My son has anxiety issues. His anxiety, while it has slowly started to get better, is still very much present in our lives. His triggers include any blemish on his body (anything that’s bleeding, a scrape, even a bruise), bad weather, loud noises, when something looks “not right”, and tech related issues which he then goes worst case scenario assuming he’s been hacked. Of all of his triggers, the most common and worst of them are cuts and tech related issues. It’s not easy trying to figure out ways to validate his feelings while also trying to calm him down and thinking about ways to prevent a future attack. Especially since sometimes these episodes can be hours long affairs.
I never compare parenting struggles, but honestly there’s nothing more trying of your patience. You need to remain calm as your child is pacing frantically around the room, practically hyperventilating as he goes through all of his thoughts out loud. It’s a helpless feeling knowing that whatever you could say can be misinterpreted and worsen the situation. Sometimes, maybe because I’m a bad mom, I just watch it unfold because I have no idea what to do otherwise and I’m afraid I’m going to start pacing around the room just as frantically because I don’t want to make matters worse and my heart hurts. Yesterday, my son woke up at 7 a.m. from a nightmare that he got hacked and the computer didn’t work anymore. I held him while he calmed down, knowing that when he has his nightmares, he just needs cuddles. But then every flicker or anytime the computer lagged for a minute, he just remembered his nightmare and starts pacing around the house in a panic that he’s just been hacked and what is he going to do and his email has something from Google about compromised passwords and what is he going to do and maybe he needs 2-step authentication or check to see if Linus Tech Tips can help but he can’t go near the computer because of the hack haunting him.
My husband is an IT god among men. Fortunately in his new position at work, he spends most of his time at his new desk. My son called him 4 times in a row before he received a tech answer that satisfied him and he was able to get over his episode. He was fine for the rest of the day and excited when Dad came home to talk to him all about what he learned about computers after they talked. He’s 8 and knows more about computers than most adults I know, myself included.
Every day is different. He could go several days without an episode. He can have an episode every day. He can have several moments in a day. You can’t avoid triggers, because you’re supposed to help him figure out ways of coping. Sometimes getting him to do his breathing exercises works. Sometimes you just put his noise-cancelling headphones on and he’s fine. I prepare him ahead of time that a storm is coming because if he hears the thunder, it’s game over immediately. At least if he knows it’s coming, he lasts until he sees heavy winds, then he starts pacing around frantically reminding himself that Mommy has a plan in case of a hurricane or tornado and she knows what to do to keep me safe and his brother is a certified lifeguard and has his first aid certifications so if something happens, he can help too. How when he gets any sort of cut or scrape he needs a bandage and how Mommy doesn’t understand that he needs a bandage because this scrape is the most important thing on his mind right now. You just let him have the bandage, even when you can’t see a mark.
You never truly know patience until you have to manage sensory disorders and anxiety and whatever other mental health condition can be thrown at you in the form of your children. It’s hard enough dealing with your own mental health issues, let alone also managing your child’s. You always have to walk a delicate line. You get judged or funny looks because your kid won’t go into the cafeteria with loud noises or won’t wear a Halloween costume to a school Halloween function for whatever reason he rationalized and you just go with it because all that matters is that they are happy and participating the best that they can. You treasure those good days more than you normally would because you know just how bad those bad days can be.
But the most important thing is that they know that you love them through it all. Even when they are thrashing around and keep hitting you during an anxiety attack. You just hug them harder. Even when their defiance seems unable to be overcome. Because when they are smiling at you, they smile bigger since they know that you were there for them when they weren’t behaving or acting out or having an anxiety attack. They know that you would fight all of those triggers if you could. You were patient with them, even when you think that you weren’t. You did enough for them when you thought it was impossible to help. They just want to know that you love them and that you are there for them no matter what. Even if you have to buy a 100 pack of bandages a week.