So some of you have been asking me about my anxiety, and specifically about my younger years when dealing with it, but to be honest I don't remember a lot of those younger years, I have vague memories here and there about it but nothing substantial. So here it is, my anxiety as told by my mom and dad (the beautiful couple above). The two most supportive people in my life, they love me no matter what and without them I would NOT be the guy I am today. I love them more than anything and they have taught me so much in 22 short years.
Adam was our third baby we understood the natural anxieties of infancy, the toddler “stranger danger” screaming and then the natural progression to independence and separation. No worries, we’ve got this right? WRONG! What happens when this natural progression does not occur? When you realize your baby is not being a brat, or having a simple toddler tantrum, that he is truly terrified, almost frozen in fear when you are not there? How do you respond when your 4 year old has a panic attack that he describes as “my heart really hurts and I see sparkles”?
If you were to ask Adam, he would tell you he was born with anxiety. A difficult concept to grasp for some, but after years of therapy, research and diagnosis, he is indeed correct. Anxiety elicits what is known as the stress response, which releases a group of neurotransmitters called catecholamines (dopamine, epinephrine, and norepinephrine) into the central nervous system. Catecholamines, effectively turn on our heart muscles and ‘turn off’ the stomach to prepare for ‘fight or flight’ responses. These same neurotransmitters turn on a structure called the amygdala (the brain region that is responsible for fear), and turn off the prefrontal cortex (the brain region where thinking occurs), allowing posterior cortical and subcortical structures to control our behavior. In other words, under these conditions, we stop being rational and are only emotional–in this case, fearful…...Sorry, I’m a nurse, as well as a Mommy. So while Adam was officially clinically diagnosed with separation anxiety disorder (SAD) at the age of 7, he was indeed born with this, and it will never go away. So what do you do? How do you fix it? Drug your child? NEVER…...never say never!
On to the best child psychiatrist we could find. We learned about the brain, the importance of breathing (Adam could be a lamaze coach!!), behavior modification, and coping mechanisms. When did Adam feel in control? Drawing. When was he relaxed? Drawing. How did he communicate? Drawing. Enter art! When you don’t have the words to express your fear, you have the picture. You have your imagination to move yourself beyond the moment of terror…..breathe, 5 minutes, where do you see yourself in five minutes, breathe, draw a picture of it in your mind, breathe, tell mommy about the picture….slowly the uncontrolled crying stops, we’ve made it through the moment he knows when mommy or daddy are gone in 5 minutes he will be ok, because he drew the picture, created the moment.
Coping mechanisms? We had many…..Adam lived through one full year with a phone number on his hand. Every morning when he went to school he NEEDED to know where I was that day, how he could talk to me (yes this was the dark ages before cell phones and instant communications), I wrote the number on his hand so he wouldn’t lose it. By the end of the year, we were able take it off his hand and write it in his planner behavior modification success!
We made other “deals” as well. In order to have a friend over (friends always had to come to our house), he had to go to their house first for 3 minutes (then 5 minutes, 10 minutes, etc.). Three minutes of success was a huge victory that took about 3 months to achieve.
For the next 5 years we struggled almost every day with separation on some level, but had made amazing progress. When Adam was 11 we went for a big life changer. Our family decided to move from Michigan to Florida. I moved with Adam and his sisters, Adam’s dad had to remain in Michigan while we sold our house. Shortly after our relocation Adam “lost it”. Even though he had me with him everyday, he could not control the brain action of being so far from his dad. Our tried and true coping mechanisms were an epic fail. Off to the doctors.
Pediatrician, psychologist and psychiatrist. Therapy, tears, terror, drawing, panic….drugs? I sat in the pediatricians office crying, I failed! I could not help my baby. Remember that brain description above? The pediatrician broke it down…..he can not control this part of his brain, he was born this way, we need to control the neurotransmitters, so Adam can control his anxiety. ”Mommy, I just want to be a normal kid”. Drugs!
Art was the focus of Adam’s therapy at this age. His control, his comfort, his way of communication never changed. His psychologist had a program on her computer, Adam had to draw a picture in his mind, focus on his breathing, control the image on the screen, control his brain, control his anxiety.
Being the parent of a child with anxiety is challenging, heartbreaking, and ultimately rewarding. He was judged, we were judged. We as a family embraced Adam’s anxiety, we talked about it without shame, we discussed the clinical aspects, we defended, protected (his two sisters were never going to let anything bad happen and were always there for him) and we overcame! Without anxiety, would Adam be as creative as he is? Guess we’ll never know….he was born this way.
- Mom & Dad
So there you have it, all the words and scenarios I couldn't remember about my anxiety as a kid. I will say this: Having anxiety isn't a bad thing, it morphed and shaped who I am today and I love who I am today, but it wouldn't have been that way without my parents and sisters. The one thing I always remember is their understanding, and support for me. They always showed me love and acceptance no matter what emotions I was feeling on any given day, For that I am beyond grateful and cannot put my thanks into words.
As far as today goes, yeah, I still have anxiety. Yeah, I still take medicine for it. And no, I don't give a fuck what people think because I'm happy, my family is happy, and I have happy friends who make me happy. I am who I am and they are who they are, they accept me for everything, and I accept them. Life is better this way and I am so grateful for everyone who loves me.