May is Mental Health Awareness month. It had me thinking about the increased number of kids who are reporting feelings of anxiety and depression. It also had me thinking about our journey
as parents of a child with anxiety.
As you know, I tend to keep the lives of our children somewhat private. With permission from our daughter, I'm going to share our story. I wanted to let you know you're not alone if this is your story too.
It's time. Time to get rid of the stigma, time to help you say what I've been saying for years, "My child has anxiety. No, it's not easy but you'll find blessings along the way."
I hope you find our story helpful and that you feel supported if you're walking this path too.
First signs -- what I didn't know
Let's start with a lot of honesty. As a first time mom, I often felt I had NO idea what I was doing. Somehow, I survived the 3 months of full blown colic and no sleep. I figured that was the hardest thing I'd ever go through. Yes, I was young and very naive.
Everyone talks about the terrible two's, I have news for you. My kids blew right past that, the "3's" were our true battle years. Kaytee, in particular, had some really rough days. I was at a loss.
The temper tantrums were long and hard fought, but we wrote it off as our daughter being strong-willed. Stubbornness runs in my side of the family, I figured she just got an extra good dose of those genes. What I didn't know was we were observing the first signs of her anxiety showing up.
The puzzle -- piece by piece
It wasn't until much later the pieces all started to fit together. We had years of sweet, fun loving, adventurous Kaytee mixed in with quick mood changes. Was it pre-teen hormones? Was it stress from academics? Again...pieces to the puzzle.
Eventually we discovered she was cutting herself to relieve her stress. Our reality felt anything but "normal." Was it something we did that caused this? How can our seemingly happy daughter with lots of friends also be doing this to herself?
Here's the thing we all need to know: anxiety can hit anyone. In fact, most of our high performing or academically "successful" kids are dealing with anxiety. They may look like they have it all together, but inside, they may be struggling in ways we can't see by looking at them.
How do I fix this?!
My husband and I were lost. At that time, no one openly talked about mental health issues.
Where do we turn? Who do we talk to? None of my friends had kids like Kaytee so I didn't feel comfortable talking with them, after all, how could they possibly relate?
Let me stop here for a minute. Honestly, I didn't know if anyone else had a kid with this because we all put a "happy family" mask on. This was way before social media and everyone's perfect Instagram life, but it was still a time when you didn't openly share your hard moments.
Not only that, but my husband and I were 6 hours away from family. It was him and I figuring things out on our own. We weren't comfortable dropping this on our family, there was nothing they could do to help anyway (or so we thought). It was the two of us against this beast called anxiety.
No one wants to come out and say there is something different about my kid. No one wants to tell you, "I feel like I screwed up somewhere and failed as a parent because look at what my child is dealing with." You really didn't want to say, "I need help" but I got over that real quick after her first panic attack.
(Blessing #1) The truth is, that night kicked us into action. I thank God for that one moment in our family life because it shook me out of the facade of "everything is fine" and into Mama Bear mode.
I ended up with Kaytee in the emergency room with the sweetest young doctor (Blessing #2) who calmed her down and got her talking. He was AMAZING. He also helped me get a game plan into place and boy did I move on that!
Working the plan...finding what works
After that panic attack, we started figuring things out. It took us months to find the one counselor Kaytee would work with. Our daughter was angry, she was sick of being sick. She was tired of being "that girl" with all the issues. We tried a number of them, I knew we had to keep trying until we hit a match. Don't be afraid you'll offend a counselor, the good ones want you to find the right match even if it isn't them.
We eventually found Kami, this godsend of a counselor who clicked with Kaytee (yep, Blessing #3). She was amazing and helped our girl open up, talk about things I had no clue she was feeling.
One day Kaytee explained her anxiety to me. She said, "Mom, you know how when your sock is all bunchy in your shoe and it just feels wrong? Well, that's what my anxiety feels like. It feels like my whole body is bunchy."
Okay, then, that's our word!! (Blessing #4) On tough days we'd ask what her "bunchy" level was, 0-10. I can' t begin to tell you how relieved I was to have conversations about bunchy levels!
It was like someone finally pulled down the brick wall between us and our daughter. We had an understanding like we'd never had before and we had a common language we all understood. Thank God!
Stepping aside, watching her grow
As Kaytee matured and moved off to college, I knew she'd have her struggles. I also knew that she had her tools. We had tried different meds, some were better than others. Some absolutely sucked for her system (because of celiac disease mixed into the fray). One thing I knew for sure was that my fiesty, strong-willed, non-stop girl would be okay.
She is now happily married to a wonderful man (Blessing #5). As her life partner, he is learning her signs, letting her manage, stepping in only when he needs to (she's so darn independent!). The great thing is, they are both very open about the anxiety, it's just a thing that happens, not a crisis any more.
She'll always have this anxiety issue, but she has learned to manage it. She talks with others about it and as a teacher she spots it in her students and handles them with such finesse. She very tactfully helps them to recognize they need a moment to regroup, gives them a space in her music room to do it, and then they slide right back into the classroom activity like it's no big deal. You know why? Because Mrs. K. didn't make it a big deal!
Lessons learned -- here's the list!
1. Talk about your concerns
Listen, If I had known then what I knew now, I'd have been more open. I would have cried, found my circle of support and coped so much better. There is NO SHAME in having a kid with anxiety or depression. NONE. NADA. NOPE. It's no different than having a kid with diabetes. It's just a thing your family is dealing with, everybody's got something!
2. Reach out to the professionals and be bossy
I wish I hadn't waited to get our Kaytee some help. I sensed something wasn't right, but when the pediatrician didn't push me to seek help, I trusted her. You had better believe that panic attack was my wake up call to be a louder advocate. PUSH if you need to, but get your kid some help. One tip, push very sweetly, get firm if you need to! Ask, re-ask, use lots of "please" and "thank you" phrases, but don't ever give up. No one knows your kid as well as you do.
3. Know you're not alone
That's really why I do what I do as a parent coach. I love to empower parents with strategies, but I also want you to know you're not alone! If you're going through it, someone else on this crazy journey is too. Don't be afraid to be a little vulnerable. Trust me, it can lead you to the help you need.
I want to thank our daughter for allowing me to share our journey. She is so strong, independent and I have such respect for the woman, wife, and teacher she has become. I truly believe by sharing our story some of you will find strength to tell yours as well. Mental Health Awareness needs to be more than a month, it needs to be a way of life. Hang in there, ask for help, be an advocate for your child.
If you have a parenting question or concern, please feel free to contact me! I offer a complementary Discovery Call (30-minutes) to help you overcome your parenting challenges. Click here to book your call today!
Image by Wokandapix from Pixabay