Teaching My Daughter To Rise Above The Stigma Of Mental Illness

My daughter has seen me. She has seen me throughout her eleven years of life.  She has seen me lose touch with reality several times, seen me cry uncontrollably many times, seen me at a handful of Psychiatric and Therapy appointments.  She has even seen me become hospitalized.  Throughout all of this, she has stood by my side supporting me any way a preteen can.  She will get me my medication and water when I have an anxiety attack.  She will tell me she doesn’t want any other Mommy when I say she deserves better.  She fights the stigma behind Mental Illness for me to “infinity and beyond” (A Toy Story line that defines how much we love each other).

 

But, even with all that she does to help me, she falls victim to the stigma when it comes to herself.

 

My daughter was diagnosed at age 6 with Generalized Anxiety Disorder, a diagnosis that she deserved even at age 4. She feared doctors or, honestly, anything medical.  She catastrophized thoughts in her mind constantly thinking that she could catch diseases such as Ebola and Rabies just by breathing it in.  While these medically induced anxieties faded through the years she still tends to get overwhelmed and will have minor Panic Attacks over things that she can’t control.  She is easily frustrated.  She cries. She’s a worrier, and a huge Empath like myself.

 

There have been several occasions where school was a trigger. When she started elementary school, they placed my daughter in the Special Friends program at my request.  It was a program dedicated to giving young children a place to relax for an hour and talk about their feelings.  I loved this program.  She aged out after 2nd Grade .  At this point we started therapy for her to learn coping skills for when anxiety attacks hit.  This helped for a while and she was able to stop therapy for a year or two.  Enter a few major life events, moving and entering Middle School, and her anxieties came back full force.  Insomnia set in.  Panic Attacks over homework became present and therapy sessions returned.

 

Through all of this, I have been her advocate. I do not want to see her suffer the way I have.  There was a brief discussion last year with the school nurse about possibly getting her further help, such as a 509 report, within the school system.  She had been sent home because she threw up.  The nurse knew right away after seeing my daughter through the years that this was related to her GAD, but due to the rules, I had to pick my daughter up and keep her home for 24 hours.  The nurse said that if this was in her file, she could return to school the next day bypassing the required 24 hours.  I thought heavily on this and suggested to my daughter that we get the school more involved.  Her response:

 

“I don’t want special treatment. There are kids that need it more.”

 

I respected that answer since the school year was almost over and we were switching school systems. She started Middle School and things were okay for a short period of time.  Then I noticed her getting heavily overwhelmed, crying and panicking.  I brought the subject of getting more help from the school with her again.  She hesitated and replied:

 

“I don’t want special treatment.”

 

I explained to her that it wasn’t special treatment. Her diagnosis, which is in her medical file at the school, would be more known so that if she did have further issues, she could receive the help she needed, whether it be visits to the school Psychologist or extra time on a test.  Then she started to tear up a bit and said, “No, I don’t want it.  The kids will make fun of me and my friends won’t like me anymore.”

 

Oh boy. Enter the Mental Health stigma.  Because I have been fighting it so long, the huge advocate in me came out and I may have reacted a tad too intimidating for an 11-year-old.  I was angry.  I thought the world has become slightly better with Mental Illness, but I was wrong.  I spoke, with a seething rage inside my head, sternly to my daughter:

 

“Do not feel that way at all. Do not, for one second, be ashamed of your diagnosis.  So, you have an Anxiety Disorder.  You have no idea what other kids at your school may have.  Most likely a few of your friends have one too.  All that, all that you just said, that is the stigma talking.  You do not have to hide like I did.”

 

She began to cry a little. She knew I was right especially after being such a support and advocate for me.  She nodded her head, apologized, and went upstairs.  I didn’t know if it really sunk in, the words I said until one afternoon she came home from school and was excited to show me a video she was working on in school in one of her classes.  I sat and watched the video and was so enamored and proud of this child.  Here she stood, in the crowded hallways of her school talking about her Anxiety Disorder.  She didn’t care if anyone heard her.  She spoke confidently about coping skills and therapy.  My daughter isn’t hiding anymore.  She’s kicking the stigma to the curb just like her mom.

Why I Do Not Shop Black Friday

Every Thanksgiving I awaken with a huge grin on my face because I know that somewhere outside in my driveway is the large roll of Black Friday ads. I love looking at them. I dive in each year looking at items I would love to receive for the holidays noting a few to put on my list for this year and storing other items in the back of my mind for my winter birthday. I find good deals that I think my family members would like. I even have a distinct order in which I look at my Black Friday circulars, starting with my least favorite stores and ending with Target. I would be an expert shopper if…

… if I actually shopped on Black Friday (or Thanksgiving for that matter with how the retail market has been the last few years). But I do not. I went once with my mother when I was fifteen and found it overwhelming then. More than two decades later, I refuse to do it now. Why?

