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Friday, October 18, 2013

Warrior Mother vs. Anxiety

I'm supposed to be in the car right now, with a dear friend who I love to pieces and have so much fun with, headed off for a relaxing girl's weekend. The first one I've ever had the opportunity to consider going on, by the way. Instead, I'm home. I had to cancel the weekend. I had everything all lined up for the kids. Grandparents were willing to step in today and handle all the commitments the kids have. More grandparents were willing to be Distractors tomorrow and take the kids and Daddy to a fun children's museum. I had medicine all lined up for the boys for the weekend. Laundry done (Not put away, but at least clean and dumped in everyone's room! That's something!). My suitcase is packed. I even woke up early to shower and DO MY HAIR this morning!

But then my Real Life hit me over the head. As usual, whenever I make plans for myself. I knew one of my sons would have a tough time with me being gone for two days and nights. I thought I could talk him through his anxiety, assure him Daddy knows how to take good care of him, and calm his worries so that he could continue functioning normally while I was gone.

Wrong. 

Anxiety started to rear its horrible, terrifying, ugly head last night. My son called me while I was getting a haircut, locked in his room, in tears. He didn't want me to go away this weekend. With wet, sticky hair dye all over my scalp and bleeding onto my phone, I spent a half hour talking my son "off the ledge" as we call it. I was able to calm him down to the point that he agreed to get off the phone and let me finish my haircut, and we agreed we'd talk about it when I got home. 

When I got home, everyone was in Chaos Mode because of my one boy's Anxiety. No one was where they were supposed to be in terms of our nighttime schedule. One boy was playing computer games- a sure fire way to make certain he activates all his ADHD brain cells and stays up way past his bedtime. Two other boys were in one of their rooms, in bed, trying to not be anxious about me leaving for the weekend. My little girl was sweetly agreeable about letting me get her ready for bed, but didn't have her pj's on yet. The night was in disarray because of one of our boy's Anxiety and the symptoms of complete chaos it brought to our home. When Anxiety hits, it takes center stage and everything else is put on pause. No schedule is followed, nothing is done, until Anxiety is put to rest. Poor Daddy. It's hard to deal with Anxiety, plus four kids and one dog, all by yourself.

I quickly assessed the situation and started doing triage. I took the easiest things first. I got Ella to bed. Then I went to work on the beast of Anxiety, and the poor boy who is suffering from it the most. We talked. And talked. And talked.  And my boy wept. We talked about my boy's worst fears, what is behind the Anxiety of being away from me. Because it's not just this weekend, this trip, that brings Anxiety to the forefront-- it's absolutely everything my boy has to do. It's going to school. It's going to our church's youth group. It's going to a movie. It's doing a karate class or horse riding lessons. It's having a babysitter. It's having a sleepover. It's. Absolutely. Everything. And it's worst and most intensely horrible when it involves Mommy being Gone. Gone for a date with Daddy. Gone for a weekend trip. Gone to the grocery store. Gone because my boy is at school. Mommy Gone is Mommy Gone, it doesn't matter where. 

Anxiety is crippling my boy. It is suffocating him. He is on the maximum dose of anti-anxiety medication he can take. He gets weekly counseling. He gets social work at school. He is loved and cherished and valued and listened to at home. He is supported in everything he does. And yet my boy's spirit is being crushed with overwhelming Anxiety. I don't know where it comes from. He has always had it, I know that. Anxiety has appeared in different forms for my boy at different ages. When he was a baby, I would have to hold his hand while I drove. Imagine me driving with one hand, while stretching my arm behind me to the backseat, spreading my fingers as far apart as they would go so that each of my tiny twins could hold a finger from their carseats so they would be able to deal with the intense sensory input and Anxiety of riding in a car. We chuckle about it now, but at the time it was the only way I could effectively transport my twins in the car and not have them scream their heads off the entire ride. 

