A Birthday Party

Some days are just harder than others.  Pea attended a birthday party this evening.  It didn’t go well.  It should have been fine – but it wasn’t.  That’s the way of anxiety.  Everything is okay until it isn’t.

Parenting through anxiety is hard, folks.  It requires patience that is almost beyond you.  Here’s the thing…anxiety doesn’t reason.  It doesn’t care what you have to say.  Tonight, the party coordinator at the gymnastics facility started the party with the rules.  It was super simple stuff – don’t run, one at a time on the trampolines, stay with the group, follow my instructions.  I’m chatting with my friends while I’ve got one ear to the ground.  Those were a lot of rules and Pea is very serious about following rules.  Too serious.  I watched him run over to the trampolines and immediately sit in front of one to wait his turn, as directed.  I’m still talking to my friends, but I’m watching him with one eye for signs of distress.  He’s chosen the farthest trampoline from me and my view of him is blocked intermittently .  I don’t have to work at this any more, my brain being in two places at the same time.  I’m happy to be with my girlfriends and also watching for IT.  The moment when it’s not okay anymore.  With these kids, that moment can happen in the blink of an eye.  It doesn’t take long before he’s speed walking toward me across the gym floor – the terror making his eyes wide.  He bolts into my arms and ducks his head into my shoulder, mumbling furiously into my ear, “She said we have to stay with her.  That means I can’t come get you if I need you.  What if I need you? “.  I hold him firmly and tell him that she was simply telling the kids not to run off and play with the other equipment.  She wants all the kids to play the same game.  This does NOT mean that he can’t come get me.  I say it with conviction.  He stares back at me and repeats, “She said we had to stay with her.  That means I can’t come get you.  SHE SAID.”  Anxiety doesn’t reason.

I managed to get him back to the group.  At this point, he’s missed the instructions for the new game.  So he’s panicking.  I grab one of the extra instructors and she explains what he missed.  He wants to play.  He tries valiantly to recover.  I leave him to it and head back to my friends.  He’s eight now, so I make every effort to let him do it for himself.  I know that I’ll be back, but I leave him to it for now.  I’m the helicopter mom who always tries to land.  The big meltdown comes very quickly.  Remember those rules from the beginning of the party?  Well, Pea was having fun and he started to run to the next event.   As most of the kids did.   Pea caught himself running.  And panicked.  He ran to me again and this time was worse.  “I’m not supposed to run.  She said no running.  I shouldn’t go back because I didn’t follow the rules.  I can’t play.”  Have you ever tried to explain away a fear like this?  A fear that you are bad, less than, in need of punishment – because you started to jog?  Anxiety doesn’t reason.

We worked through the whole party.  He stayed.  I had to stand with him for a good portion of it – a lone parent in a sea of children while the other grownups sat in the bleachers.  But you know what?  While I stood there in line with them, I got to hear Pea’s best friends tell me all kinds of good stuff.  J spent the weekend at her uncle’s house and had the BEST time and spent the whole day at Hawaiian Falls!  And she spent a WHOLE DAY at his house.  B, a precious little boy who is dealing with his own Big Stuff and heading into first grade, talked my ear off about how tall he’s getting and he gave me a hug SO BIG that it took me off my feet.  So hanging out with that crew was pretty freaking great.  Pea did end up crying under the table during pizza and cake – this time because he accidentally took a bite out of his friend’s pizza slice – but we all lived.  And my friends gave me hugs and told me that I was doing a good job.  (Good friends ARE. EVERYTHING.)  And we made it through the WHOLE PARTY and didn’t have to leave.   I’m chalking it up to a win.

If you know someone with anxiety or depression, please know that they can’t reason with it.  They KNOW that it doesn’t make sense.  They hear you talking and they know what you are saying is true.  They are good, there is nothing wrong, they don’t have to be scared or sad.  But anxiety DOESN’T REASON.  There are no mere words that will turn it off.  This is the hardest part of our jobs as parents/friends/siblings.   We can talk until we are blue in the face, but anxiety doesn’t give a shit.   We have to just love them through it.

We can talk about my cursing and how I’m not going to stop doing it at a later date.  😉

Out in the Open

Hey, y’all!  I’m back!  Did you know that I have a better chance of seeing a unicorn than writing with a two year old in the house?  Using the desktop computer for anything other than watching Tumble Leaf and Paw Patrol is impossible.  I need an office.  Inside the “SheShed” that I want in the backyard.  And a nanny.  And a cleaning lady.  And a chef.  But I digress.

