Topic: sleep disorders, fear of the dark, child’s fear of divorce and loss of parents
Therapeutic goals: confrontation with one’s own fear through identification with the protagonist, abreaction of repressed anxiety, possibility to openly vent one’s own ambivalent emotions towards parents
Target group: children experiencing parental conflicts, parents’ pre-divorce, divorce situation, various fears associated with separation
Age group: 9+
Time aspect: intensive individual meetings lasting about 4 months
Number of participants: 1
Frequency of meetings: 1x per week
Case report (names and circumstances changed to preserve client anonymity): Little Klára’s parents visited me in a really desperate mood. They were very exhausted. I saw in their eyes a cry for help. They did not sleep properly for almost a year. During that period, 12-year-old Klára began to have great problems falling asleep. A problem-free child gradually turned into a bundle of nerves, at school from a pure first-timer to an inattentive child constantly dozing off during classes. She began to isolate herself from her peers, stopped being interested in hobbies. From a problem-free and extremely lively little girl eager for adventures, she became an introverted recluse.
And this gradual change in her personality was preceded by ever-worsening difficulty sleeping and dramatic evenings at home with her parents. From the beginning, her difficulty falling asleep was accompanied by a desire for her parents to put her to bed. So that at least one parent remained present in her room when she fell asleep. But she gradually increased her demands. It was not enough that the parent was present, he should have told her something and waited until she really fell asleep. But it turned out that even that was not enough. In order to be able to really fall asleep, she began to require the presence of both parents. She made her bedtime rituals more and more complicated, and finally falling asleep in the presence of both parents took several hours. If her parents refused to comply, Klára cried constantly, expressed great fear, could not calm down or fall asleep. This dramatic situation did not improve despite the parents’ enormous efforts. On the contrary, in recent months, Klára began to have trouble not only falling asleep, but waking up at night with nightmares, running around the house looking for her parents. The long ritual of falling asleep with her parents a few hours after she fell asleep was repeated again. Klára then fell asleep for a few hours only to finally wake up around five in the morning and demand her parents’ attention again because she felt fear and anxiety without their presence.
No wonder the parents came to the first meeting with me so tired. The parents admitted that all they have in their heads is the desire for all this to end definitively and once and for all. They felt pushed by Klára into all this evening circus, and from the beginning they did it with the feeling that it was not right, that at her age Klára should sleep alone after all. Currently, every sleep was associated with enormous stress, exhaustion and anger at Klára that it is still not different. They constantly nurtured the hope that if they satisfied her today, she would be able to do better the next day. And since that didn’t happen, as parents they got into more and more resistance, anger towards Klára. In their eyes, until recently a problem-free child became a family terrorist. And without being able to understand this behavior in any way.
During our initial session without Klára, we look for triggers that may have contributed to her current condition. But the parents can’t come up with anything. Until I ask them about their relationship with each other. They admit that a year ago they often argued, that their relationship was in a big crisis, but they emphasize that the arguments always happened only at the moment when the children went to sleep. I repeat this sentence out loud to them because I find it really important in relation to their child’s sleep disorder. The parents seemed to be scalded by this remark of mine. Until now, they hadn’t thought of it at all.
That Klára would subconsciously choose such a self-destructive tactic just to discourage her parents from arguing with each other? The parents say: “After all, her problem, her difficulties robbed us of all our strength, we no longer had the space or strength to argue. There was no room for our marital crisis for a whole year, and paradoxically it brought us very close.” As if it was safer for Klára to “sacrifice” herself, to shift attention to herself, even with the risk of great anger from her parents towards her. Always safer than if the parents were angry with each other. Anger that unites them, not divides them, Klára really achieved that and the parents realized that at our session. Their child’s subconsciously driven fight to save their marriage resonated and moved them deeply, and they felt strong affection for their child again.
I explained to them at the session that it will be very important for them to withdraw their claim for a certain period of time so that Klára can sleep alone. On the contrary, to stop waging a silent battle with her and simply move into one room together on a large mattress and fall asleep and wake up together. I say to them: “After all, you are so tired, why are you leaving Klára so insistently? She needs to feel safe. The safety of your family, that not one of you will be lost. And that you love her. I believe that if you stay with her, she won’t wake up.” The parents express their fear of regression, to which I tell them that it has already occurred to such an extent that they can only accept it and thus allow the tension in which their whole family is currently. And above all, everyone finally needs to sleep in peace. Parents are already laughing with relief that they were expecting instructions on how their child would sleep alone and they never dreamed that they would receive instructions on sleeping together and would voluntarily approve and understand it. I will say goodbye to them saying that I will go over it with Klára at the next session. Let them wait until I talk to her about it.
