therapist with my clients. It's going to feel different. I don't have the attention span or energy that I normally do so I have to trust that the alchemical relationship in the room is happening the way it's supposed to. I don't have the same energy and focus at my other job. I'm not going to be perky. I'm not going to zing along. That's going to have to be ok for now.
This is all coming from a guy who always feels like he had to be on. I would get up in the morning, run for two miles, do some yoga, and meditate. Can't let them see a chink in that armor. I have to be capable. I need to be happy and helpful. It's like the universe said. "O.k. Try being on now. Good luck with that." I had to accept my shortcomings. I had to accept when I was angry, sarcastic, pathetic, helpless, in need. I had to accept all of me. Was this part of the rite of passage? Was this some twisted way of getting me to not obsess so much about who I was in each moment. Was this preparing me for being a father?
My heart goes out to all parents who are sleep deprived. It's so hard. It's sheer survival. Until you've been through it you can't make someone else understand. My heart really goes out to those parents whose sleep deprivation is ongoing. It's pure love because control really has left the equation, and it can feel like much of yourself has also left the equation. You are surviving hour to hour day to day to take care of this precious soul.