Let me begin with a little preface to this post...
I'm still learning and I am not a professional.
Am I the parent of 1 (or more) child(ren) who deal with anxiety and worry? Yes.
Am I a professional therapist/counselor? No.
Have I counseled with professionals to find ways to help my children? Yes.
Am I an expert on this subject? No.
Now that we have established that this post is based off my experiences, answered prayers, and opinion, we can move forward.
As I mentioned in my introductory post for this blog series, my intent with this series is to learn more myself, share what I have learned with other parents who may be struggling with similar issues, and be taught by other parents who have made it through similar issues.
Let's dive in...headfirst, in the shallow end.
When everything didn't turn out like I had envisioned...
*You are the parent who patiently talks your kids through a temper tantrum and at the end of the tantrum, there are hugs and kisses and everyone is happy with no lingering emotional scars.
*Every day is filled with bliss because you have family scripture study every morning and you say your family prayers twice a day. There ain't no way Satan's busting through that armor...
*All of your children are well-adjusted, beautiful human beings who love being with each other, share with each other, serve one another, and basically never exhibit any signs of anything being "wrong."
Anyone else rolling their eyes and laughing at this point?
Skip to the good part...
If you'll notice, this post is labeled "The Anxious Child: Part 1" because there is no way I would every be able to cover everything I have learned in one post. As I have pondered how to organize my thoughts for this post, I thought it would be best to start with a brief history of why I have experience with this topic.
Abbie is my third child. When she was born, she had Pulmonary Hypertension which basically means that her heart did not make the switch from pumping through my placenta to working on its own. Because of this, she had to be on oxygen for the first 24 hours or so.
Fortunately, we were able to take her home when I was ready to be released from the hospital and we settled into a routine with three kids. Everything was going along crazily, but well, until she was two months old. At that time, she had to be hospitalized because of an infection in her intestines, which they linked back to what had happened to her at birth. The theory is that when her heart wasn't working properly, her intestines may have been deprived of oxygen for a time, causing them to be more susceptible to infection.
After that craziness, life went on pretty normally. Just livin' the dream of having three kids, living with your in-laws because you're building a home. Fortunately, my in-laws are saints and this experience was not as terrible as you are all imagining. We loved living there, especially our kids. It was a party at grandma's house every day! Who wouldn't love that?
As soon as Abbie could sit in a highchair, we could see that she had a very independent personality. I know she was blessed with that because she is needed to do some pretty amazing things in this world. It's knowing how to teach her how to use that independence for good that gets tricky.
Trying to tame the lion.
I tried everything I could think of to learn how to be a better mom to her and be better capable of helping her learn how to use her strong spirit in good ways...
Many, many prayers said. Too many to count.
Many, many days fasting along with those prayers.
Diving into any book that anyone recommended for me. (One of my favorites was Parenting the Ephraim's Child by Deborah Talmadge.)
I talked and talked and talked some more to any parent who would talk with me who seemed to have a child with similar characteristics.
I created chore charts, behavior charts, schedule charts. You name it. Anything that would help her stay focused and stay away from meltdowns.
I tried nearly every Essential Oil known for calming kids, and none of them worked because she was super sensitive to smells.
By the time Abbie was about 8 years old, my husband and I decided that maybe we needed to reach out for some professional help. I was winding down with my breast cancer treatments and I wanted to make sure that my cancer was not contributing to Abbie's mental health problems.
We met with a therapist who diagnosed Abbie with Sensory Anxiety and Depression. I remember being really surprised at that diagnosis. Anxiety? How is Abbie exhibiting anxiety? She's not nervous or worried. She doesn't really cry at new situations. But then the therapist explained some other symptoms of anxiety: lashing out because something is giving you anxiety and you don't know how to deal with it, stomach cramps/pains, being calm in school, but having meltdown after meltdown at home because it's a "safe" place where no one will make fun of you for freaking out, to name a few.
And also, depression? Where was that coming in to play? Abbie definitely was not lethargic or wanting to stay in bed all day and not face the world. Again, the therapist helped me learn that kids often exhibit other symptoms when they are depressed: meltdowns, swift mood changes, difficulty with relationships, etc.
Although I left the first session more overwhelmed than when I came in, it was nice to have an official diagnosis and know that I wasn't just imagining things and that there were some things that we could do to help Abbie navigate her illness. (And yes, anxiety and depression are illnesses...mental illnesses and they need to be addressed and treated just like strep throat or diabetes need to be treated.)
Moving forward...and backward.
Not only was it hard to remember to use the tools in the heat of the moment, Abbie kept growing up and maturing, which then brought hormones into the game, which...changed the whole game. We decided that it would be in Abbie's best interest to start trying Zoloft as a way to help her brain function properly. When we first started down the therapy road, I did not want to resort to medication. But, as one of Abbie's therapists explained so well, if she was a diabetic, you wouldn't withhold medication from her, would you? No! That's crazy! Of course I wouldn't? So why, then, was it so hard to say, "Yes, let's try some mediation to help"? One word...STIGMA. There is a definite stigma associated with mental health and medication and I had fallen into the trap.
Abbie's brain was not functioning in a manner that was allowing her to face certain situations in a healthy, rational manner. Instead, her brain was forcing her to exhibit symptoms of anxiety and depression and there was nothing she could do to stop it. It was highly frustrating for her, who just desperately wanted to be a "normal" kid and not freak out all the time, but she just couldn't, no matter how many tools/exercises she used.
The end and the beginning.
As I end this post, I leave you with the promise that this is only the beginning. Next week, I will share more information on how we battled each of the stages that I mentioned in this post. Thanks for sticking with me as I introduced Abbie. I felt it was important to share this background with you, in order to successfully relay to you some of the things that have worked (and not worked) for us.
Until next week...
You're doing better than you think.
You've got this.