I’m not an expert at anything except my life, which is what I write about here. (This is a disclaimer.)
I’ve long been diagnosed with Anxiety disorder and was diagnosed with ADHD about two years ago. As my mother likes to say, I come by it naturally, which just means a ton of my family has their own beautiful shade of “the crazies.”
Recently I took my six year old daughter to her pediatrician because she was complaining of constant stomachaches and other random ailments. After a thorough exam he gently explained it probably had more to do with anxiety and suggested we put her on Vitamin D supplements. This was not a surprise to me at all, as I’ve lived with capital-A-Anxiety for most of my life. I remember having my first panic attack at Casper Daycare.
On the ride home from the doctor, my daughter had questions. What is Anxiety? Does it spread? Can you get it more than once? Can I still go to school?
I explained vaguely that a little bit of anxiety is a feeling we all experience and that we could talk about it more at home, because honestly, I didn’t want to make it a whole thing.
So I scoured the internet and found a lot of very informative material from smart people with PhD’s and books they had authored, but there was no script of how to explain the “diagnosis” of anxiety to a child who feels it but doesn’t know what to call it.
By the time I was old enough to identify my panic attacks/uneasy feelings, it had gotten completely out of hand. I dealt with it in unhealthy ways, which led me to more than one therapist before I could put a name to it and realize I wasn’t the only one.
For us grownups, when a child tells us they are afraid or anxious, our parental instinct says to comfort them, say there’s nothing wrong, distract them, tell them to calm down. But when I was a child feeling these worry tornadoes inside my body and brain and an adult said to me, “nothing is wrong, everything is fine,” I did not feel comforted. I felt tremendous helplessness because I knew that something was very very wrong, and the fact that no one else would or could identify or acknowledge it made me feel that much more afraid and alone.
So I closed my laptop and I looked at Avery.
Me: “You know how everyone can feel the sun?”
Me: “And some people are more sensitive to getting sunburns than other people?”
Me: “Anxiety is like that. Everyone feels it sometimes, but not always so much that they get burned by it.”
A: “Am I always going to have Anxiety burn?”
Me: “No. Because just like people who know they’re likely to get sunburned wear hats and sunscreen, people like you and me have each other to talk to who understand before it hurts too much. We know that if that feeling creeps up on us, just like a sunburn, it’s only temporary. It goes away soon.”
I have no idea if this is helpful to anyone else. It just sort of tumbled out of my mouth, and I’m glad it did, because her unidentified tummy aches have disappeared. The hardest thing about anxiety is that the source is often elusive and invisible. And I guess my point is that sometimes when your mind is cloudy, feeling seen by someone who believes you can be enough to help you get by until the sun comes out again.