Let’s talk about the “personal nature” of this blog and how “brave” I am for sharing our story, shall we?  I’ve had an overwhelming response to my first little post in the last 24 hours, including LOTS of private messages from friends and strangers alike.  I’m honestly overwhelmed with how many people already need to hear about our struggle.  I’ve been feeling led to do this for several months and now I feel even more strongly that I’ve made the right decision.  I want to give mental health a voice and I’ve got a pretty loud one.  SO, let’s get down to it.  If Pea had been born with a heart defect, I would have built a blog immediately.  A friend would have shared our story and started a “Go Fund Me” account.  The elementary school would probably do a fundraiser.  We would be added into prayer circles and people would rejoice when I reported that treatments were working.  Everyone would know.  And this would be GOOD.  Why, then, is being born with a disorder in the brain so taboo?  Why don’t we talk about it?  Why didn’t I start a blog about our journey when Pea was diagnosed just before his 3rd birthday?  Why do my conversations about Pea take place on private Facebook pages?  I don’t really have an answer.  There is a stigma to mental illness.  There always has been.  I’ve decided that I won’t have it.  I just WILL NOT.  I am not embarrassed by Pea’s diagnosis.  Which, at the moment, is “General Anxiety Disorder with features of separation and panic”.  There have been more and there will likely be more.  At one point, he was diagnosed with PDD.  Then it switched to “probable Aspberger’s”.  The spectrum disorders don’t fit him perfectly and he never seems to perfectly fit into that box, although he’s definitely sitting somewhere on that huge continuum.  There are motor delays and OCD looming out there, too.  It’s the GAD that has always been our main concern and focus.  I’ve known that something was wrong since almost the very beginning and I’ve never felt the need to hide who he is or what he’s “got”.  The fact is that he is the most amazing boy in the universe.  He is absolutely BRILLIANT.  He thinks about the world in ways that you would never think possible.  The ideas he has – the way he sees our planet – the way he loves – the friend he is…he is AMAZING.  He’s hysterical.  He’s popular.  And he’s very VERY open about his anxiety disorder.  He tells the class and all his friends.  He writes it on  his “about you” worksheets.  He shares his struggles in his daily journal at school.  He does all of this because we have taught him that it’s okay.  “Everyone has something”, I tell him.  He is so kind and loving and notices when a friend needs him.  He will tell someone about his own problem in an effort to help them.  I do NOT want this to end.  Today, he is still just a baby.  He’s going into second grade and he’s not embarrassed about all the things that make him HIM.  His classmates are young enough to just take this knowledge in and then let it go.  They don’t care because they don’t know they are supposed to.  They just like Pea for who he is.  I want to do everything in my power to keep this going.  We. Will. Not. Hide.  I will talk about this and share the good and the bad and the ugly.  But I’m not brave.  I’m just a mom talking about one of the many curveballs that get thrown at us.  We all have them.  And if we feel free to share a diagnosis like diabetes or epilepsy, then we absolutely should for Anxiety Disorder.  Or ODD.  Or Bipolar.  OR ANY OF THEM.  I firmly believe that society needs a big fat push in the direction of mental health.  Let’s take this out of the shadows.  How amazing would it be for Pea to grow up and never once feel shame for having GAD?  I’ll fight for that every single day.

I’ve laid in bed many a night and wondered if I would “change” him if I could.  The answer is bigger than a yes or a no.  The truth is, OF COURSE I WOULD.  I would love for him to be able to bound into a new place without staring at me with huge fearful eyes.  It would be amazing for his teacher to ask the class to write about their summer and him not stare at his letters and cry because they don’t look perfect and he’s scared to death that he’s not enough.  But I also wouldn’t change a thing about him.  He’s beautiful and so incredibly smart and he is going to do INCREDIBLE THINGS one day.  He tells me all the time that he’s going to be a teacher.  He wants to teach elementary school.  I’m fairly certain that he could cure cancer if he wanted to, but he tells me emphatically, “Mom, I will be a great teacher because I can help kids like me.  I will understand without them having to tell me.” And he is exactly right.  He’s not embarrassed and in this family, we are going to consider this our crusade.  Pea is onboard, so y’all might as well be, too.  In this family, we won’t hide.  We keep all the lights on around here.  🙂

 

