A year ago I wrote about my struggles with anxiety in honour of #BellLetsTalk day. I'm happy and, at times, astonished to tell you that things remain good with me. I do have moments of anxiety, but nothing like I used to experience and I have learned how to manage it very well. I have learned never to slack on self-care. Many thanks to my very favourite mental health professional. I never fully appreciated how truly important it was to stop and take care of myself and that takes many different forms. Sometimes it's a book and a cup of tea, or one more episode of a show we're binge watching and sometimes it's saying no, I just can't manage that right now. It's a never ending work in progress, but I like how things are going right now.
I have thought long and hard about what I wanted to write about here and I kept coming back to the same story. It's something I've actually been thinking about writing for a while now, but at the same time I was hesitant as it's not entirely my story, but then I think nothing will ever change if we don't start sharing our stories, so here we go....
She looks like you, I hear that a lot in regards to my youngest daughter. I fully admit that I don't easily see the resemblance, likely because I'm too close to the subject, but she is, in many ways, my mini-me. I like to say that the two of us "uber bonded" over the course of her infancy. As a mother, how do you bring home a baby with breathing issues from the hospital and not just want to hold her all the time to make just to be certain she's still breathing? In addition she almost never slept unless she was physically connected to me, so it was always her and I. Once she got her land legs she didn't stray too far from my skirts. She needed to warm up to people at her own speed and her speed was sloooow. I don't think she talked to Poppa until she was two. And that's how it was, that's how she was. People would like to tell us she was shy and I always felt compelled to correct them, no she's not shy. In fact she's quite a chatty thing if she's comfortable, but she's often not comfortable in social situations. I could watch her and feel her uncomfortableness on my own skin, I could feel it because she is my mini-me. I was nervous about her starting school, I had major school related anxiety as a child, but she managed the transition very well.
A year ago we sat in an interview with her teacher and as we talked some things came to light that, to this Mama, were concerning. She has certain things that she does to calm herself that she had begun doing at school. Her reactions to being "in trouble" or making a mistake were leaning towards the extreme. She was becoming emotional and withdrawn in the classroom. I won't lie, I came home and wept because it reminded me so much of me. I think about grade school and there is an immediate weight in my chest, the same one that sat there every single day of my school career. Now I realize that I brought my own baggage to that meeting, but can you blame me? I don't want that for her, but at the same time I couldn't tell.... was I making too much of it or not enough?
Those that know me well, know I parent with my words. I talk a lot, I explain a lot, I ask a lot of questions, I ask them to explain things to me, I ask them to convince me, to bring me over to their way of thinking, my kids are probably tired of hearing my voice. So we started talking, her and I, at the end of day as we were getting ready for bed. I asked her to explain how she felt, ~ worried, I feel worried, but I don't know what I'm worried about. Every night I would ask if she had any worries and most nights she did, like a forgotten sweater at school. We'd work out why it was worrying her (I'd be mad that she lost it), we'd talk about what might realistically happen if she had lost it (we'd replace it) and we'd figure out what she could do to fix the problem (sweater was in the lost on found the next day). At school her teacher would give her a break when she noticed she was becoming overwhelmed (A short little walk down the hall for a drink). We talked about where she felt happiest and the most comfortable (at the kitchen table playing board games with the family) and I told her when she was feeling too worried to take a couple of deep breaths and bring that to mind. When she got upset, once she'd calm down we'd ask her if she felt she'd been too upset, not enough upset or just the right amount of upset. Almost all the time she felt she'd been too upset, so we would talk about why she felt that upset (often because she felt we'd be upset/angry with her). At home we were more patient with her, softer with our words. A lot of her anxiety comes from the idea of making a mistake and/or getting in trouble. We did this for several months before.....
Me: Did you have any worries today?
Me: That's good. Anything interesting happen at school.
Her: Well, I got in trouble and it wasn't even my fault!
Me: Ummm, what happened?
Her: Well, some of the kids didn't put their stuff away so we couldn't have free time until we all cleaned up, but I cleaned my stuff up.
She'd gotten in "trouble" and that didn't make her worry list. That was pretty exciting.
Fast forward a year, we're sitting in an interview with her new teacher. She tells us that she's doing great, but just needs a reminder to put up her hand before answering. Umm, she's not only talking in class, but so eager to do so she's just blurting out the answers? Yes. I mention that last year she was very quiet and timid in the classroom. Her teacher this year seems surprised, "I would call her confident, not timid."
She was invited as one of a small group of kids to attend some eco training, her principal tells me later that the kids they chose were ones identified as leaders in the school. My mouth dropped open. She comes home from school now, so light and happy compared to last year. She's not completely free of anxiety, but I feel we're helping her manage it in a way that works for her.
I think it's easy when it's a child to wave it off as a kid being shy or their concerns or worries or tears as not being a big deal, but for some kids it is indeed something much bigger than themselves. Having been that kid, I know all too much, how overwhelming it is.
I have said it before, but it bears repeating..... be good to each other, you just never know what kind of a burden someone else is carrying. Be patient. Be empathetic. A small kindness can go a long way.