As a toddler, my boy would cringe with physical pain if a stranger talked sweetly to him because he was so adorable. I would stand between my twins in the grocery cart and the grocery bagger, so that I was a physical barrier between the stranger and my boys so they would feel my love blocking any Anxiety they had from the stranger saying "hi" to them. My boy was terrified, to the point of blood curdling screams, of puppets. Forget Sesame Street or Baby Einstein movies. Any games or toys that had moving parts caused a complete meltdown from fear. Elephants were especially troubling. Remember Elephun? Where the butterflies fly softly out of the elephant's trunk? My twins worked in OT on being able to stay in the same room as Elephun for MONTHS. We're not even talking about playing the game. Just tolerating SEEING the game from across the room took them months. 

If I left the boys home with Daddy, he would have to lock the door so they didn't run after me. They would stand at the glass and press their small, tear-stained cheeks to the window and cry with sorrow I have never heard before. 

My one son would have pee accidents in first grade because he subconsciously knew I would bring clean clothes to school for him and "save" him. Some would say he was manipulating me. I know my children with all of my being, and I know when they are manipulating me versus struggling with something beyond their control. Once the accidents began to happen on a regular basis, and I realized it was Anxiety causing them, I made a plan with the school nurse and teacher, and we were able to nip the problem in the bud. But it took time, and getting wise to the Anxiety. In third grade, my boy would wake up at 3am most school days, in full rage mode, because of Anxiety about school. He would insist on being completely ready for the bus, including coat and backpack on, two hours before the bus arrived at our driveway. All the while, raging with Anxiety. This year, in 6th grade, we are fighting tooth and nail against Anxiety, and I don't think we are winning. 

My boy is so consumed with constant Anxiety that normal life is just not possible. Many days he goes to the school nurse, who is an absolute saint, with Anxiety symptoms. Because my boy has panic attacks and a heart defect, when he says he feels pressure on his chest, understandably no teacher wants to risk my boy's health. I know the school nurse was put in our lives for a reason. She is a calm spirit, nurturing and understanding. She reassures my crying boy he is not dying. His color is good. He is not ill. She assures him his chest hurts from Anxiety, not his heart exploding. She lets him call me and talk to me until he feels he can go back to class, or until we decide it's just not possible for him to function normally and I pick him up from school. Anxiety is breaking both him and me. I detest it more than anything in the world right now. 

When well-meaning people in my life hear that I am canceling a wonderful opportunity for rest and rejuvenation, like this weekend was meant to be, they scoff. They snicker at what they think is my gullible response to my children's whining. They offer advice. They tell me not to let my kid determine whether I get a break or not. They say not to let my kid manipulate me. 

They don't understand. Anxiety is our Disease. Anxiety is our cancer. It is eating us, our power, our happiness. Anxiety is as much a real disease as a physical illness. Anxiety is mental illness. It is an illness. It is debilitating. It is suffocating. 

When my twins were born 11 weeks early, they had to stay in the NICU for two months. I was there with them all day, every single day. Every day for two months. Because that is the kind of mom I was born to be. Being that kind of mom is not right for everyone, and I don't judge anyone for what kind of parent they are. But for me, this is who I am. My babies came into the world and changed my life. Forever after August 11, 2002, I will be there for them. I am committed to them. I am solely, whole-ly theirs. Not to the detriment of myself, just to the benefit of them. I know I need to take care of myself and nurture my body and soul so I can continue to be Mommy. But when the NICU nurses would tell me I should take a weekend "off" or just not come in one day, I realized that goes against every fiber of my being. I am not capable of turning away from my children, for the sake of a break, even for one day. I have friends who go on vacations without their children all the time and everyone is fine and healthy and happy. I love those friends for being able to do that. That's just not my life. That's not the kind of children I was given. My kids are not ok if I take a day "off". 

