At age six, I brought my daughter in to her Pediatrician for her yearly physical. This was not the first year that the doctors questioned me about her hysterics when they would get within two feet from her. I kept telling myself, that is normal child behavior, most kids are scared of the doctor. Age five’s physical went by with them questioning me about her and noting “White Coat Syndrome” in her file. We thought nothing of it until the following year.
The Physician’s Assistant who saw Sophia at age 6 was the same one who performed her physical the year before. There were many tears, screams and full on hysterics once Sophia and I arrived at the doctor. I was only hoping this year they put in that mini-bar I so needed. To my disappointment, no said mini-bar was there (but think about how much money they would make if there was one.) The tears started small scale as we sat in the waiting room. Once we were brought back into the examination room, Sophia’s fears were escalated and she was shaking, screaming, crying, saying “No, no doctor, no” over and over again. I feared the other children in the waiting area were hearing this and their poor parents would be blaming me for a new instilled fear in their children.
I sat and watched my child. What was making her like this? Did she actually remember the 4-5 shots she received at age 5 because she was going to start school? I tried calming her, rocking her shaking little torso in my own telling her that there would only be 1 shot this year, just the flu shot. This didn’t quell her fears. Her crying was to the point where she was about to vomit. When the PA came in, she remembered Sophia off the bat without even looking at her file first. She tried to comfort her in a voice that only Pediatricians, daycare and young school age teachers have. That sweet tenderness, comforting.
Through the screams, because Sophia was doing anything but calming down, the PA asked me several questions about her behavior. Did she do this often or only with doctors? Did she fear other things to this extreme? Did she complain of being sick? My child was the queen of stomach aches. Every day she told me she had a stomach ache. I just brushed it aside. Then she asked, “Is there a history of childhood Anxiety in the family?”
“Not childhood, but both my husband and myself have a history of Anxiety.”
And so the PA tentatively gave Sophia the diagnosis of Generalized Anxiety Disorder and suggested therapy.
(Turns out, unbeknownst to me, both my mother and my husband were anxious children.)
What kind of therapy does a 6 year old have? Luckily this occurred around Parent/Teacher Conference and within one week, Sophia’s First Grade Teacher had recommended her for the ‘Special Friends’ Program. This program was heaven sent. It was once a week and Sophia was taken to a room with her ‘Special Friend’ (an adult aide) to color, play games and talk. That one time a week was exactly what she needed.
And then she aged out. Third Grade hit and with that her Anxiety grew. She now had intense fears of becoming sick. The first instance was told to me by the School Nurse. Sophia came to her after hearing a new kid with a lisp. She was hysterical and delusionally thought that she would get one too, that she would develop one instantaneously. The next day, her afternoon care person called my husband to pick her up because she couldn’t stop crying. A boy fell on the playground and had a bloody nose. Like a switch, the hysterics started and she had to be picked up because she was scaring the other kids thinking she would ‘catch’ the bloody nose.
We found a therapist that specialized with childhood Anxiety and brought her. Sophia took weeks to open up and things got worse until she did. It could be any moment, something so minuscule to the rest of us was a giant shit storm to her and you had mere seconds to calm her before the storm hit. She became Sophia Scared.
When Ebola was in the news, of course Sophia was old enough to read and comprehend what was being said on the radio, she was 8, she was so worried about catching it. I had planned to take her into NYC for a day during Spring Break to go to the American Girl Doll store. She wouldn’t go. Once she heard a doctor in NYC had Ebola, she would not budge from this decision and cried incessantly about it. Even after I showed her articles that the doctor was okay, it took a couple weeks of therapy before she started to change her mind. We did go in to NYC but I swear she kept looking over her shoulder often.
Her latest major episode occurred last August. We were on vacation on a campground and 2 dogs were roaming the land. One had a collar and tags and the other didn’t. We had to lasso these dogs while the campground owner called the dogs owner. Seems this happened quite often. Sophia let the dogs lick her and then someone had to bring up Rabies. Insert hysteria here. Sophia flipped out, shaking, crying, talking silly, as I tried to calm her.
“Sophia, the dogs don’t have Rabies. Their owners live next to the campground. They are coming to get them.”
Through sobs, “But I let them lick me, I have Rabies, I know it!”
My final attempt, “Sophia, did the dog bite you? Are you bleeding? No, then you don’t have Rabies.”
And we spent the next twenty minutes waiting for her episode to pass.
That was the thing with Sophia Scared, we never knew how long the episodes would last. It could be 5 minutes and it could be over and hour (yes, we had a couple that were over and hour). I admit, my initial responses were not the best solutions. I screamed at her pretty loudly so she could hear me over her screams. I ignored her. I tried to reason with her. I became frustrated with her and myself because nothing I did helped. Ultimately the best we could do was weekly therapy and waiting for her bout to pass before calmly speaking with her.
I will say, over the last few months Sophia Scared has been put on the back burner. She hasn’t had therapy in about a year and is doing really well. She has overcome her childhood Anxiety. She is now Sophia Survived.