My mental health is worth way more than any bargain.

You see, I do not step out into these sales because of my Anxiety. Weekly grocery shopping gives me anxiety attacks. The bright lights, loud noise and people are just too much. Going out on Black Friday would be sensory overload. People waiting in line for that “I just got to have it!” deal, willing to plow through anyone that gets in there way. The attitude of “I had it first!” while playing tug-of-war with an another irate person over an item. No, I just can’t go through that. It isn’t just the fear of being trampled on that occurs in several locations or being shot at. People get mean and manners fly out the window.

Black Friday brings out the worst in people. If I can’t get through a shopping excursion during any other time of year, I definitely cannot handle Black Friday. But the circulars are so tempting. Deals on technology, clothing, toys. Marketing at its best. Which retailer will win the title of first to be open this Black Friday?! (It was Big Lots in my area which opened at 7am Thanksgiving Day). But I do not have to ruin my mental health for this modern American-born “holiday”, not with the creation of Cyber Monday. Cyber Monday, another modern American-born “holiday” where I get the same deals and save myself several anxiety attacks by just sitting at my computer alone in silence. A day similar to Black Friday that does not actually start the Monday after Thanksgiving but on Thanksgiving itself. It is a sufferer of Anxiety’s dream.

Not to say that I never make it out to a store because I do, but I do it for another modern American-born “holiday”, Small Business Saturday. With this day I get to support local businesses without the loud noises and large crowds. It may cost me a little more, but my sanity is worth it.

I sat this morning, pouring through ad after ad for Black Friday. For some of them, I didn’t understand why people lined up the day before, the deals just didn’t look that good. Driving to my Thanksgiving lunch today we passed Best Buy and there were already at least twenty people out there waiting in line in 30 degree weather. It was only 11:30am. I know there is a thrill associated with it, but I have to admit, I even found the circulars overwhelming and had to stop and take a break.

It is for this reason, that you will never see me in a major retail store on Black Friday. I just can’t do it. I won’t do it. I will not sacrifice my mental health for a not-so-great deal. I will not support ruining a holiday, Thanksgiving, that stands for being grateful, on the latest gadget that “I must have”. Instead, I will sit at my laptop with the Black Friday ads and do my shopping here in my house where I am grateful for the internet in creating the ability to do this in addition to my family, my therapist and my medications that keep me stable.

When You’re More Nervous Than Your Child On The 1st Day Of School

Crowds of kids gathered with their parents at the bus stop snapping photos of their elated children.  Some even took video.  I stood with my daughter giving a hug and kiss on her cheek.  I did this as support, support she didn’t ask for. Why? Because today was the 1st Day of School, the first day in a new school district for her and I was worried.

I was very nervous, bordering on anxious… wondering if she had everything.  I think I was more nervous this year than she was because I can actually remember Junior High (New York’s version of Middle School) and I remember starting Junior High not knowing anyone.  I remembered the fear, the anxiety, the pure terror.  You see, I didn’t go to my zoned Junior High where I would have had friends from my elementary school, I went to a ‘Gifted & Talented’ Junior High for my creative writing abilities.  And although my daughter was starting a new school system as we moved in late spring to give her a better education, unlike myself, she already knew a few people.

I worried about my daughter.  With every new thing she would panic over… What if I can’t open my locker? What if the kids make fun of me? What if I am late to class?… my worry grew.  I only want her to be happy and to succeed.

As the days passed and the 1st Day approached, I repeatedly asked her questions:

“Do you remember how to open your locker?  Tell me.”

“What bus do you take from school to the YMCA in the afternoon?”

And then I started to make blatant statements:

“Don’t forget you will need lunch.”

“You only need a pen or pencil the first day. Why are you bringing so much other stuff?!”

I think I was beginning to drive my daughter batty as she began to roll her eyes at me and sigh.

I just wanted her to be prepared.  Middle School is not Elementary School.  You are given more responsibilities in Middle School.  You have to go to more than one classroom.  You have a set time to get to each class.  You have reports and projects.

And most important… you must figure out who you are sitting with at lunch!

This last item was what was making my daughter more anxious the last few days.  She doesn’t want to hurt anyone.  She was debating between her oldest and dearest friend (they have been friends since they were babies), our neighbor across the way and a friend from her former camp in the city we used to live in that relocated too.  She questioned me repeatedly about this.  I suggested her old camp friend as she would see her bestie on the bus and well, our neighbor lives right across the way from us.

