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,
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