Stop Comparing Your Child’s Anxiety to Mine!

Stop Comparing Your Child’s Anxiety to Mine!

The more openly I talk about my mental illness, the more that this issue seems to crop up, so I have decided I need to address it. Recently, I was talking to a mother whose child is a young teenager, living with several mental illnesses, including anxiety. She was asking my advice on how to help her daughter, which I just want to say, is incredibly admirable. She is seeking help for her child when many family members would be inclined to brush mental illness under a rug. Now, I’m definitely not a professional or licensed counsellor, but I understand that for some people, it’s easier to approach a friend for advice than a doctor, so I will give advice, if asked, based on MY experience with anxiety, and no one else’s.

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One of my biggest pieces of advice that I give parents is to be VERY structured with their children, and to encourage them to do the very thing that scares them over and over until it’s not scary anymore. For example, if a young girl is not behaving in school, and the parents and doctors agree that it is because of her anxiety, I don’t believe the answer is pulling her out of class every time she gets anxious. This only teaches her brain that there is something to fear. Instead, I always suggest that parents encourage their kids to sit in the discomfort of anxiety for as long as they can. Of course this is much more beneficial if you can be open with the child’s teacher about the situation, and if the child is seeing a therapist who can give them coping strategies for sitting in their anxiety.

Basically, don’t create a habit for your child of getting out of situations that scare them or trigger their anxiety. Anxiety will prey on that, and soon your child won’t even be able to leave their bed without fear. I understand that usually the idea of getting your child out of something that is hard for them seems like you’re on the right track, because when they are out of the situation, the anxiety dissipates. But here’s the thing, if every time your brain thinks it’s going to die for absolutely no intelligible reason (Which is basically what anxiety is) you run from that situation, your brain is going to think that it was right to be worried. If, however, you are able to stay in that situation and prove to your brain that there is nothing to be scared of, your anxiety levels will go down with time, because your brain learns that there is nothing to fear. #science #reversepsychology

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When I shared this advice with this mother, however, the words that came out of her mouth were ” You don’t understand though, her anxiety is BAD! It’s nothing like yours, you can control yours, she CAN’T!”

Wow. That hurts my heart. Not for the reasons you might think though. I’m not hurt because she’s saying that I don’t understand her daughters anxiety; she’s right, all anxiety is different and it’s experienced vastly differently by each person. I’m also not upset that she thinks my anxiety is under control; I’ve given her no reason to suspect otherwise, and she’s right, most of the time my anxiety is under control now.

No, I’m upset because she is crippling her daughter on the basis of what she sees another person doing. Let me explain.

By comparing her daughter’s experience as a 13 year old, just learning that she HAS anxiety, let alone how to cope with it, to someone who has been in therapy for 12 years, she is virtually writing off any success her daughter IS making because it’s not on par with how I live MY life.

I have spent YEARS going to therapists. Not to the same one… I think in total I have seen 7 therapists, but 12 years is a long time. Let’s compare shall we? That 13 year old Girl has literally only been ALIVE one year more than I’ve been in therapy. Not only have I frequently seen a therapist once a week for 12 years, but I have done TONS of work outside of therapy, things like reading books, journaling, meditating, reading more books, exposure therapy, having panic attacks in bathrooms on planes, reading even more books, doing more journalling, researching the newest tools, buying the newest tools and having them not work, reading more books… you get the idea. I have been EXTREMELY proactive about helping myself, and learning as much as I can about my brain and how it works. I’ve had to become incredibly self-aware, I’ve learned to stand up for myself when something is too much, but I’ve also learned that the only way to conquer a fear is often just to do the thing that scares you so many times that it doesn’t scare you anymore.

By comparing yourself or someone else to me, and what my life looks like now, you completely sell yourself or that person short because what you can’t see is all the work that went into BECOMING the person I am today.

To that end, let’s take a trip back in time shall we? WHHEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE!! (imagine swirling around and around in a TIME VORTEX!!!!)

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Okay, that’s much cooler in movies, but I digress.