If my child had cancer and was in the throes of being violently ill, I wouldn't go away for the weekend. This morning when we all got up to begin the day, and I spoke to my son, I realized his Anxiety, his illness, was here in full force and he would not be able to function if I left for the weekend. My son is violently ill. Violently mentally ill. I know others don't understand because it seems like typical separation anxiety, and it seems like I'm giving in to it, letting my son throw a tantrum and then giving him his way. It's not like that, and I know that unless you're experiencing Anxiety, you will not understand. So all I ask is that you empathize and not judge. When I see my boy writhing and crying with the pain of Anxiety, I cannot leave him. It may make me seem weak. It may make me seem crazy. It may seem like I let my kids rule my life. But since August 11, 2002, I have known my kids would need a special kind of parenting. And I'm so up for the challenge. It may seem like I'm weak and a pushover, but I know that the truth is I am strong. I am a Warrior Mother. I am standing with my boy, fighting his Anxiety, fighting his illness. When my boy asks for help, I am not willing to say "Too bad. I need a break. I can't stay home this weekend." If I wasn't so "ok" right now, I may have needed to say that. If I was on the edge of insanity, as has happened in the past at times, I may have needed to say "I just can't help you. I just can't stay. I have to get away from the intensity of your illness." But I am ok. I am strong. I am a Warrior Mother. I am in a very good, solid place myself right now, so I am ok to say to my boy "I hear you. I see your struggle. I will face your Anxiety with you. You are not alone. I will give you what you need in order to function." 

It was all I could do to get my boy out the door to the bus this morning. I worked my Mommy Magic, though, and we did it together. He works so hard to stifle his Anxiety. He works so so hard to live life. He wants to be home schooled so he never has to leave me. He is afraid that if I am not with him, I will die. His Anxiety eats at him like a cancer, so that he can't function at school. He feels distracted and sad. He is afraid of failing classes and getting into trouble because of his Anxiety. This morning I told him "Here's the deal. I don't care if you fail everything you touch today. I don't care. What I care about is that your body goes to school. I need your body to show up for your day. I don't care if your brain isn't along for the ride today. Your body has to be there, going through the motions, so that you get counted as being 'present' at school today and you don't have to repeat 6th grade because you've missed so many school days. I don't care if you fail everything today, because I know that if your body is there, you are trying as hard as you possibly can. And all that matters is that you try." 

As that sunk in, my boy turned a corner. He agreed to make his body show up for his day. If his brain decides not to show up for school, we don't care. At least his body is there. I told him I would be here if he needed to call me today for reassurance that he is not dying, he is just having a panic attack, that Mommy is still here for him and he can go back to class. I said I want him to try not to go to the nurse. Just try to keep his body in class. He asked if I could pick him up after school. The thought of taking the bus home was just too much for him. I said yes, I can do that. If that's what it takes to get my boy's body to function and show up for his day, that's the least I can do.

This life is complicated. It's not as simple as 'I shouldn't let my kids dictate my decisions for my life'. When my child is a preemie, fighting for life every minute, I show up at the NICU all day every day. When my child is an 11 year old, fighting against Anxiety every minute, I show up all day every day. I make sure to take care of myself every chance I get, but as of August 11, 2002, I became a Warrior Mother and no matter how harshly I am judged for my decisions, or who thinks negatively of me for how much I give of myself to my children, it's just who I am. I will fight every minute against Anxiety, against the illness all three of my boys struggle with, every minute along side them. 

Before August 11, 2002, I had no idea I had a Warrior Mother spirit sleeping inside of me. It was lying dormant, in a cocoon, waiting for the right time to stand up and fill me with strength, hope, perseverance, joy, eternal love for my children. I had no idea what kind of mother my children would need me to be, would lead me to be. I am grateful for my Warrior Mother spirit that gets me up every morning, ready to face and fight any challenge or illness that rears its stubborn head in our home. Ready to wrestle ugly Anxiety to the ground so that my boy can have a peaceful soul.

So I'm not in the car, with my awesome friend, driving away from my struggles for a temporary respite. I am here, waiting for a phone call from the school nurse. Waiting for the next time Warrior Mother is needed to slay a dragon for my boy. And I'm ok with that. Because it's just who I am and I can't change that. So I embrace it. Bring it on, Anxiety. You have no idea who you are dealing with. We will slay you yet.

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