I can honestly say I have no idea how I ended up here. Actually, I’m not even sure where ‘here’ is, but it’s a very strange place, none-the-less. All I know is life was pretty normal, and then all of a sudden, I felt like I was watching a made-for-tv movie about some woman who’s life was spinning out of control. Except, the woman spinning was me.
But, first, we should back up a bit, because when I say things were pretty ‘normal’, I mean normal in the context of my life, which (I hope) isn’t really normal at all. It’s more of a controlled chaos with tears and laughter thrown in at random intervals. Lately, it’s been a bit one-sided in the tears department, but otherwise normal.
The start of school for my children started with a less than ideal beginning. It’s the first year they are not in the same school (since preschool), and it’s the first year my oldest son would be at a new school entirely. And not just a new school, but starting tenth grade in a school where the tenth grade class is the same size as his entire school where he spent the last nine years. Add in separation anxiety, general anxiety, school phobia, and all things teenager, and we created the perfect storm of disaster.
I saw the name on the caller ID and I felt a tinge of concern. Then I heard the words, “I’m sorry, mom,” and my heart broke. My fifteen-year-old son had walked (run) out of the school after a build up of anxiety that resulted in a major panic attack. I knew this would be devastating for him for several reasons, one of which being he does not break rules very often and he does not like to think he has disappointed anyone.
I drove to where he had walked after leaving the school and I saw him sitting on the sidewalk. He was hot, tired, sad, and looked utterly dejected. The broken pieces of my heart shattered when I saw my (not so little) boy sitting there in that condition. When he got into the car, he apologized again as I hugged him- more for my own benefit than his- and I told him that most teenagers ran away from home, not to home. And then I told him everything was going to be ok.
In the weeks that followed, he has struggled with anxiety in such a way that he experienced agoraphobia, depression, and a new level of anxiety. I called his doctors and counselors, and everyone seemed to be on the same page as we tried to help him through the panic of this transition. But what I learned about my son in those first couple of weeks when he was unable to attend school, had me looking in a new direction for finding him help.
I am a teacher, according to my certifications, even though I am still trying to find all these teaching jobs I hear about on the news, or at least one would be nice. Anyway, I have been writing for educational websites and blogs in the meantime, and so, I have access to a great deal of information and research about learning. This is important, because the more I listened to my son talk about his experiences in school, the more I wondered if he had an undiagnosed learning disability all these years.
I mentioned this everyone involved, including my ex-husband and the school. We (I) decided he should be tested, and I was suddenly labeled as the helicopter parent who was inventing problems for her child. Since this was a new school and no one knew me, I did not have much credibility, so I relied on his providers to help support my concerns.
Well, it turns out, not everyone wants to admit that they may have mis-diagnosed a child on medication. In addition, some parents don’t want their child to have a learning disability, and thus believe they can prevent them from having one. And here’s where the spiraling out of control comes in.
My son’s provider and my ex-husband (who was just thrilled to have someone on his side) decided I was…what was the word they used?…oh, yeah, crazy. They then began a campaign of ignoring all the prior facts and symptoms my son’s life, believing that I was an attention-seeking ventriloquist speaking in the voice of my fifteen-year-old son at every appointment, and trying to convince anyone who would listen that he had been held prisoner in my home for three weeks when he should be in a psychiatric hospital for evaluation.
Should I repeat that? The same people who did not want my son to have a learning disability don’t have a problem with putting him in a psychiatric hospital? I know, it still doesn’t make sense, nor does the madness end there. Suddenly, I had unexpected visits from the state’s child services.
Well, turns out they accused me of child abuse in the form of ”physical and emotional neglect” of both of my children. I’m still not sure how or why my younger son was thrown into the mix, but I guess if I’m holding one son hostage, my other son must be abused somehow, too. I’d like to say that some day I’ll look back over this experience and laugh, but I won’t. It was the most hurtful, cruel, vindictive thing I’ve ever experienced to be accused of abusing my children. But the worst part is, it was truly an emotional and psychological strain for my boys, and for that, I will neither forgive, nor forget.
You’re probably wondering what the moral of this story is, and I really do have a point in telling you all these messy details, and that is:
Anxiety is a serious illness, even for children and teens.
These children need our love, support and understanding, not arguing, disbelief, ignorance, and more stress. Why is it so difficult for the average person to acknowledge anxiety and depression as real illnesses? Why don’t we talk about it like we do a broken bone or diabetes, or any other illness?
Well, like it or not, I’m talking about it, and I’m going to be getting very loud. Of all things to have to suffer in isolation, anxiety is one of the most inherently isolating illnesses, so it’s like confirming all the person’s irrational fears about themselves by pretending it doesn’t exist. I’ve had enough of watching my children suffer while the cold stare of accusing eyes leaves icicles on my skin. It’s time to give anxiety a face, and a name, maybe an acronym or two and a nickname, just to make it user friendly, because it isn’t going anywhere, and it’s time for acceptance and support to replace stigma and rejection.
It’s time to heal.