Klára comes to me at the next meeting. On a conscious level, she feels great shame and guilt for being so old and unable to sleep alone. He is ashamed even in front of me. She verbalizes that it is really uncomfortable for her to admit in front of a stranger that she needs her parents with her all the time. Like her parents, she is not at all aware of the mechanism of her behavior. I seriously look at her and tell her appreciatively: “Klára, I think that you must have a sacramental reason for this when you need it so much. And that’s why I have a suggestion for you and your parents, something like a game for the near future, until we find out what’s going on and what to do with it. And that – sleeping together in one room, the whole family, including siblings, until morning. No one will question this need of yours, nor will your parents discuss it. You go to bed together at night and get up together in the morning. You know what? I will give you a common family prescription, on which you will be prescribed as a family to sleep together until further notice instead of pills.”
I take the paper and write a recipe for Klára to go over with her parents at home. When I write the family recipe, I notice how Klára relaxes, how she starts to smile cheerfully, and takes a deep breath. Finally, someone gave her need regularity, justification. I ask her: “Klára, what are you really afraid of so much in the evening?…. And Klára, already relaxed, knowing that I am standing by her, begins to tell me the story of her fear, which she has never told anyone, not even her siblings. Klára is convinced that when she closes her eyes, her parents will evaporate, disappear forever. So that he may never see them again in his life. This idea is insanely scary. She is so very creepy that she told herself that sleeping is not a good idea at all. And if he falls asleep, at least when he has the whole family situation under control. When her parents are near her. When he does the safety rituals. He knows it’s a crazy idea, but he can’t shake it. “I think it’s a really terrifying idea Klara, I completely understand that you need to protect yourself somehow, so that idea gives you peace. I understand now, your sacramental reason. When you talk about that idea, a book called Vrzgosi comes to my mind. And this is exactly what is written in that book….” – What is written in that book? – Klára jumps into my speech with great interest…”
…and this is where our adventure with the Creakers begins ?.
At the first session with Klára, I find out that she does not suffer from depression. Insomnia, yes. Exhausted, he clings to the imaginary bond of family with his last strength. And it’s almost unsustainable. I realize that he needs help quickly. She and her whole family. Klára needs control and, at the same time, the courage to let go of everything she is trying so hard to hold together. So it’s high time to call for help from the Vrzgos. Klára is very brave and playful, she has a rich imagination. Klára’s magical thinking can therefore be supported by a book that gives her fear a form, an enemy that is imaginary and not so devilishly dangerous. And he can grasp it through the motif of a fairy tale. In this way, the evil has a chance to be punished without affecting the real life of the woman and her loved ones. So I will invite her to read the story. I promise her that I will bring it to the next session, Klára can’t wait.
She catches up to the second session, cheerfully reports to me that the family followed my recipe and she slept with her parents all week and miraculously everyone finally got a good night’s sleep. I find that she has almost stopped waking up and falling asleep is much more peaceful. But Klára doesn’t want to talk anymore, she can’t wait for the story. The plot of the story takes place in the town of Smradington. It’s morning, the main character Lucy wakes up to the intrusive sound of the alarm clock in her mother’s room. There was no one to turn off the alarm clock, because Lucy’s mother was not there while Lucy slept at night, so her mother disappeared… The book immediately goes to the core of Klara’s fear. With humor, but without embellishment. I know I’m taking a risk… I look at Klára and she exclaims at me in amazement: “Does such a book really exist? That’s exactly what I’m afraid of, read what did Lucy do? Did she find her mom? After all, her mother can’t just evaporate, can she?!”
And so I continue reading, and Klára dives deeper and deeper into the story of the children of the town of Smradington, who woke up one morning to find that all of their parents had disappeared somewhere. Children had different reactions to this situation. Some panicked, some cried and there were some who started to rejoice. Well, isn’t it perfect, to do exactly what they want? I tell Klara that many of the children I work with have daily dreams, wishes that they would like to experience and so they imagine them. One of those wishes is often that children imagine a world without adults, as is the case in the town of Smradington. Klára says that she already imagined it, but it was before she started to fear. That day, we talk about how Klára was before she became afraid. How was her world different? And what would the “old” Klara do without fear if she woke up to a world without adults? Who would she like to have with her? And what adventures would they go on with their friends? I find out that Klára loves ice cream, heaps of ice cream, that she would like to mix them all together and create new flavors and new colors. Together we draw her ice cream idea with magic markers on the floor on a large wrapping paper. At the end, Klára asks me to borrow the Creakers book and promises me that she will mark and write down in it what we will talk about next time.