A mass chaos of questions, things to purchase, items on a To-Do list and my brain was foggy (it has been for the last couple of months already).  I couldn’t concentrate to get everything organized, I just couldn’t think.  With that I became irritable.  With the irritability, I grew more anxious and had several anxiety attacks.  It felt like my brain was playing a hyper speed game of Atari’s Pong in my head. But I tried to keep my anxieties from my daughter. We didn’t need her GAD to start.

It was official. I was more nervous than my daughter.

As I stood at the bus stop this morning with her and the gaggle of other kids and parents, I internally told myself this is it.  She is ready and if she forgot something, there is always tomorrow.  Tell your Anxiety that she is fine.  She will make friends. She will open her locker.  She will find her classes. You know she is ready for this and so are you.

Then the bus showed up. I waved to my friend, the bus driver.  I watched her get on and smiled. I walked away feeling calm and content and whispered, “Good luck my love.”

Awaiting My Emotional Aftermath…

I am sitting here nauseated.  Stomach churning.  Gurgling.  Body repulsed and mimicking regurgitating motions when thinking of eating my breakfast.  It is almost 11am and I have not eaten anything yet.  I have been up since 6:40.  I am anxious.  Anxiety has been building in me since this past weekend started.  There is so much to do and, frankly, not enough time.
On Thursday, I leave for Atlanta.  I am going for pleasure, not business this time.  I will be spending three days there interacting with a wonderful group of Warrior Moms at the 2nd Annual Warrior Mom Conference.  This is indeed a no judgment zone, more so than Planet Fitness.  All of us have empathy.  All of us can relate to each other in some way because all of us have suffered and survived a Postpartum Mental Illness.  I have enthusiastic anxiety.  I am elated to see all of these mothers I met last year and to meet so many more this year.  I can’t wait to learn more about what I can bring to my community.  And, of course, see a little bit of Atlanta while enjoying some Southern fare.
One minor problem that weighs heavily and what is causing my anxiety to grow… I decided to have my daughter’s birthday party the day after I get back, this Sunday.  I did this for numerous reasons.  Sunday is her actual birthday.  I also wanted to get this party stuff over and done with.  By doing this, I left the last minute party details in the hands of my husband, a guy who is wonderful, but has never helped me with planning any of our daughter’s parties.  Now in addition to my packing list, I have to create the “You Need To Do This On Saturday For The Party” list.
And, I am at work… getting overwhelmed with what I need to do here and the above mentioned.
I’m worried.  No, scratch that, I am fearful that I stretched myself too thin.  I am very worried that I’ll snap and like a stone released from a slingshot, be propelled backwards even deeper into that sinking hold of my Anxiety Disorder.  That quicksand, suffocating.  Drowning in the depths of my Frenimies… Anxiety and Depression.
And I did it anyway.  I created this.  I could have easily made my daughter’s party another weekend.  What the heck was I thinking?!  My flight home won’t arrive back at the airport until 11pm on Saturday.  I won’t get back to my  house until 12am, 1am on Sunday the 16th, my daughter’s 10th birthday.
And then there is that… the fact that my baby, my Only, is turning 10.  Double-digits.  I am extremely excited to celebrate this with her, but devastated that this is the beginning of the end of her young childhood.  From this point on she will get moodier, meaner, more secluded.  First with prepubescence and then with becoming a full-fledged teenager.  My sweet little girl will start to not want to be seen with me.  She’ll start to pull away from hugs and avoid kisses.  Yes, 10 starts my grieving process.  Grieving for the baby, toddler, and young child she isn’t anymore.
So many emotions going through me in this short period of time.  I will be fine, yes extremely anxious, but fine until I come back from the conference and get through her birthday.  Then all hell will break loose.  This has happened to me numerous times before.  I did take measures to try to relieve the affects of all these emotions, feelings and side effects from this Anxiety.  I decided to take Monday off of work too.  Crazy, I wasn’t going to do that originally.  I scheduled a massage and have therapy that day.  I am hoping to hike, weather permitting.  All things that help me cope, that relax me, rejuvenate me.
Now I wait… wait to see how bad my emotional aftermath will be.  Wait to see how dead tired and irritable I will be on Sunday as I entertain about 10 girls age 8-10 of course putting on a happy face and pleasant demeanor.  Wait to see when it all will hit me.
Going to try to force myself to eat breakfast now (at 11:30am)…