What Does Anxiety Look Like?

Anxiety is a word that is spoken more these days than ever.  What is anxiety and will we know it when we see it?  I don’t think I thought much about anxiety until the past 15 years. Occasionally, I would hear about panic attacks which I thought were paralyzing events causing the sufferer to freeze because she was unsure how to cope with whatever event she was facing.  I soon learned that this was such a misbelief.

A few years after our horrific event in 2001, my husband and I had planned a trip to Walt Disney World with Middle Miss and Big Miss and being the planner that he is all of our time was mapped out.  We knew Middle Miss would have a difficult time flying so we consulted with the pediatrician regarding how we could help her with her fears.  That’s what I assumed it was – a typical fear equivalent to monsters or the dark.

Concurrently, I developed a case of pneumonia.  I was pretty sick, probably one of the sickest I have been.  I made sure to get plenty of rest (hard to do when you have two children plus one with special needs), drank lots of fluids, and ate as healthy as I could.  I could not get over a tightness in my chest that seemed to linger.  I phoned the doctor and he sent me for additional chest x-rays.  These showed that my lungs were totally clear so I had not suffered a relapse but the advice nurse mentioned that it may be panic attacks. Suddenly, a lightbulb went off – this is what a panic attack feels like!

I had experienced this sensation before!  While we were in the PICU waiting to hear the fate of my daughter, attending eligibility meetings, hearing test results, sitting through IEP meetings, etc.  Now, I know what a panic attack feels like.

As Middle Miss got older her anxieties came out in so many different ways.  Her exasperated fears and how she responded to them.  The scariest of which was when there was a big gust of wind and she would try to run away from me in a parking lot because she was afraid a tree or flag pole would fall on top of her.  She developed horrible migraines, the only remedy was to lay down in a dark room and sleep.  Her obsession with food and overeating and the way she bit her nails and fingers to the bone.

We tried so many tehniques to help her deal with these ranging from breathing exercises to talk therapy but nothing helped.  We finally had to employ medication coupled with a therapist she really trusts and it slowly gets manageable.  I can always tell when she is going through a hard time because the headaches increase and the nails and fingers are painful to look at.

During this time, I thought I knew everything about anxiety and how to recognize it in another individual.  I blamed myself for passing down any genetic predisposition to this sometimes paralyzing condition.  I learned my husband’s family has a long history of anxiety but no one ever spoke about it until it hit my father in-law so hard that he couldn’t fly unless he was medicated and couldn’t tolerate in tight spaces, elevators included.

Imagine my surprise when Middle Miss’ therapist mentioned that she suspected Little Miss has anxiety!  I knew she had some fears but didn’t realize the extent of it or how her anxieties were playing out in her behavior and her relationship with her sister.  These two have always loved each other so much but they can fight!  Little Miss learned at the age of 2 how to push Middle Miss’ buttons and she continues to do it today.  Add into this the fact that Middle Miss does not have a filter and can not walk away or ignore it.  She has to push right back until all hell breaks loose.

I was devastated when it was recommended that Little Miss be evaluated for an anxiety disorder.  I walked out feeling so overwhelmed and defeated.  Here we go again, another evaluation that won’t be fully covered by insurance, more doctor appointments, etc.  I couldn’t call Mike to tell him because I knew that I would burst into tears while on the phone.  I sent him an email and told him I couldn’t talk about it.  He was very supportive and later at home told me that we have children and by having these children we need to do whatever we could to assist them and take care of them.  By the next day, I felt better though still sad about it.

I couldn’t help thinking why do some families have to deal with so many issues while others seem to sail through life so easily.  I know that’s not true but it feels that way a lot of the time especially lately.

We have gone through Little Miss’ evaluation and met with the doctor.  She does have anxiety which manifests in her holding everything together at school and letting go when she comes home which explains why she is so tired after school.  Imagine being at school for 6 or more hours a day feeling nervous and and hiding it by putting a smile on your face. No wonder she is cranky and irritable when she comes home.  The doctor was very impressed at how articulate she is and feels she is a “quick study”.  Interestingly, we have been trying to get her to learn to swim for years to no avial.  It is hard to learn when you won’t put your head under water.  Four days after her meeting with the doctor she put her head under water for the first time ever.  Do I think this is related?  ABSOLUTELY!

I have now come around and look at this as a gift.  We learned very early that she has anxiety and hopefully we will be able to give her the tools to deal with it so she won’t suffer.  I have also learned that anxiety can manifest itself in so many ways and the sufferer doesn’t always recognize it either.  The more educated I am as a mom the more I will be able to help my children to grow and mature.  Afterall, that is the goal of any Mom istn’t it?  We strive to help our children become the best person they can be.







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