When you have an anxious child…Anxiety series #6

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Not only do I deal with anxiety, my daughter deals with anxiety as well. In fact, her struggle with anxiety happened to start with a phobia of throwing up. If you have read my previous blogs, you know that I too have a phobia of throwing up. When her anxiety began to manifest that way, I was speechless. Of all of things she could be afraid of, she was afraid of throwing up? Really? I don’t think anger would even begin to describe my feelings. Unless it involves me throwing up, I’m actually fairly brave. I am great in crisis. I could deal with ANYTHING else-but not this. At this point my anxiety was fairly well under control, but Piper’s anxiety brought me to a whole new place of devastation and helplessness. Watching your child struggle is SO hard, watching your child struggle with the same thing that caused you to crumble brings you to place that is indescribable. It has been an incredibly painful experience. I have never felt so much guilt and shame. I have been angry and frustrated with God, myself and her. I have felt resentful and if I’m honest I still do some days. I have had to work so hard to be healed myself, I have been at a complete loss for how to help her to do the same. And honestly, sometimes I don’t want to.

As I have talked to other parents that have children that deal with anxiety, I feel like there are two common responses. Parents who have struggled with anxiety themselves tend to feel similar to me. They are full of guilt. For me, even though I know rationally that I did not cause Piper to deal with anxiety, I lay in bed at night wondering when I slipped up. Did she see me have a panic attack? When was I talking about anxiety in front of her? I lay in bed and project the next 60 years of struggle ahead of her. My burden feels heavy. Does that sound familiar?

Parents who have kids with anxiety, but have never experienced it themselves have very different response. Their kids struggle feels annoying, frustrating and limiting. When you have a family member that struggles with anxiety, it doesn’t just affect that person-it affects the whole family. If you have never experienced anxiety, it’s almost impossible to understand. It can come on suddenly, it’s almost as if you have a new kid overnight. As the anxiety continues to persist, it’s hard to understand why your child can’t just go back to what she was like before. And as much as you try not to, you end up modifying your schedule to accommodate your kid’s new norm. It can be very limiting, Is that you?

I have read books, sought a lot of counsel and went to therapy to learn how to deal with being an anxious person with an anxious child. We are still in the thick of it. Our struggle is current and real. We have learned a few things so I thought I would pass them along. We are always looking for new ideas, so send them my way!

Before I move on I want to acknowledge that I use “she” when I speak about a child, it’s just easier than always adding he/she.

Remember that your child is doing the best they can. I know when I’m doing the best I can. It didn’t always seem like she was. Something shifted in me when I read this in “Parenting a Child Who has Intense Emotions” by Harvey & Penzo. As much as I would do anything to be different, I have to believe she feels the same way. No one wants to feel this way.

A lot of times it will start with a stomach ache. People end up in the ER thinking they are having a heart attack before they accept the fact that they are having a panic attack. If you haven’t felt anxious before, your body will feel it first. I always tell people that the one benefit of being an anxious mom to an anxious kid is that I could see the signs a mile a way. We have dealt with intense emotions and worrisome tendencies since she was a toddler, but the moment she started having stomach aches when she was at school and then she was okay when she got home-we sprung into action.

Sometimes you will know the why, most of the time you won’t. My separation anxiety began in 3rd grade when I had a substitute teacher. I had had a sub before, what was different about this time? My mom and I have racked our brains about why I developed a phobia of throwing up. We have never been able to find the answer. Your child might change slowly, but I have a lot of parents tell me that feel like it comes out of nowhere. Ask questions, seek answers, but acknowledge that you may not find the “why” you are looking for.

Seek professional help for both your child and yourself. People that are dealing with anxiety want it to just go away-it is so alarming and all-consuming. It will take time. Counseling will not change things overnight. Find someone good and stick with it. Seek professional help for yourself and find someone that can give you tools to help your anxious child. I went to a therapist for a while just to discuss how I felt about Pipers anxiety. Ask for 10 minutes of your child’s therapist time to discuss goals and a plan. Piper saw a therapist for a year and the only time we would talk would be in the lobby in front of 10 other patients as she rushed to her next client. I didn’t even know what they were doing most of the time. Now Piper’s therapist takes the last 10 minutes of Pipers session to just talk to me and go over what they talked about and the plan. You need to advocate for your child. If the first therapist you find isn’t the right fit, don’t give up! Keep looking!

