Some of you may remember my summer two years ago (otherwise known as “The Lost Summer“) when our confident, friendly, outgoing daughter morphed into an anxious, angry, isolated child who couldn’t cope with life. It was an awful time for our family, but we learned a lot about anxiety disorder and came out of things with a great therapist and our “old” daughter back.
Well, maybe not entirely back. The thing about anxiety is that it never goes away completely like a head cold or sunburn. Instead, I find that we deal with hurdles put in front of us differently.
In the past, if my daughter had been anxious, I might get frustrated or just tell her “you’ll be fine” and move on with things. But after that summer, I learned that she needs someone who will talk about her feelings, validate them as real, but not let her give in to them.
The way I put it last week: When faced with something “scary” in her eyes, her first response is “flight”—get away from it as fast as she can. Our job as parents is to help her face the anxiety and see that it’s largely something in her head and not truly a scary situation.
In other words: Flight from a burning building? Good! Flight from a hard math test? Not good!
And flight from a sleepover with friends in a safe home with people I trust? Not necessary!
But, when I got her first text at 9:14pm on Wednesday, I knew that she was trying to fly home. “Mom, I’m getting hot. And a little scared” was all she wrote.
I picked up the phone and for almost an hour, we talked. We talked about how I WOULD get her if that is what she wanted, but that I knew that she was going to be okay. That she was not in harm’s way (her therapist’s favorite saying), and that she would be so proud of herself if she got through these feelings. That bedtime is always the hardest time for her. But that her friends would love her whether she stayed or left.
After about 30 minutes, feeling like I was pushing too much, I said “OK, pack up your stuff. I’ll be there in a little while.”
“No, wait. . .” she quickly said. And then I knew. She wanted to stay but didn’t think she was strong enough to do it.
We hung up shortly afterward, with the understanding that she would text me from the iPad I lent her until she felt like she would be okay. These screen shots capture her words on the left, and my ridiculous “let’s keep things light!” texts on the right. The first two lines of hers are mentioned above. I pick up the typing at 10:01 with some inspirational rap. And the Harry Potter reference is because they were watching the last movie in the series while she typed.
We stopped typing around 11 or so, but I kept the phone by my bedside, waking frequently to see if there was a text on it.
The next morning, we texted again, this time she told me they stayed up talking until 2am, and she was soooooooo tired.
And though I knew she’d be a bear around 4pm that afternoon from exhaustion, I couldn’t have cared less. She did it!