Many of our subsequent meetings are also in the spirit of this book. Her motives help us name what scares Klara the most. Not directly, but through the stories of the main character Lucy. I find out that Klára is an avid reader and it took her less than two weeks to read this gross book. Maybe also because she needed to find out how to defeat the Creakers and find her parents. At this moment, I will tell you a brief content of the work so that you can understand our further joint work with Klára. Of course, during our many sessions, we did not only focus on this book. We talked a lot about her normal life situations, about her classmates who don’t understand her, about the stories she makes up and about the world of scouts, where she likes to go the most. Through relaxation, Klára created her team of inner helpers, a safety box and much more. The basis of our meetings was sourcing and activating her own inner strength and power. Until one day she was able to face her fears and decided to “kick out” her parents from the children’s room ?.
Brief content of the work: The entire book is written in an entertaining style. This humor and playfulness of the text disarms and takes the wind out of the sails of the scary idea of parental abduction. It contains beautiful illustrations that complete the atmosphere of the entire work. The author often enters the plot with direct speech and conducts a dialogue with the main character Lucy, as well as with the reader. It feels as if it was incorporated into the story, thus becoming a natural part of the plot.
This book is based on every child’s fear – that there are small creatures living under their bed that make strange noises at night and carry away things that seem long lost. In this story, children can recognize them under the name Vrzgoši – they are small creatures that feed on garbage, which small children do not clean up after themselves. And since the Vrzgoši know what a mess it would be if the parents didn’t clean it up, they decide to kidnap them all.
However, the very brave girl Lucy has other plans, she wants to fix the whole thing and save all the parents. Especially his garbageman father, who disappeared before everyone else, and her mother. When she realizes that every night she finds a pair of shiny glowing eyes under the children’s beds, she will run out that it must somehow be related to the kidnapping of the parents. And she must uncover this mystery at all costs. Lucy is bright and never gives up. And above all, her curiosity and determination is stronger than her own fear. After the four Creakers visit her room, she secretly follows them and manages to get to their country, which is called Ulod. The entrance to Ulod is under the bed. It is there that Lucy wants to hide from the Creakers. But the floor beneath her is suddenly not normal, it is soft and squishy like chewing gum or warm dough. Lucy takes it in like quicksand. That’s how he gets to Ulod, where everything is the other way around.
Ulod is a disgusting and smelly place, just like Creakers. This inverted place is connected to the world above by small openings. You can get into people’s houses through the holes. And so when Lucy hears the Creaker catching up to her, she jumps into one of the holes and returns back to the human world. To the room of their friend Norman, a strange but wise scout, with whom they make a plan. They need to catch some Vrzgoš who would bring them to Ulod to their parents. That’s why they make a trap for Creaker. They were the only ones in Smradington who knew of their existence. It was their secret. And since nothing brings people together like a secret, they became friends.
Lucy then manages to capture the Creaker, discovering that they are harmed by light and will turn to dust if they do not return to Ulod in the morning. In the end, he lets them go and travels through Ulod to look for his parents. He discovers that Ulod is actually a whole living organism. Lucy discovers her parents trapped in the Creakerland theme park. Actually, they are there as if voluntarily, in a strange unnatural haze of children’s fun and joy. Lucy realizes that Ulod is changing them so much, everything is the other way around, and that’s how the adults became little children. They are naughty, carefree and dirty. Adults have completely forgotten their lives here. They forgot all the stress and worries of the real world and instead remembered what it was like when they were kids and just having fun. A fun life without consequences.
Lucy, on the other hand, will feel what it’s like to be an adult, suddenly as if a great responsibility falls on her shoulders. Lucy realizes how difficult it is. Lucy cries and her mother is taken from the “Creakersh charms”. The adults slowly began to take over and Ulod’s power weakened. But the Creaker discovered them and Ulod trapped them in his roots. The more Lucy tried to free them, the less it was possible. She asked a TV cameraman to broadcast live and the children watched them on TV in the real world. They were instructed by Lucy for the children to remove the curtains in their rooms and pull out the beds. There is a place where they need to get light. Because Ulod and Vrzgoši hate light. That is how it is. The children understood this, and so the city of Ulod began to crumble, and the adults and Lucy began to climb down the holes back to Smradington.
