When I speak to people about Eliza’s anxiety, I am often met with comments like “oh I know what you mean, little Ollie was so afraid to put his face in the water during swim lessons” … or something like that. Here’s the thing, there is a huge difference between a child actually diagnosed as having severe anxiety and an anxious child. It is perfectly normal for a human being, young or old, to be anxious about sticking their head under water (let’s face it, we don’t have gills), meeting new people (could be a psychopath in the crowd, who knows?), taking a test (I personally was nauseous before every exam right through the Bar Exam) or learning to ride a bike (that concrete or black top careening at your face as you start to fall should make you anxious about the end result).
I know most people think they mean well when they say these things (at least some of them do). Others just want to latch onto a new diagnosis for their own kid. This latter group of people need to be evaluated for Munchhausen's Syndrome by Proxy, since I can assure you having a child with actual severe anxiety with associated panic disorder, as in can’t leave the house only under certain conditions, is often found quivering and sobbing in a corner because of a sudden panic attack, and who can’t enjoy many of the simple things that other kids her age enjoy, is no picnic for that child.
There are various classifications of medications that can help reduce anxiety in children, none of which seem to work for Eliza and which in fact exacerbate things. Talk therapy and play therapy have helped, along with Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. CBT recognizes that things like anxiety and panic disorder can’t be controlled through rational thought. So there is no use in persistently telling Eliza there is nothing to worry about or that it is just her imagination. It is thought that the anxiety and panic disorder arise from various external and internal stimuli (such as having to deal with a nasty little classmate who figured out her phobia of blood and repeatedly told her he was making her bleed). So the child psychologist that Eliza sees, and whom she adores, focuses on the problem and tries to work with Eliza to develop strategies to address the problem. She also addresses Eliza’s specific fears and her avoidance behavior (like running away from a sign that has one of the lovely bloody posters for the latest gory movie, or running from the school yard into a safe place in school if some other kid falls and is bleeding). Although blood is a particular phobia for Eliza, there are many others that can send her into a full blown panic attack. Other times the panic attack occurs for seemingly no reason.
Anxiety and panic not only cause havoc with Eliza’s daily living, but also seriously disturb her sleep. She prevents herself from sleeping because of unidentifiable or irrational fears. The usual tricks to get a child to sleep no longer work. Melatonin is useless at this point and for various reasons other over the counter solutions parents try, like Benadryl, are things Eliza can’t use. I use supplements in an attempt to try to calm her and help her regulate her internal conflicts. So far Magnesium in a pretty high dose, a B complex and Fish Oil offer some relief for her. Breathing exercises, yoga and essential oils also seem to help. The critical thing is to try to stop the anxiety from turning into a full blown panic attack before things get out of hand. Sometimes I can do it, other times I can’t. And when I can’t, we just sit together, often for hours through the night, under her tent with fairy lights and I let her talk, get angry, cry and talk some more.
I hadn’t intended to post about the severity of Eliza’s anxiety and panic disorder, but I suspect there are other parents out there with children in the same boat. It seems it is all well and good to post about physical health issues in children, but almost taboo to post about mental health issues in children.
So the next time someone tells you that there child can't participate in something because it is too anxiety provoking, please just take them at their word. Eliza and I are lucky to have friends who understand this and have gone out of their way to accommodate Eliza's fears so that she can still participate in fun activities with her friends. Oh, and if you have a child who thinks it is all fun and games to taunt a child with anxiety or, worse yet, actively try to provoke an anxiety attack by playing on the other child's fears, get your kid some help.