When I was 6 years old, I started having panic attacks. The teachers called it extreme separation anxiety, but we really didn’t understand what was going on. My mom had to volunteer almost all day. every day, at the school until 5th grade. It was A LOT. I couldn’t do sleepovers at friends houses because the panic attacks would come at night. I couldn’t go anywhere without my mom because I might have one, but even if my mom was there I still had them. We started going to doctors because we didn’t know what else to do and this issue was getting worse. Fast forward through LOTS of medical testing, I even swallowed that green goo that makes you light up like a christmas tree on the inside, because the doctors thought I might have some GI issue- (My panic attacks masquerade as a stomach bug or food poisoning or both,) and we were getting desperate.

I was back in my pediatricians office, at 15, still very confused and still with no answers. Why after lunch every day did I feel like I was going to die and would go to the school bathroom to cry for 10 minutes? Why did my heart race like it was going to explode? Why did I have inexplicable stomach issues at all times of the day and night, no matter what they cut from my diet or even if I didn’t eat at all. My doctor was looking over my extensive chart, and all of a sudden it was like a light bulb came on and he asked the question that forever changed my life “What does it feel like inside your body right before all of these things happen? Is there one feeling that always comes before all of this?” My answer was something like “Well yeah, my heart races, my head spins, and I feel super scared that it’s going to happen again.” That was the beginning of the answers for me, and it has been a very long road.

So back to my original point: When you compare your or your child’s mental health journey with mine, you are sabotaging yourself or your child right up front. It’s simply not fair. If you were learning to play tennis, would you compare yourself to Serena Williams? Of course not! (Not that I’m any mental health Serena Williams, but you get the point.) You would look at that Queen, say “Wow! She’s so good!” and then you would keep on practicing your own tennis game. Of course, you’re going to get frustrated sometimes, but really, even Serena can’t hit the ball in just the way you can and you can never hit like her. You’re different people for heaven sakes! And that’s my point.

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We are all in different levels, places, and spaces in our mental health journey. Why do we feel the need to compare? When you compare your child’s successes to mine, OF COURSE they won’t measure up, and they aren’t supposed to because they aren’t me. They are learning how to cope with their anxiety and live in their world. The best thing you can do is to provide them the tools they need to grow and learn. I’ll also do a separate post about learning to lean into your anxiety instead of running away from it, but the basic motto is this: Exposure therapy works. Don’t give your child excuses for why they can’t do something with anxiety, instead, give them the tools they need to be successful in whatever environment they are required to be in.

I guess, in the end, what I want people to know is this: Be patient with the journey that your loved ones with mental health issues are on. If you’re raising kids with anxiety, don’t coddle them, but do get them the help that they need. Don’t stop at “Good Enough,” because your children should be allowed to flourish, and sometimes, part of that is letting them experience the discomfort of training their brain.

See my next post for tips on how to train your brain to tolerate situations that make you anxious!

Cheers!

Kyra

*Artwork from Canva.com*

Celebrating Success

Celebrating Success

Hi All, I hope you’re enjoying your weekend, and that you’re getting the rest you need and deserve. This morning I want to write to you about Celebrating your Successes, and recognizing success when you see it. This is something I still struggle with and have been trying to be better about this year, and I hope you will join me in being mindful of your small successes!

When I first began my anxiety journey in high school, I didn’t really know what to do with myself. The whole world seemed SO scary that I couldn’t wrap my mind around anything but my fear. I was scared of going to school, I was scared of being home, and I was scared of my friends. I couldn’t understand that there would be a time when I would be able to do anything except cater to exactly what my anxiety wanted me to do.  However, one of the first things I learned to do in counseling was to celebrate when I had done something I previously couldn’t do. It has been a hard road, but here are some things I have learned about celebrating success.

