“Dad, I just can’t do it.”
This wasn’t an expression of low self-esteem from my young daughter struggling to conquer one of life’s many challenges, but an exasperated declaration that her anxiety had again taken hostage her ability to go to school on this particular morning. I stood in her bedroom doorway, frustrated. Thinking to myself, This again?
Sensing the usual get-out-of-bed-and-get-to-school response about to come out of my mouth, she held up her hand, looked at me with a sincerity I will not soon forget, and said, “I wish you would just believe me for once.”
Believe your child
Simply put, my daughter was asking me to believe that her inability to get out of bed — what we would learn to call social anxiety and panic disorder — was a real thing, a debilitating thing. It wasn’t, as I so many days assumed, a coy plot by a brilliant manipulator to get out of school on a test day.
As time went by and her condition escalated, we knew we had to take action, but weren’t sure where to turn or what to do.
Google search results number in the billions (literally) for any query related to childhood anxiety. And that’s the problem. There is more than enough professional (and not-so-professional) advice to go around. We tried as many resources as we could afford, hoping for the best.
There were therapists recommending fidget toys, school counselors espousing the virtues of smelling essential oils, psychiatrists prescribing medications, and, of course, other parents who were just sure taking away her iPhone would solve everything.
All of the advice, of course, was well-intended and proven to work for others in some cases. But for us, most of the solutions offered — after giving many of them a try — weren’t hitting our gut right. There just seemed to be a missing piece to it all.
After some soul-searching and more research, we had a revelation that was as simple as it was humbling. We needed to change. As parents, we needed to adjust our lens to the situation.
How did we do it?
Our first step was to redefine anxiety not as something that is solved or cured, but more like a partner in this dance we call life. It will always be there, by your side. So, move with it. Make friends with it. And diffuse its power in the process.
Then we tried a most difficult feat: to not let our daughter’s struggles somehow define us as parents and people. The dread, guilt and embarrassment a parent can feel when their child needs to be called out of school (again) or picked up early from a sleepover can lead to feelings that challenge your worth and esteem. Detaching from outcomes renewed our confidence as parents and gave us much-needed strength.
Lastly, we granted our daughter’s wish. We believed her. We trusted her. We assumed the best. And, in turn, she did the same for us. It was a simple lesson, but life changing. With the tension, anger and frustration gone from our lives, she was able to feel a sense of comfort and safety with us.
And that was everything.
Does all this make our lives nothing but sunshine and rainbows? No, it does not. My daughter, over 10 years into her journey with anxiety, still has days she can’t get out of bed. As parents, our hearts break almost every day wishing we could do more for her.
But, what we do have now is a bond. We share an understanding that evolved from a bold attempt to redefine the world around us. And, at the center of it all, was us believing her.
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