Friday, July 19, 2019

Mom couldn't sleep because she feared she would die

Lying in her bedroom in the pitch black, Rachael Williams counted every single breath she took.

She was gripped by an overwhelming fear – convinced that if she fell asleep, she would die.

“Counting my breaths was the only way I could reassure myself that I was still alive and everything was OK,” says the mum-of three, 26, who lives in Surrey.

Rachael was suffering from a rare sleep phobia, which developed after her two young sons were diagnosed with autism.

Craig, Rachael’s husband, was in the armed forces and often worked away from home. And when he wasn’t there, Rachael would spend night after night wide awake.

“I was terrified that if I died in my sleep no one would find me or my ¬children, and they wouldn’t be able to get help.

“I’d worry about whether they’d survive until their dad got home.”

Often, Rachael would lie awake until 5am, only nodding off for a few minutes before her children woke up.

“I was exhausted. But I was too afraid to let myself go to sleep and I thought that at least if I was awake, I knew I wasn’t dead.”

Rachael is mum to Christopher, now five, and Jacob, three, who are both on the autistic spectrum, and Matthew, 11 months.

Christopher was about six months when Rachael realised something wasn’t right. He didn’t want to be cuddled and would have uncontrollable meltdowns. He also had seizures where he would stare into space for minutes at a time.

Eventually Rachael sought help from her health visitor and, after many tests, Christopher was diagnosed with autism when he was two.

Rachael knew early on that his brother Jacob was just like him.

“Jacob was only eight weeks when I realised he was autistic because he didn’t copy me when I poked my tongue out. He didn’t even look at me and I just knew.”

Determined her boys would get all the help they needed, she read every bit of research on autism she could get her hands on and arranged portage training in her home, a type of early intervention therapy that develops learning in small steps.

“I was 110% committed,” she recalls.

But when Rachael was 18 weeks pregnant with Matthew, everything started to get on top of her. Craig, who had transferred to the Grenadier Guards in Aldershot, was retraining as a mechanic so he could eventually spend more time with the family. But this meant he would be away for a year, leaving Rachael alone.

It was then that the sleep phobia really took off and before long Rachael says she was “like a zombie”.

Eventually, Rachael realised she had to get help and she booked an ¬appointment with her doctor

“I said, ‘I know it sounds crazy but I’m terrified of going to sleep at night’.”