First, I set my goals low to start. If I’m planning on doing something that scares me, I start with just the basic, bare minimum. For example, before the move to Tennessee, I was paralyzed with fear. For a long time as we prepared to move, I counted my day a success if I packed 1 box. Just one. Think about that for a minute; 24 hours, with all the things you own in your home, and moving in 4 months across the country, and yet my “Success” was packing a single box. It doesn’t seem like much to celebrate, but the fact is, I was still doing SOMETHING productive. And I celebrated each box that I packed. Before the day of the move, I decided that on that day, I would be proud of myself if I simply got into the moving truck. I could break down the instant I closed the door, and I could cry and scream and freak out the whole first day, but as long as I got into the truck and shut the door, I would count the day as a success. By celebrating small victories like this, I encouraged myself to keep trying.

The next step after you have met your low goals for awhile, is to up the ante a bit. Give yourself a slightly high goal to achieve. An example of this is staying the night at a friends. First, I would set my goal to just stay the night, no matter what. I could have a panic attack, freak out, throw up, or all of the above, but as long as I stayed until daylight, it was a success. Next, I would set a goal to stay the night, and also get (Insert number of hours) of sleep. It could be 1 hour, 3, or 10, depending on how I felt, but I would set that number and as long as I met those two requirements, I would count it as a success.

So what’s the point? I mean, this seems pretty silly right? Isn’t the point to stop yourself from having panic attacks or anxiety? The answer is yes, this IS silly, and yes, the point is to stop yourself from having panic attacks, but guess what? Rome wasn’t built in a day, and if it’s taken 276 years to build Rome (Yes, I googled that thank you very much) then you’re not going to beat your anxiety in one day, sorry. Anyone who says differently is selling something. The point is, that you give yourself evidence that you can be successful. If you keep setting goals too high and failing, you will begin to feel that it is hopeless to try. But it’s not, you’re just shooting too big too fast.

Another important step for beating my anxiety is creating bundles of evidence. I know, what the heck does she mean “Bundles of Evidence.” Well, what do detectives do when they are trying to prove that someone is guilty? They create folders and folders of evidence to support their theory. I do the same thing. Whenever I start feeling anxious about something I start looking for evidence to support what I’m feeling. You do this too, you just don’t know it. “The last time I went to a party, I had a panic attack, so I’ll for sure have one this time!” “The last time I went to a counselor, they wanted to put me on medication, so I’m sure this one will too!” We do it every day! But the counter-curse (yes, I used a Harry Potter Reference) is equally as easy. You just have to build a pile of evidence to support your success! For example “The last time I had a panic attack at a party, I had drank too much alcohol. This time, I won’t do that, so I will be okay.” or even better “The last time I was on a plane, I DIDN’T have a Panic Attack, so I won’t have one this time.” That’s why celebrating successes are so important. Knowing that you had a successful flight, or meeting, or party last time, is evidence in your folder for why you can do something again. If you didn’t celebrate what you accomplished before, you won’t have any evidence to help you the next time.

Another way celebrating success has helped me is with my depression. I’m a very Type-A personality. I am WAY too hard on myself, or so my husband tells me on a daily basis. So often my depression hits me by telling me all of the things I didn’t get done, how everyone else is doing better at everyTHING else than I am, and that I shouldn’t even try, because it’s never going to amount to anything, (I’M never going to amount to anything) anyway. But, what my depression doesn’t know is that I have a secret weapon that I can use in advance to stop it in it’s tracks. When I celebrate my small successes, it gives me an arsenal of things I can look at that show me examples of when I DID get it right, or when I DID succeed at something I wanted to do! When depression sneaks up behind me and tries to ruin my day, I just slip in all the things that I’m doing well at, and it becomes a little easier to turn out the negative voices in my head and listen to experience instead!

So, before your next big thing, whatever it is that brings anxiety or depression to the forefront of your mind, make a list of all the successes you have made, and CELEBRATE THEM! Take yourself out to frozen yogurt, watch that movie you’ve been meaning to see, snuggle with your dog on the couch instead of writing that email. It’s okay to take time to celebrate the little things you do everyday. Because if you’re living with anxiety, depression, or any other type of mental illness just know, YOU’RE SUPERMAN/WOMAN and you’re going to do great things!

