We tried a new therapy for our daughter. Exposing her to the everyday experiencing that most of us take for granted, the ones that make her anxious and worried. But she's not so worried anymore. The therapist has explained to her how her preconceived notions about growing up and her life were lies.
She already holds down two jobs, gets good grades, cares for herself, does her laundry, you know takes care of herself. She's worried about growing up. It's been a painful process putting her in the position to do things that make her uncomfortable but with each exposure I can see her relaxing, her confidence grows and she no longer fights us when we say she has to drive. She even said she could when it rained rather than using that as an excuse.
I feel for the first time since the anxiety reared its head that there is a light at the end of the tunnel. Through the fear of wind, the holding up in the basement for an entire summer, the crying, the ADHD, the scoliosis, eye issues, wrist soreness, meds and physical therapy, there might be an end for her. A chance to simply enjoy life.
She's been through so much and yet we push her through her “homework” her exposures, opportunities to learn how to simply be. Whether its how to fill out her deposit slip for her paycheck, or how to go grocery shopping and navigate on her own, with each experience she's learning that she's okay.
She may always be nervous and scared because we are who we are, but if we're willing to take the chance and make the change, it will get better.
Paralyzing fear and anxiety is when you are so overwhelmed, so terrified by something that you run and hide. I suppose this isn't such a bad decision say if you wanted to climb Mt. Everest in the middle of winter. But it does become a problem when you refuse to hang out with friends because you're worried.
We take it for granted the ability to call our friends on the phone, to text them, make plans with them and just hang out. But there are fears of being embarrassed, saying the wrong thing or not having anything to say. Ironically this shy child can stand in a room with hundreds of strangers and deliver a speech without stumbling and with correct inflection in her voice. Go figure.
Fear is about preconceived beliefs we have about ourselves. The key is breaking them apart, learning that they're false and recreating our ideas about ourselves. You can convince yourself all you like that you are happy being alone, but if fear and anxiety is the real reason you are alone, then you're lying to yourself. And the journey is far more fun when you can share with someone you care about.
For my daughter to overcome her fears we work on something called Exposures. They are opportunities to put her in the middle of what frightens her in order to grow comfortable in the experience. Whether that be driving, ordering a meal at a restaurant, or making plans with friends, we try to put her in uncomfortable positions in order for her to learn how to navigate through them.
We do this with all things that cause her to be uncomfortable. Every experience that she will have to live through as an adult, we put on a list so that we can give her the experience and grow comfortable with every day tasks and functions. Driving becomes easier and less scary, ordering food at the sub shop second nature. It's hard to walk beside her making things difficult for her but in the end we know she'll be far better at dealing with her life than if we didn't.
She understands now why we are doing what we are doing. She has become a less reluctant participant in the therapy because she knows someday she'll be going to college and getting a job. But she still has those fears of not knowing what to do. It's blinding and scary and she still believes she'll be okay without friends. It's the hardest lie she tells herself for us to break down. She's convinced herself she doesn't need friends, doesn't need to spend time with them and that she's okay. I worried me because what I know about human nature, what I've learned is people need other people. We need a good support system, people who care about us, people we can care about. People who are the happiest have a good social network. And as I keep saying it's not about having fifty friends and going out every weekend, it's about having friends you feel comfortable and share things with.
It's been a long struggle to get to where we are with our daughter. One day I hope that she will be able to initiate even just a text and invite a friend to go out, to a movie, to the mall or just to hang out laugh and share. One more small step towards a life without debilitating anxiety and fear. That's what I wish for my daughter.
As parents we live with guilt, we wonder if what we do for our kids is the right thing to do. When our kids are struggling it pains us, we put a protective arm around them and try to make the pain go away. But what if we hold on too tight, if protecting them stunts their growth as they near adulthood?
I had thought about that, about my daughter's crippling anxiety. We held her hand, we protected and kept from certain experiences that made it difficult for her. Over the course of the years we added anxiety medicine, ADHD medicine and therapy but what about really putting her out there so completely that she has to feel the fear in order to overcome it.
It came about when I realized she had two years left of high school. I thought, will she be able to talk to her professors, her boss, other classmates. After realizing she had convinced herself it was okay to be alone, she'd be okay, we took the drastic action to reprogram how she thought about herself and the life that was possible for herself.
They're called exposures opportunities to fear safely. We started this on our own though we didn't know it. She wanted tuna from her favorite sub store, she had to go in to the store and ask on her own. But with the bigger things, we were stumped. How to make her drive, how to convince her that not going to college is wasting amazing grades and experiences. But after a few sessions with the therapist, someone other than her parents to fret, cajole, yell and scream, we had a breakthrough of sorts.
For the first time, she could put her fear aside for just a moment and realize that college, she could do it. There are options, she doesn't have to leave home. She could start small at the community college and work her way in. There are possibilities and the world is too big to not experience it. I could have cried, gathered her in my arms and kiss her, but I didn't. I knew then that pushing her out of her small comfort zone will wield benefits that neither of us can forsee. And as she gets older and more mature, maybe someday she'll thank us for not giving up on her.