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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Silver Linings

Sometimes while in the throes of trauma we don’t have the ability to notice the silver linings in the clouds. I learned this in the aftermath of our accident; the realization that we had so many wonderful people who came out in support of our family.  We received cards from friends and families, pictures from children we knew as well as children who heard our story and wanted to do something.  Soon Middle Miss’s hospital room was decorated in vibrant colors and images.  While in a coma the doctors recommended that we play soft music that Middle Miss enjoyed listening to as a way to reach her and hopefully stimulate her brain.   A truly wonderful friend found a CD that included songs with her name in it. What a truly wonderful gift.

Former neighbors came by and dropped off bags full of snacks for both Mike and I because they knew from experience when a child is in the hospital parents do not want to leave to get something to eat in fear that something will happen when they are not “on watch”.  Home cooked meals were delivered to our home for Big Miss and her Grandmother who was helping out and to the hospital for us so we didn’t forget to take care of ourselves.  Friends and neighbors were offering to help take care of Big Miss so her routine could be as close to normal as possible.  They understood that a 5 year old still needs a steady routine no matter what.

Our advocacy for Middle Miss began on day one in the hospital.  Prior to this, I was not very assertive.  I wasn’t a pushover but I didn’t always speak up when I should.  Well, having your child in a coma will definitely bring all that out.  Mike and I started advocating for her immediately.  We questioned the doctors, demanded answers when our questions were ignored, fought her transfer to another unit until she was off the ventilator, demanded second opinions, and the list goes on and on.  Through this I learned how to become an advocate and little did I know that I would become such a huge advocate for her and others suffering from brain injury.  Prior to our accident we didn’t know anything about brain injury and became quick studies to ensure she received the help she needed and deserved.

During the 10 long days Middle Miss was in the hospital and prior to entering inpatient rehabilitation so many people approached and told me how strong I was.  I thanked them but thought deep down that I had them fooled.  I later realized how accurate they were. Friends and strangers saw something in me that I was unable to recognize.  I don’t know if I would have ever known my strength had I never been through a crisis like this.

Along with learning to advocate, I became a public speaker which shocks me to this day.  I never enjoyed speaking up in class and anytime we had a project that included a presentation I would rush through it just to get out of the spotlight.  The first time I was asked to tell my story I jumped at the chance.  I was nervous but confident in the information I had to pass on and each time I told the story it got easier and easier. There are times that I broke down, and it continues to happen today 14 years later, but I know my story is powerful and use it as a tool.  I am educating my audience about brain injury, the long term effects for both the injured and her family, the special education system, and many other aspects of this ordeal.

Marriages can be very fragile or they can be as tough as nails. Luckily, we were able to see that our marriage was tough and became stronger because of this as we worked as a team to get Middle Miss the proper care and help.  She made incredible progress once we entered the rehabilitation center and those around us thought it was due to the strong family unit we had.  Eventhough we chose to go to one that was in another state and further from our home we made sure that one of us was with her at all times.  We never left her side and continually pushed all the therapists and doctors to give her as much treatment as physically possible.  My heart breaks for all the children who don’t have this support.

I don’t talk about my religious beliefs or spirituality very much but during this time I also learned about the power of prayer and forgiveness.  A great number of people mentioned that we were in their prayers or their religious institution had put us in their prayer circle. For many years afterwards I would meet someone and once they heard our story they would confide that they prayed for us.  How awesome is that?

A few years after our accident I was sitting in church listening to a sermon about when all of a sudden I felt this rush of forgiveness for the man who caused the accident.  It was the most liberating feeling.   I was still sad.  I was still angry.  But I no longer felt revenge and the forgiveness allowed me to move on and be the best mom, wife and woman I could be.

Of course, I wish this tragic event never happened but I can’t take it away.  Instead I choose to move forward and help others navigate through their own stories.

 

 

 

Grief

I have been talking and thinking a lot about grief the past few months.  It seems that wherever I turn I run straight into it.  The grief that I am speaking of is not the loss of life but instead the loss of the life I expected.

We all deal with disappointments that sometimes brings us to our knees but we get up brush it off and move forward to bigger and better things.  Afterall isn’t the saying, “quitters never win and winners never quit” ingrained in all of us?

This isn’t what I’m talking about.  I am referring to the loss of potential and a future.  When Middle Miss was 3 years and 3 months old we were involved in a horrific car accident.  She was code blue at the scene, survived and has a severe Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI).  The past 14 years have been full of challenges getting her the services she needs and deserves while also being thankful for her recovery.  I have been in constant survival mode trying to make sure she receives every bit of rehabilitation she needs as well as making sure Big Miss didn’t feel left out and receives the attention she deserves and needs.  Add on, Little Miss born seven years following our accident.

All through this we didn’t have a crystal ball that told us what the future held.  We hoped for the best and moved on to the next phase of recovery.  Now we are entering a new phase.  She is 6 months away from turning 18 and a year plus from graduating high school.  Usually at this point in a child’s life the parents have a clear role of what the future holds.  Of course, nothing is guaranteed, but we still have so many unknowns.   What does the future hold for her?

This is the grief I have been feeling for the past two years.  The grief of lost potential since we never knew what she was capable of being so young at the time of the accident. The grief that once she reaches a certain age I can start focusing on me and what I need. The grief that she may never achieve full independence.  The grief that if she isn’t fully independent who will help her when we are gone.

Hope and resilience have been my mantras and my stabilizing forces.  I, mostly, remain grateful for all that we have learned during this period but some days the grief is so strong I feel like I am drowning.

I look forward to continuing this blog and telling you our story of hope and resilience.

 

 

 

 

About Me

Welcome to momof3misses!  Thank you for reading.  I have been married to my best friend for close to 23 years and we are the proud parents of 3 beautiful girls.  Big Miss is a 19 year old college student, Middle Miss is a 17 year old high school junior, and Little Miss is a 7 year old second grader.  I plan to write about our journey through brain injury and how it has made our family stronger.  I hope you will follow along.