Anxiety --an update.

I've mentioned before that my girl has anxiety. It started around the time we had a huge upheaval in our everyday following Hurricane Irene. A large tree hit our house while we were in it, and although we were all safe, the house demolition and subsequent rebuild took a toll on her.  She had her first panic attack soon after.

Before the house was demolished, she left this note on the doorway.

The insurance guy had marked up our walls with a Sharpie, so she asked if she could do so as well on our final tour of the house. I handed her the markers from the pen drawer that I was able to get to. This is what she did on the wall. Soon after the house was demolished.

I wish I had known what to look for with a panic attack, so maybe I could have figured out what it was sooner. If your child is uncharacteristically misbehaving my advice is to look at their eyes and see if their pupils look different. How's their breathing? Do they look scared to death? It might be a panic attack.

I learned, eventually, to spot it. We sought outside help, of course. The counselor we saw gave us tips on how to teach her to calm herself. Breathing, counting and relaxing her muscles were some of the ways we handled attacks. They took a while, usually 40 minutes to settle. Then we'd talk it through.

I should mention that I'm not an expert by any means. But when it involves my kid, I try my best to learn as much as I can. Beautiful souls opened their hearts to me and shared their own experience with anxiety. (You know who you are, and I love you) From 2011 until about six months ago, this was how we battled the attacks.

Then there was a shift. I asked her to embrace the things that caused her panic and face them. That sounds simple, but to avoid comforting her, for me, was really hard. But I realized that cuddling her through her anxiety was feeding it. So we started hugs and snuggles after the panic attack had passed.

I'll use an example, she was afraid of vomiting, and the fear would come on almost every night. I would tell her it wasn't going to happen and hug her until we got through the attack.

The day I realized that I was helping the anxiety by enforcing that vomiting was scary, but she wouldn't have to face it that night was literally like getting hit with mental lightening.

I stopped hugging the anxiety, telling her she didn't need me to get through it. She could do it by herself. And that I hoped she would throw up, so she could see that although it was unpleasant it would make her belly feel better so it didn't deserve fear.  Her sweet face and big green eyes were so shocked. But after her panic attack occurred, we discussed it, with me letting her know that I don't want her to get sick, but I do want her to see that the fear was too big for the reaction.

We liken it to getting chased by a dinosaur, running for your life kind of fear when she is at a level ten panic attack.

Handling her attacks like this became my new handbook. I encouraged her to use her tools (breathing, counting, etc.) but I wouldn't enforce the fear. Maybe I'm just a dumb ass, that it took me long to see the sense in this approach. Maybe she was ready for this stage or a combination of them both.

But she started making progress. Overcoming huge battles. I set some hard lines that I wouldn't compromise for her fear. At first it felt wrong because I always want to protect her, but I realized if I dropped dead, and she had been relying on me to get through her attacks, where would she be? How would she cope?

In the last two weeks, she had two panic attacks. Each one she dealt with on her own and within maybe a minute.

She didn't need me. She could have done it without me, if she had to. Anxiety seemed insurmountable at times. It would be ten steps forward and then 100 steps backward. That's a daunting pace. It's a discouraging pace. But the leap forward that she's had these recent months is fantastic.

I also learned I have a ton to learn. And that anxiety likes to seep in cracks and corrode bravery, so I know this might very well be something she is always coping with. I guess it always will be and I wish it wasn't that way for her. But for her to get a handle on it, to be confident that the attack will happen but that she is stronger than the things she fears, I hope that has a lasting effect on her.

There's parts of her personality that anxiety has strengthened, her empathy, which was already strong is tremendous. She can sympathize with anyone, understanding fear completely. But the bravery she is honing. Watch out world. This girl is going to be a black belt at facing down terrifying things.

This is long and rambling, but I wanted to put it out there that we've had a break through. I thank you all for your endless kind thoughts and wish you a day full of soul strengthening bravery.

My brave, curly whirly girl. So proud of you.


  1. Deb, thank you so much for sharing this. <3 I worry my own little one struggles with anxiety (which seems to be genetic with the women in my family). She's just 3.5 so it's too early to do anything, and while I know how to spot the panic, I am at a loss with what's the right response for me. I really appreciate you writing this. So much love and hugs for you and your girl. Amander

    1. Thank you so much for the love and hugs. You know I'm here if you need to talk at any time Hugging you back.

  2. That's so awesome you learned an important truth about anxiety: avoiding it make it worse in the long run. We gotta face that shit head on. Too bad that's so tough to do! You must be really proud of her. <3

  3. Thanks for sharing, and hugs to you! Good on you for trying new things to help her out, and by extension, you as well. Our daughter (20 now), had night terrors from the time that she was 2 years old until she was around 12. Imagine being woken up every night by someone running around the house screaming! We tried everything that we could (doctors, lavender, oxygen testing, etc) to find out what was going on, but nothing. It finally ended when she hit puberty, weirdly enough. Too bad that they don't come with instruction manuals!

    1. That is so true. I'm glad your girl grew out of it!

  4. Your approach is brilliant! And obviously it's working. She sounds like a tough little cookie and I'm happy she's learning that about herself.

    My baby (almost 20-year-old!) girl has always been an excessive worrier and her anxiety was my biggest concern in sending her off to college. But she's doing great, with the anxiety under control -- it's like you say, when they see they have to deal with it on their own, they do, and it makes them stronger.



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