Six months ago, our world within our family changed overnight it seemed. I have kept this story under wraps since then; not out of shame or embarrassment but simply because the story isn't mine to tell. In fact this story is only being shared today because my daughter asked if she could share it. I, of course, obliged because I am so, so proud of all that she does and accomplishes despite what she suffers from. Her strength and courage amaze me and her resiliency is something I admire.
I'd like to introduce you to my daughter Alyssa. Alyssa is your typical teenager; active and social, always on the go, athletic and smart. Underneath all of that though there's a different view that was kept hidden. Who knew that her bubbly personality, her quick ability to always laugh and be goofy, and her smile were hiding so much pain?
Back in the early Spring, during one of her weekly soccer games I watched as she appeared to be having an asthma attack on the field. She was taken off the field and regulated her breathing yet I was still concerned, as asthma runs in our family. I took her to the doctor and found out that her breathing and lungs were fine. As the doctor questioned her and talked to her more in depth, we started to get a clear picture of what was really going on.
My vibrant, seemingly carefree daughter suffered from anxiety and high levels of it. That asthma attack on the field? That's what we now know was a panic attack.
Let's start with her story first as she wrote it.
Anxiety Through Alyssa's Eyes
Although I am only 15 I've been through more than I've ever imagined I could've been through. I grew up a happy child. I laughed and smiled, and joked around 24/7. As I grew up my happiness began to deteriorate. Winter of last year was the worst time for me. I was overtaken by my anxiety and depression. I suffer from general anxiety, social anxiety, and separation anxiety. Each of them affect different parts of my day; each one brings on a new battle, and each one has the power to break me.
Anxiety is something that takes over your life. You spend each day overcome by a constant feeling of fear and nervousness. Normal things like going to the grocery store, a sports event, school, those things are extreme challenges to me. Each day I complete a new battle. Maybe it's talking to a stranger, maybe it's simply getting out of bed and surviving, but just small things like that are wins for me. Trying to explain what anxiety is like to someone who doesn't have it is extremely hard. People often accuse people with anxiety of using their mental disorder as an excuse to sit in bed all day, but in reality, some days sitting in bed is the only thing we can manage to do.
One thing that's gotten me through my daily struggles is the amazing support system I have behind me. I have my friends, family, teachers, and coaches behind me supporting me through everything I go through. Lately, my mom and dad have been my rocks. No matter how hard I make it for them to stick by my side, they're always there. They try their hardest to understand what I'm going through, and the pain I feel everyday. My friends always try their best to make me comfortable and feel safe and happy. My teachers know not to push me to participate in class if I'm not comfortable. They praise me and make me feel welcomed each day in class. My coaches know when to step up and push me, and they know when I'm uncomfortable and in need of a break. Knowing that I have people who know my situation and how to help are part of what keeps me sane.
So if you know someone who suffers from anxiety make sure you always support them.
Today, I'm happy again; still controlled by anxiety, but mainly happy. So if you or someone you know is suffering with depression or anxiety, know that it's not the end, and there's always something worth fighting for.
Anxiety Through a Parent's Eyes
After her diagnosis we were quick to find her a cognitive behavior therapist. Our goal was to provide her with coping mechanisms that she could use with the anxiety. Our hope was simple; with therapy she would be able to learn how to not only deal with the mounting anxiety but she would also be able to reduce the panic attacks before they escalated.
I will fully admit that I was adamant to medicating her. I knew this condition would more than likely be a lifelong struggle that she would deal with and I naively was hoping that within the safety of a therapist's office she would gain the tools necessary to halt the anxiety from taking over.
I was 100% wrong.
Therapy helped to a degree but we slowly saw the anxiety robbing her of everyday joys. My breaking point was this summer when she was signed up to go to an overnight soccer camp with her best friends; one that she had attended in the past.
The day the camp started we arrived to get her room number and she looked at me with sheer panic in her eyes and stated that she couldn't do it. I was sure that once we got to the room and started unpacking her and she was with her friends she would be fine. Again, I was wrong. In tears, she begged my husband and I to take her home. I was heartbroken that this disorder was stealing so much from her. The things that she held dear are now being taken away and she was unable to stop it.
We knew we needed to take additional steps before she shut down completely.
She is now medicated and still working with her therapist. When asked, she will say that she is feeling better.
There are still days though. Days where out of the blue where a panic attack comes on. Days where new things like moving up to the high school causes so much worry and stress that she ended up at an Urgent Care with stomach pains so painful that we wondered if there was something wrong internally.
As a parent having to watch your child go through this is awful. There is nothing you can say or do to make it go away. You can't make it better with a hug or a kiss. You can't even understand it. I can not begin to comprehend the feeling of not being able to breathe. I can not understand how her thoughts can wreak so much havoc not only emotionally but also physically. All of this in a child that has it all in my eyes....family, friends, great grades, and athletic ability. She is the true definition of well rounded in my opinion.
What can we do? Simply be there. Be strong. Hold it together. In the midst of her panic attacks I like to think that I am able to ground her. Holding her hand, looking in her eyes, talking to her. I can not even imagine what she is going through but all I know is that she needs me. Whatever we do, we will never downplay what she is going through. You will never hear us saying "Calm down. Relax. Stop this."
Once, someone, an adult, told her to "Stop it." I'll never forget her tears or her disappointment that day as she told me about that conversation. With such sadness, and a heavy heart, she looked at me and said "Don't you think that if I could easily stop this, I would ever start it to begin with?".
As a family we are learning to navigate this thing called anxiety. We are learning to accept its presence in our lives yet we are not allowing it to take over. We deal with each episode as it comes and relish the time between them. We look at our daughter with new eyes and are amazed with how much she has coped with and how strong and resilient she is. We love her openness about her anxiety and that she feels safe with her friends and family. We love that she carries on despite her fears and that she tackles and wins battles everyday. We have learned that she has so much love and support outside of our family and that she has so many people cheering her on.
What can you do if someone you know or love suffers from anxiety? Love them, support them, and accept them. Though you may not understand what they are going through, just being present will make a world of a difference to them.
No one ever said being a parent was easy. I often joke that I was never given the parenting manual that fully explained in well written, detailed instructions how to raise a happy and healthy child. I am fumbling through raising each of my three daughters. I have found that each one of them needs to be and deserves to be parented differently. Each is a unique being with her own distinct personality and issues. The one constant we have for each of them though? Our love.
We are hoping that with the care and guidance of her doctors and the love and support of her family and friends, Alyssa will continue to thrive despite of her anxiety. She will not, nor will we, allow it to define her.