Let me know in the comments what you are doing to celebrate. I want to hear all about your successes! And know that I’m always here to reach out to if you need it!

Blessings,

Kyra

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There’s a Hole in my Bucket!

There’s a Hole in my Bucket!

Hi there! First, I want to apologize for not writing for so long. It’s been a very crazy couple of weeks, but the good news is, soon there should be a very set schedule to my days, and I will be able to find more time to write.

Today, I want to talk about two things that actually go hand in hand. I want to talk about why having anxiety and depression is so exhausting, and what the difference is between having a panic or anxiety disorder, and having a moment of panic or anxiety. These seem to be two of the hardest things for people who don’t have these disorders to understand, and they actually are pretty interrelated. So let’s dive in, shall we?

The moment that spurred this topic happened a few weeks ago, during my Real Estate Class. When I’m in a class, I always tell the instructor about my panic disorder, and explain which things I have to do differently to be successful, and why. As I was explaining this, someone said “Oh I know how that is, I was panicking today because I thought traffic was going to make me late for class!”

SIDE NOTE: First of all, a big part of becoming okay with my disorder has been learning to forgive people for not understanding it. It’s not their fault that they haven’t necessarily experienced what I go through, and I can’t expect them to fully understand something they don’t live with. I wouldn’t expect people to fully understand all the inner workings and tricks of driving my car if they’ve never driven my car before right? Same concept. So what I usually do is just nod and smile with them, because calling them out for not understanding something in front of everyone isn’t a kind thing to do. It could make them feel embarrassed, which would only feed the stigma of “Don’t talk about mental health” (because someone will jump down your throat if you do.) If the moment presents itself later to have a conversation with that person one on one, I will let them know a little more about my disorder and maybe ask them if they experience anything similar. It could even be that they actually DO have a panic disorder, and just didn’t want to say so in front of everyone. You don’t know what fears and insecurities drive people until you get to know them, so I always try to air on the side of being kind and understanding.

This comment got me thinking, and I realized that something many people don’t understand (because they often can’t see it) is that these disorders are more than just moments of panic. So I decided then and there to write this blog.

The thing that makes anxiety and depression so exhausting is that you never quit fighting it.( I assume this is true for a lot of the other mental health disorders, but I can’t know for sure… leave me a comment and let me know if you deal with this too.) From the moment I wake up in the morning, until I finally lose consciousness at night, every thought I have, every decision I make, every thing I decided to do or not do, every phone call, text, email, every food or drink I consume, is about anxiety in some way. When I wake up, the first thing that happens is my depression suggests that I just stay in bed because nothing I will do today will matter in the long run. (And people ask why I hate mornings. haha) Usually this means that I lay in bed, and watch inspirational videos on a channel I like on youtube, I’ll put it here, if you’re interested, until I get motivated enough to get up. Once I’m up, I head out to the kitchen, for my morning tea. About two years ago I gave up coffee. Caffeine is really bad for anxiety, and once I quit drinking it, I felt more in control than I had in a long time. So I stick with herbal tea, even on the mornings when I only got 4 hours of sleep, because the caffeine just isn’t worth the panic attack later in the day. Next I usually have oatmeal or fruit for breakfast, because those are two proven foods that keep me full but don’t make me feel sick in the morning. Hunger and anxiety are an interesting pair, I can’t be too full, because the full feeling makes me feel a little sick and I’ll have an attack, but I can’t be too hungry either, or I’ll start feeling faint which will lead to an attack. Next I take my shower and get ready for the day. I listen to really upbeat music on Pandora in the morning and try to memorize all the songs, because it keeps me from thinking too hard about my day and keeps my depression from finding a way to convince me to just get back in bed because the day will be too hard. As I get ready, I usually try on three to four different outfits and decide on the one that BEST fits my day, based on who I will see, what activity I’m doing, if the people I see will think less or more of me depending on the way I dress, and I spend a lot of time obsessing over the fact that “I shouldn’t care what people think of me, and I should just be happy with myself,” but all the while battling the anxiety building inside me that I’m not good enough, or pretty enough, or stylish enough. This type of thinking goes on throughout my day, and underneath all of these decisions, and texts, and distractions, and good, non-anxiety producing choices, the anxiety is still there.