Life might have to look differently for a while. One of the reasons I struggled so much when Piper was first anxious is because her emotions seemed to dictate our life. I felt frustrated with God that we had to deal with this when I had just gained more freedom. Every shift, every change, every transition was/is hard in our household because of her anxiety. We have tried to just ignore what was happening around us and go on as planned, but then we all suffer. You may have to cut back on activities. You might have to say no. Stay home more. Your house will be more peaceful because of it, I promise.

You have to be your child’s advocate. There were years when Pipers anxiety and intense emotions did not leave our house. That all changed in 3rd grade when I started to get calls from school that she was having stomach aches and wanted to come home. Within a week I had a meeting with her teacher, the principle, and the school counselor and we had a plan. I can’t speak for yours, but we have an incredible school system. Most importantly, you are your child’s voice and no matter how hard it is-you need to speak up on her behalf.

It will be so hard, but there are certain things you are going to have to make her do. She needs to go to school. She needs to play outside. She needs to eat. And she needs to sleep. My mom has told me of days where she would watch my sister drag me down the driveway while I was crying and begging to stay home. As soon as the bus pulled away my mom would fall to her knees crying. It was the best, hardest thing she had to do for me.

Find safe places and lean into them. There will usually be a few people that your child feels safe with outside of you. Let them into what’s goes on. Ask for help. Most people will welcome your child with open arms and feel honored to be a safe place. It truly does take a village to raise a child.

Raising an anxious kid is hard. It will be hard on your other kids. Create fun adventures for your other kids. Explain to them what is going on in a way they understand. Try to keep their life as normal as possible but acknowledge that this might be a harder season for your family. It’s going to be hard on you. You may feel overwhelmed with guilt and frustrated beyond belief. I don’t think anyone would blame you for those feelings. You are going to want it to go away. It will change. It will get better and then might get worse again. Go to a counselor. Lean into your community. Remember who your child is-that they are more than their anxiety. Try not project your emotions on them. Take some space. And remember you are doing the best you can!

This is going to be my last post about anxiety. I hope that you have taken one thing over the last several months that will help you along this journey. It’s so hard. I am so sorry if you are dealing with anxiety. I would never wish it on anyone. But my hope and prayer is that as you continue on this journey you will lean into God. I pray that you will look for the good in the midst of the bad. I hope that you will try new things and figure out what works. I pray that you will remember you are more than your anxiety. And please, please remember-you are not alone.

In this together,

Lisa

ps. Another book I would recommend if you have an anxious child is “You Can’t Make Me. But I Can Be Persuaded” book by Cynthia Ulrich Tobias

Dear friend…..Anxiety series #5

 

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Dear friend,

First of all I want to thank you for being such a good friend. If I did not trust you, I would have never told you about my anxiety in the first place. I have given you access to a sacred, vulnerable place in my heart. While you carry it, could I pass on a few tips? I don’t want to be hurt again, so I’m hoping you would take my straight-forwardness as a helpful tool.

Remember that I am more than my anxiety. There have been times that after I share about my anxiety I’m looked at differently. People probably don’t mean to, but I feel like they consider me less than. My abilities and value come into question. There may be days were my anxiety overcomes me and I need to sit out. When I show up, trust that I am fully there. I may not be, but the more you treat me that way-the sooner I will emerge. It is true that I struggle with anxiety. But remember that I am also friendly, driven, passionate and thoughtful. The more you remind me of who I am, the quicker I will return.

Please don’t tell me to stop worrying. I know that anxiety is hard to understand. I didn’t understand it either until I experienced it (and I still don’t). But I promise if it were as simple as me just telling myself to stop worrying, I would have stopped being anxious a long time ago. I would do anything to not experience these feelings. Can I add a couple other phrases to avoid? It’s really irritating when people say things like “calm down,” or “just relax.”  And please do not tell me that  “Everything will be fine.” When you say things like that to me it makes me feel like my struggle isn’t valid and that you don’t think that I’m doing my best.

Please don’t compare your stress to my anxiety. I know that you are just trying to relate when you compare the stress of your finals to my struggle with anxiety. Stress is a natural response to an upset in our daily lives. Stress is a reaction to a situation or circumstance that makes us uncomfortable. Stress is acute. Anxiety lingers on after the circumstances resolve and life goes back to normal. Anxiety overcomes us and changes who we are. It takes on a life of its own. We become spectators.

And I know this one is hard if you follow Jesus, but will you promise to never quote Philippians 4:6-7 or 1 Peter 5:7 (or any scripture about worry) to me? Again, I’ve tried that. In fact I try it every day. I know he loves me. I try to cast my cares on him. I try so hard to not worry about anything. I want to be thankful. I want nothing more than the peace that passes understanding. In the midst of my despair God feels far away. Those verse make me angry, I’ve tried so hard and yet my heart has not been guarded from anxiety.

