The Battle With Anxiety

This girl just had an anxiety attack, although you can’t tell by looking at the picture. 

Isabella has been wired with anxiety since day one. When she was little, I thought it was my fault. According to resources, I was saying, “Just be careful” too often. If I read long enough, my every action was to blame. Recently, I was told that sometimes it is just how the brain is wired- that our kindness, support and calm natures are helping her through it. This is what I want to believe. 

Anxiety disorder and mental illness runs through my family, and there is evidence that it is an inherited trait. If they’re right, it wouldn’t surprise me.

We put Isabella in therapy in Grade 2, at the recommendation of her teacher. Therapy through the school system gave her temporary coping strategies when she would have a full-scale panic attack over schoolwork. Isabella expects perfection from herself. Her kindergarten teacher noticed it. We aren’t sure if it is because she was teased and lightly bullied in kindergarten (bullying a subject discussed in length at every conference) or if it was something she had put on herself. Either way, as the school years passed, she didn’t grow out of it. Rather, she grew into it.

Every school year, as the grades went higher, Isabella expected more and more from herself and level of work. In Grade 2, she would erase pages and pages of written work because one “m” looked wrong. Then, she would look at the clock, realize she didn’t have time to finish it and panic. A full-scale, can’t breathe panic attack would ensue. The teacher would recognize it and leave the classroom with her, getting her to take deep breaths, lay on the floor, a cold cloth to the face, or any other strategy she could think of. Isabella came close to passing out a couple of times. Obviously, she got teased, which (obviously) made things worse. 

Therapy that year helped. She was given entry-level coping strategies and we were told to give her the tools to speak about her feelings. Supper time was shared conversations about our day, infused with emotion words. I would say, for example, “I felt so FRUSTRATED and SAD today when supper didn’t work out the way I expected, so I had to change my plan. Now, I feel HAPPY that it all worked out anyway, even if it’s different than what I planned at first.” 

Yes, that felt clunky but it seemed to help. At first. As she got older, those coping strategies no longer worked. I would ask Isabella to define her feelings and all she would say is, “I feel STUPID for being so STUPID and not doing my work the way that I want it to turn out.” 

I didn’t know whether to laugh at her cheating the system or cry because she believes what she’s saying. Her Grade 5 brain is too smart. 

Today, Isabella had assigned homework. The teacher sent an email saying the whole class would be working on their social studies assignment at home to get it finished on time.

While working on it, Isabella had an anxiety attack. There was crying, self-loathing, and self-doubt. She was also worried she wouldn’t have time to do it “right” and that she would get a failing grade. You would think it was her University thesis!

This doesn’t just happen with schoolwork. Her anxiety can peak at any time, over things that are invisible or inconceivable to us, just like a phobia can seem silly to a person who doesn’t have one. 

Think of a storm of emotion that comes if something really big is coming up (speaking in front of a crowd, finishing a university paper, performing) and you just sit on your floor in a puddle of panicky tears, wondering if you’re ready or good enough. That was Isabella today- over a small social studies assignment. I talked to her for over an hour, broke down her assignment into manageable steps, and hugged her (hard) for minutes at a time until she calmed down.

This holds true to what a recent assessment confirmed.

We recently got an assessment done of Isabella’s personality. It’s ongoing but we have a preliminary diagnosis. Isabella is a highly-intelligent perfectionist with anxiety and possible ADHD. It’s as hard to parent as it sounds. 

I’m going to phone on Monday to find a therapist for her. She needs new coping strategies. 

I’ll keep you updated. 

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