As the last one to leave, Lucy was caught by the leg of the king of all Creakers. She suddenly recognizes her father in him. He is different, changed and creaky, but it is him. Lucy knows that underneath all that rot is her father. He is wearing his coat from the real world and discovers a harmonica in it. Lucy starts playing him the lullaby he used to play her every night when he put her to sleep. The book says: “Music is more than just sound, or noise, more than just tones and melodies. Music can transport us to other places. Change what we feel. Bringing back people who are no longer with us. Music cannot be seen or touched – it must be felt, and when the king felt it, images filled his head. He saw Lucy laughing, playing, smiling, he saw his wife and home…when Lucy finished playing, she opened her eyes. Let’s go home, Lucypink, her father whispered.” (p. 296)
What did we do with the story with Klára: First of all, I didn’t do much, Klára came up with the ideas. I rode the wave of her imagination and the strong healing potential of the story itself. So what did Klára come up with? For the first time, she found her sleeping enemy, as she called it. She externalized her fear. Creaker became him. Her Creaker was called Roháč. Creaker Roháč had two small and two large horns on his head. His favorite was Fanta cans. He also loved the leftovers of Fanta, if it was already old, sour and moldy. He had horns to stick Fanta cans on. And what did Roháč hate? What drove him away, so far that Klára didn’t have to worry and could sleep peacefully? If Klára went to bed in the evening, her teddy bear P, and then music and friends, helped her drive Roháč away. These were the things that helped her fall asleep faster. Then Klára drew her Creaker. He was disgusting, slimy and gooey, like all Creakers.
We are making up the story of Creaker Roháč. According to Klára, he is a newcomer who needs to improve. When he goes to the doctor for prevention, we talk the doctor into telling him that he has diabetes and can no longer drink Fanta. When he doesn’t drink Fanta and doesn’t have sugar, he starts to shrink and lose strength. Until he finally stops bothering Klára.
We are also devising other traps for the Creaker, a plan to catch him. We are creating the city of Ulod from plastic and old boxes. We are drawing a map of the city of Ulod.
For one hour, Klára brings an excerpt that hit her hard. It’s the part where Lucy hides in the closet and finds a chart on the door where her parents marked her height. And he discovers that the parents also put commas there with their height, in the book it is written: “Mom – 32 years old and a little further on Dad – 34 years old.” An unexpected feeling washed over Lucy. She felt comfortable and safe, as if someone was hugging her. Just seeing the words mom and dad written in her parents’ handwriting gave her back the feeling that only family can give you. She felt cozy for a moment. She was huddled in the closet, as if the world without adults outside did not exist. It’s as if the family is together again, all three here in the closet.” (p. 148) Klára says: “It’s as if everything is all right again, when we’re all together in the same bed at night, then I feel completely like Lucy in the closet.” For the first time, she talks about how her parents’ arguments always scared her.
We create human spells together: they are spells that drive away the Creaker, Lucy helped confuse the Creaker’ crying and sadness. Klára is helped by courage, creativity and imagination. We create sentences that have a miraculous effect on her anxiety – Vrzgoš, for example: “I will break off Vrzgoš’s horns,” “I will face him and shine a flashlight into his eyes,” “the light will protect me,” “the team of internal helpers is always with me”…
What would it be like to be an adult for a moment? How would my parents feel if they became children, as it was in Uloda?
After reading the book, I ask Klára what she thinks helped Lucy save her parents in the end, and Klára wants to read me a passage where it is written: “If you want to do something in Udon, you have to do it in such a way that you are sure that you cannot do it!” And so Lucy took it from the other end. She stopped trying to be a hero, save all the adults and get them home safely to the children. She closed her eyes and cleared her mind. She imagined that she was just an eleven-year-old girl who had no idea how to get out of that trap and who didn’t care at all that she should think of a way to save the adults in this dump…” (p. 251) and that’s actually when she got the idea who saved them all, continues Klára. Well, I should probably start it somehow, she concludes.
It didn’t pass language editing!
The recommended procedure created by:
Mgr. Katarína Šurdová, Workplace: private consulting practice of therapeutic education and psychotherapy, Bratislava, Slovakia Date last updated: June 29, 2023
The recommendation was from Slovak into English translated by: Mária Trechová, Workplace: PRO SKIZP – Association for support of Slovak Chamber of Physicists, Laboratory Diagnosticians, Language Speech Therapists and Therapeutic Educators, c. a. Bratislava, Slovakia
Recommended citation procedure:
Šurdová, Katarína. 2023. Recommended procedure and case history for the literary work of the Creakers. In Kotrbová, K. et al: Biblioterapia.sk. Bratislava: PRO SKIZP – Association to support the development of the Slovak Chamber of Clinical Physics, Laboratory Diagnosticians, Language Speech Therapists and Therapeutic Pedagogues, 2023. ISBN 978-80-974667-0-1 Available on: https://www.biblioterapia.sk/en/publikacia/recommended-procedure-for-a-literary-piece-the-creakers/
The contribution was created thanks to support from the European Union Erasmus+ program, Key action 2 – Cooperation between organizations and institutions, KA210 – Small partnerships for cooperation in the field of education and training. Project name “Prototype of online teaching aid for bibliotherapy”, project number 2022-1-SK01-KA210-VET-000082483. It represents the opinion of the author and neither the European Commission nor the author is responsible for any use of the information contained therein.