If you are my person, I’m sorry. I’m sorry that I have been selfish and focused on myself. I know you are struggling too. Hopefully someday we can share the struggle, but today my burden alone feels too heavy. I need to be carried for a while, hopefully someday I can carry you. But for now find a person, find support. You need it.

A lot of these responses may seem like natural reactions, especially when you’re on the outside looking in, but they are not always helpful. Since you are on this sacred journey with me, can I tell you a few things that would help?

Ask me to help you. One of the quickest ways for me to get out of my head, is to focus on something else-something bigger and more important than my anxiety. Remind of my gifts and purpose, not through words but through opportunities. One time I was at my lowest point, I was stuck in bed filled with anxiety and a friend called. She was having a panic attack and she was alone. I was struggling, but I wasn’t alone. Without giving it a second thought, I was out the door and by her side. I was immediately pulled out of my present reality, and the anxiety that had once anchored me to my bed quickly became a thing of the past as I sat with my friend.

Pray for me. Pray that I will see God in the midst of my pain. Pray that I will know God as a comforter. Pray that I will experience a peace that passes all understanding. Pray that I will have the strength and faith to read His word and know him more. Pray that I will see God making good out of the bad. Pray that I will have wisdom and the tools I need to experience healing.

Celebrate my successes with me. Most of the time, healing comes one step at a time. Each step is heavy, clunky and awkward, but nonetheless is a step forward. When you extend grace to me, it’s easier for me to be graceful to myself. When I was pregnant with my daughter, I was extremely anxious. There were so many unknowns. I was sitting in my living room with a friend and I was sharing my struggle. She said to me so lovingly, yet so firm “You need to celebrate that you got out of bed this morning and got dressed. There are a lot of people in your situation who would not have done that.” Her grace was equally empowering as it was disarming. That simple phrase permanently shifted something in my heart. It gave me permission to celebrate the wins and find grace as I failed. When I shifted my focus to celebrating my small successes, big breakthroughs followed quickly.

Say you’re sorry. Not because you have done anything wrong. Tell me you are sorry that I am going through this. Even if you don’t fully understand it, acknowledge that it must be incredibly difficult. When you acknowledge my struggle, there is 100% more chance that I will respond to any advice you give me.

Ask me. After hearing about all the things you shouldn’t do, you may feel helpless. You aren’t. Ask me questions. Ask me what it feels like to have a panic attack. Ask me about my triggers and what has helped in the past. Get me to talk. Sometimes I don’t even have the answers until someone asks for them. I’m often surprised by my own answers. Questions often lead to clarity. Ask me how you can help. “Would it help if I stayed here with you? Do you want advice or do you just want me to listen? Do you want me to come over?” Your questions show me that you want to understand not only what I am going through-but that I can walk with you.

Join me in my hole. I don’t where this parable originated from (neither does google) but I first heard it on The West Wing. “A man is walking down a street when he falls in a hole. The walls are so steep he can’t get out. A doctor passes by and the man shouts up, “Hey you! Can you help me out?” The doctor writes a prescription, throws it down in the hole, and moves on.Then a priest comes along and the man shouts up, “Father, I’m down in this hole. Can you help me out?” The priest writes out a prayer, throws it down in the hole, and moves on.Then a friend walks by. “Hey, it’s me,” the man calls out. “Can you help?” And then the friend jumps in the hole. The man says, “Are you stupid? Now we’re both down here.”

The friend says, “Yeah, but I’ve been down here before … and I know the way out.”

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Friend, my hole is deep and wide. I either don’t know how to get out or I don’t have the strength, but regardless I am stuck in a hole. And no matter how many times I say otherwise, I don’t want to be alone.

Join me there. Ask me questions. Pray for me. Seek to understand. Remind me who I am. Help me get out of my head. Celebrate my successes. Don’t give up. And before we know, it we will both be out of the hole.

Eternally grateful,

Your anxious friend.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Anxiety series #4, The Spiritual Things

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This is a tough one for me. It’s tough because it continues to be something that I wrestle with God about. God has healed me in miraculous ways, why hasn’t he healed me from my anxiety?