Anxiety never goes away. It’s always there, dictating what I should or should not do, showing me all the possible ways that something can go wrong, making me hypersensitive to the world around me. I see the cracks in the sidewalk from my window and wonder if an earthquake hit, would they get bigger. I see the rain forming puddles outside and hope that if it floods our apartment won’t be drowned. I see the dog do something weird and spend the next 30 minutes watching him to make sure he’s not sick. It’s constant. Which brings me to; “What is the difference between this, and a moment of Panic?”

I want you to imagine something for me. Imagine you’re at the Grand Canyon with your family. You look up and you see a child, (your child, or someone elses, either way) walking along the edge of a cliff, giggling, and not knowing the danger. Then, their foot slips. There’s no way to get to them in time if they fall, but your body spurs you into action anyway, and you fly over to them and barely snatch them away from the fall, hold them close, and know they are safe. Now, remember the sheer dread you felt when you saw their foot slip? That is the feeling I have underneath every other emotion I feel, and it is there All. The. Time. There is no moment of relief following a moment of panic. It’s like the child in this scenario is forever frozen mid-fall and you are forever frozen two inches away from grabbing them. It’s always there, and most of the time, it’s completely invisible, because I have learned through the years how to hide it, and how to deal with it. I have learned how to live my life, without letting the panic, and fear, and dread take over. And the only time you see it, is when it breaks through and I have a panic attack.

That’s the difference between “I panicked because I thought I was going to be late” and “I have a panic disorder.” The “Disorder” part means that my panic button is stuck down, and no amount of prying can get it unstuck.

So you can see, then, why people who suffer from these disorders are tired all the time.  I fight all day long, every day, even though you can’t see it, the battle is raging. It’s a constant battle, and in order to live a fulfilling life, I have to win more battles than I lose. When I lose a battle, we get to have a Panic Attack, which I would like to avoid at all costs.

My therapist and I recently came up with a great analogy for this, and I’ve used it as the title to this blog. Pretend that everyone has a bucket. And each night as we sleep, our bucket gets refilled with water. Mentally healthy people have a good solid, stainless steel bucket. People with mental illness have a great bucket too, but in the bottom of their bucket they have a hole called, in my case, anxiety. Some days the hole is small, and some days it’s big, but there’s always a hole. Now, as we all go through our days, during each exchange we make, each text we send, every meeting we go to, we pour a little water out of our bucket. At the end of the day, we need sleep to replenish the water, because our bucket is now empty. But for those of us with a hole in our bucket, our water level goes down much faster, because we lose some water during the whole day through the hole. Now depending on how big the hole is that day, we could lose all the water in our bucket in the first two hours we are awake. Which means we go the rest of our day, with no water to pour out in other exchanges.

If we think about the water in these buckets as emotional energy, we can see very clearly that those with a hole in their bucket are going to get tired much faster than those without a hole. If we are conscious of the holes in other peoples buckets we can be more understanding of them, and help them to refill their bucket. You can ask them what they might need to recharge, and then help them do it if you can. You can offer to let them skip the meeting and have it tomorrow, or you can say “Hey, why don’t we stay in tonight, and we can go out to the bar next Friday.” You may be surprised at how grateful we are for those little things.

For those of you who have holes in your buckets, it’s OKAY! It’s not your fault that you have a hole in it, and while there are things you can do to make the hole smaller, like therapy, making good food and drink choices, staying away from drugs, etc, it may never completely go away. Find people who are accepting of your limited energy and who help refill your bucket, and don’t worry about people who don’t.

Do you (or someone you know) have a hole in your bucket? What are some of your ways of coping? Do you want to know more about how my anxiety affects my day? Comment below!

Cheers!

Kyra

Watering Can