She Starts

It’s the hardest part, really.  Where to start.  How to explain.  How far back to go.  I suppose the narrative starts easily enough – the classic optimist who looks at the world from a place of goodness, regardless of circumstance – gives birth to a precious soul who is her very opposite.  His world is that of fear.  There is no true optimism for this baby.  It’s only anxiety.  It colors his every waking minute.  He’s drowning in his fears and I am his life preserver.   It’s a role that God gave me – of that I know.  Early on in this beautiful game of motherhood, I knew that the cards were stacked against my pea.  I met the challenge head on and began seeking help for him at the ripe old age of two.  We’ve had quite a ride thus far and it’s certainly only the beginning.  Pea just turned eight years old and next week he will enter a partial hospitalization program that is two weeks long and will hopefully help us get a handle on things again.  We are VERY excited – Pea calls it “Anxiety Camp” and we have hopes that are likely too high.  But I’m an eternal optimist, remember?

I think our battle is important.  Mental illness in children is not a topic that comes up in conversation.   Realizing that your child is battling a silent disease that he doesn’t wear on the outside is incredibly overwhelming and my wish for this public blog is that somewhere out there, a fellow parent will feel less alone.  Maybe someone will read our stories and understand more about a friend or family member who struggles with something similar.  Maybe a post will be shared that speaks to a mom who is struggling to understand why little Joey in her daughter’s class always seems so strange.  Or – even MORE importantly – there is always the chance that I will be able to tell our story in a way that makes everyone who reads it have more compassion for others in all walks of life.  I scroll past a meme in my Facebook feed at least once a day spouting the importance of realizing that every face you see is waging a battle of some sort.  “Be kind”, it always says.  Maybe I can help bring that meme to life.

As I sit here trying to come up with the perfect “first post”, I’m overwhelmed with what I might need to share.  I mean, if we are going to talk about this stuff together, you should probably KNOW me or something close.  At this point, you might be under the impression that I’m quite serious.  I’m quite NOT serious.  I am a silly, sarcastic mess of an individual.  I like to pepper my writing with hundreds of emojis.  Now I’m looking at the word “emojis” and wondering if that’s the plural form of emoji.  Maybe it’s just emoj-I.   I’m into proper grammar and old school hip hop.  I am incessantly cheerful and will happily hide under a table rather than have an argument with someone.  I want EVERYONE to be happy.  All the time.  Being my friend means that you field the “Are you okay?” question way. too. often.  I am very sappy.  I wanted to write “very” in all caps right there, but I was just thinking that I’m already overusing caps lock.  “She’s an over thinker”, you say.  That would be correct.   😉  I am the person who gives hugs to strangers, tears up over Time Hop memories, and tries not to eat carbs unless it’s the week that I’ve decided that I will eat carbs if I damn well want to.   I overshare pictures and joy on Facebook and I don’t care at all.  I’m all about saying yes to All The Things, even when I should say no.  I love being around people and turning a stranger into my friend. I can be annoyingly positive.  It’s kinda my thing.  I don’t shy away from the mundane, annoying or even bad parts of life – I just try to make them funny.  Or at least put them into perspective so that they aren’t SO bad.  I’m a writer without a home – I’ve always wanted to write professionally, but I’m not a novelist, I like to write short stories (who reads short stories?) and I figured out at 22 that I also don’t like to write obituaries.  Who knew?  I’m a wife to an amazing man who shares lots of traits with Pea.  He tries to get me to worry when it’s important and I try to get him to relax when he needs to.  We are a great team.  I am a mother to the two most wonderful boys in all of creation.  Okay, my creation, but still.   The little bear is two at the moment.  My beautiful boys are going to kill me in a thousand ways before it’s all over and I’m looking at an empty house without macaroni and cheese smushed into the grout.  You are going to get an earful about all of it – this big, little life.

“She Shines Her Light” is what I find myself doing the most since becoming a mother.  Pea’s world can be dark and scary and ultimately completely overwhelming.  I am his light.  I stand beside him and try my very hardest to illuminate everything around us.  If I shine bright enough, maybe he will see that it’s all going to be okay.  We all need a beacon sometimes.  This is the story of our journey through a severe pediatric anxiety disorder and all the other diagnosises that we’ve gathered along the way.  It’s also the story of the family that refuses to let mental illness ruin an absolutely perfect mess of a life.  And we’ll also talk about the fact that I hate the sound of chewing and can’t be bothered with putting away clean socks.  But we’ve got plenty of time for all that.