I don’t know. I wish I did

I have never prayed about something more. I have never asked for more prayer for anything. I’ve never tried so many different worldly methods. I’ve never felt the same level of desperation than I have in the height of my anxiety. But no matter how much I try or how many prayers I send up, I am still not healed.
But just because I haven’t been healed, doesn’t mean God has not showed up.
Before I continue, I want to acknowledge that some things I’m about to share are going to sound trite to those who are not ready to hear it. When I was at my worst in terms of my anxiety, my anger and sadness blocked any ability I had to see God in the midst of my anguish. If anyone brought up God or prayer, I would politely listen while forcefully pushing down the hulk that was rearing his head. I wanted to scream “You obviously have never felt this way. If God really cared, he would take this away.” If you are there, I understand. I’ve been there. If you need to yell, let me know. I can take it. If you need to stop reading, I also understand. But if you are at all able, I challenge you to open up your heart a little bit. If you look closely enough you may see God in some unexpected places. I know for me, sometimes when God isn’t showing up the way I WANT, I forget to look at where he is showing up.

Here a few ways I have seen God show up…

God uses anxiety to remind me of my need for him. This sounds weird, but one of my biggest stumbling blocks is that I am a very capable person. I work really hard and I get things done well. Because of that, sometimes I have a hard time relying on God. Without even realizing it, I quickly rely on my own strength instead of tapping into the true source. I have tried everything on my own to be healed from my anxiety. I have no place to go besides on my knees in surrender. Nothing brings me to my knees like my anxiety will. Nothing else reminds me how out of control I really am. It reminds me of my place. No matter how capable I am, no matter how hard I try, I need God.

God uses my anxiety to remind me that there is a bigger story than mine. I wish that the world revolved around me. And most of the time I act like it should. But it doesn’t and when I’m in a healthy place, I’m glad it doesn’t. What if the reason God doesn’t take my anxiety away is because of how my story is going to encourage, challenge or bless other people? What if my story of anxiety is part someone else’s story of healing? There have been so many times where I have shared my story and people have to come to me sharing how my story has encouraged them to go to a counselor, seek prayer or start medication. If my anxiety is not going away, I’m at least grateful that my story encourages someone else.

My anxiety makes my relationship with God more authentic. For a long time I couldn’t figure out how to live in tension. I felt like I could either trust God or be anxious. I thought I either had to grieve or be grateful. Somewhere along the way I started to believe that I couldn’t do both. I couldn’t see that God was in the midst of the mess. So when anxiety would overcome me, I would muster up all my strength, grit my teeth and dig into the fight. But I would always lose. So eventually instead of digging in, I cried out to God. I cried out from the depth of my soul in true desperation. I wish I could say that when I did that my anxiety went away. It didn’t. But it begin a shift in me. A shift in my relationship with God. I couldn’t try to separate my emotions, I was too raw. I went before him with all I was, the good and the bad-just the way he wants it.

God uses my anxiety to make me more like him. I’m not very graceful by nature. I tend to be black and white. I had a roommate in college that struggled with depression. She had so much going for her, I couldn’t figure out why she couldn’t get out of bed. I felt like with enough willpower and a little help from God we should be able to push through anything. Wow I was wrong. Not only did my anxiety bring me to my knees, it softened my heart. I am much more quick to react from a place compassion instead of judgment. I listen better and give less advice. I pray more.

God uses my anxiety to remind me of the power of community and prayer. When I ask my people to pray for my anxiety, I literally feel a shift in the atmosphere. I can feel their prayers carrying me. Not only is my faith increased when I feel God’s presence through prayer, it is also an opportunity for others to step into faith. Anytime you get to be part of an answered prayer, whether it’s for you or someone else-your faith will increase. When I share my struggles, my friendships strengthen and my community grows. I have found that when I am honest with others, it releases them to be honest with me. That is when true community begins.

Sometimes God uses my anxiety to reveal that there is something bigger going on in me. I don’t stop very often. I am always on the go mentally, spiritually and physically. Anxiety stops me in my track. Most of my anxiety triggers are physical, but every once in a while there is something bigger at play. Am I trying to control a situation that is beyond my control? Am I harboring bitterness that is causing angst? God uses every means possible to break down barriers that keep us from walking in the freedom he has for us.

I have said many times before that I would do nearly anything to be free from anxiety, it’s true. I have never experienced anything so crippling and devastating. I will continue to pray that God will heal me. But until he does I can at least cling to this truth-he will show up. He is always there, but if you are anything like me- you forget to look.

Are blinded by your pain? Is your anger keeping you from looking for God? I’ve been there and I’m sure I’ll be there again. But my goal of this series is that you will learn from my mistakes. So pause and in the midst of your tears, take a moment. Look for God. Write it down. If you don’t see him right away, try again. He is there, he has shown up-now it’s our turn to look.

Always looking,

Lisa