When our oldest was about 3, we discovered that our son was suffering with anxiety. When it first started happening, we really didn’t know what it was, or what was going on.
Our oldest was born a super bright baby with his eyes wide open. He wasn’t much of a sleeper and was pretty colicky. From about 3 months old he loved to look at books – he was always so aware of his surroundings. When he was about 6 months and able to open books on his own, he loved looking through books and reading every single day. He really was super smart and very observant. For the most part, he grew into this very sweet, fun-loving, laughable happy child – he really has the best laugh.
We first noticed it the summer he was 3, we had gone away for an ocean vacation and when we returned I had placed him in swim lessons at the YMCA. Even with having our own pool he was hesitant to learn to swim on his own, or go under the water. My husband never learning to swim, which didn’t help at all and I feel that was the cause – but his Mother was terrified so the fear was passed on. So, this week after this wonderful vacation where we all stayed comfortably together in one room was over, and we attended swim lessons. This instructor proceeded to dunk him under the water as he jumped to her and she was pretty aggressive. I cannot begin to tell you how my heart sank after that…. The very next day he cried the ENTIRE day – begging us to go back on vacation. Our normally-happy little boy couldn’t even distract himself with playing. He was so stuck on how scared he felt the previous day, he was in despair. This never happened to me before and my Mother had never seen a child act this way, so we were all up in arms. He kept crying to go back on vacation and he couldn’t understand why we couldn’t and how he loved us all staying in 1 bedroom. When I say he cried the ENTIRE day I mean the ENTIRE DAY! My poor sweet baby cried until he eventually fell asleep in his bed. Luckily the next day, thankfully, he did better.
I should have noticed this during the Spring and all the lose poops was from being nervous… but I had no idea.
There was a time during that same summer where we rented a “clay-mation” DVD from the library, I think it may have been called Shawn the Sheep? Anyway, something in this DVD terrified him to the point where we shut it off and he became hysterical, unable to play or focus on something else. It usually was always something visual that would bring on panic attacks.
Then, in late August I realized he was almost 3 and a half, so it was time to potty train. Mike wanted no part of it, but I thought he should start preschool for socializing and I wanted him potty-trained for it. He mastered urinating in the toilet right away, but the pooping part took about a month and a half – to about 2 months, I want to say. During this time, I started him in a preschool where he didn’t have a good experience and I had to pull him out because I wasn’t happy with the way the teacher treated him and the children there. I made the mistake of trying to switch him instantly into another school and on his first day there he pooped in his pants at school, leading to a weekend full of anxiety about returning to school. So I pulled him out and figured I would just have him attend another preschool after he turned 4 years old.
During the years, he would be extremely nervous about traveling places or trying new things – sometimes suffering from the runs from his nervous stomach. It never stopped him from making friends thank goodness, because friends seem to help so much.
In trying to make this long story short, through the years certain things would set him off – and normally it would be something visual – for instance trying to walk into any loud, dark room that he had never entered before. One day my Mother and I tried to take the kids to the Circus which happened to be at our fair that year, and as we walked inside the tent to find a seat, it was extremely dark with flashing lights and the entire atmosphere cause him to have a panic attack. He was crawling up my Mother, screaming and crying. An elderly couple seating behind us tried to help – but once he is in panic mode, there is nothing that can get through.
Another one of many experiences, was the first time we brought the kids to Disney World, when he had just turned 5 and our youngest was still only 2 years old – anything that had any type of 4-D special effects would set him into panic mode, and it would cause his brother to become scared. To see that was so disheartening to my husband and I since we are both huge Disney lovers. We couldn’t believe he could go sit on a roller coast but was terrified and screamed through Mickey’s Philharmagic! Its been a few years and to this day, it is a fight to get him into any attraction that is 4-D and he isn’t thrilled over 3-D either – but at least we aren’t experiencing panic attacks over this sort of stuff anymore.
When our eldest entered 1st grade, is when it escalated to a point where we had never seen it go before. (What we didn’t know then and what we know now: apparently there was a child in his class that had a severe behavior disorder, and a teacher who was known as a “screamer” who was retiring, and pretty much “done” with teaching.)
First, during Thanksgiving of his 1st grade year, he had a panic attack over a dog – which scared him to death of dogs for about 2 years. (I think this was some sort of warning / foreshadowing of what was going to come.) We spent the entire Thanksgiving weekend trying to console him because the anxiety stayed strong the entire time. We didn’t even get to stay at the family member’s home for Thanksgiving dinner because he was too terrified to go inside the house. That year on New Year’s Eve, we were invited to a friends house to celebrate who happened to have a dog. Mike spent the entire evening on top of the back of a chair leaning against the wall, scared to death of the dog. There was no amount of talking that would get through to him.
Right before Christmas he would come home after school and tell me how his teacher would yell all day and the child with the behavior issues would get into trouble. I should have switched his class right then and there – if I had known what was about to come. One afternoon in February, he threw up on his desk at school, from spiking a fever which I think ended up being strep-throat. (Every time he got sick his anxiety would spike, and it still stays true to this day.) After that is when it just got so bad… he couldn’t handle going to school anymore. He would come home from school, be ok for about a half hour and then go into panic-mode – pacing the floors, crying that he doesn’t want to go to school. He couldn’t barely eat dinner and stopped eating his favorite dessert. The mornings became unbearable, where he would vomit several times, crying HYSTERICALLY, unable to reason with him, while he would pace the floors while I tried to make lunches and get his brother to eat. When we would arrive at school, teachers there and the guidance counselor, sometimes the principal, would come out and have to pull him forcing him to go inside. It was heart wrenching leaving him there that way! When I would reach out to his teacher, she would constantly insist he was fine. Day after day we would go through this same horrifying routine and let me say – it would linger into the weekends. His 7th birthday that year, he wanted to go to the Lego Discovery Center and I remember him there telling me his “tummy hurt” the whole time we having fun, the ride there and ride home. When he would tell me his tummy hurt, you could see on his face he was becoming nervous, and his palms would be sweaty. Anytime he thought about school, it was miserable.
Since his pediatrician knew of his past and knew him well, I had them involved the entire time trying to help me out. We tested him for EVERYTHING thinking that maybe it was Lyme, or the flu, or maybe his “tummy hurting” was a parasite that he picked up at the lake. But he was negative for everything. We eventually started having him see his school guidance counselor and she was so nice in trying to help. We also started paying out of pocket for a Child Therapist to see if we could figure out what was really wrong or what was really going on – since our insurance did not cover mental health. We really weren’t sure if it was the teacher or if something happened to him inside of school. I started having a Yoga teacher come to the house and started researching on everything that we could possibly do to help him…. as a parent it is so hard to watch your child suffer and be so unhappy.
Finally, over that summer, after school was out, he was able to start to recover. He started to bounce back to that happy, fun little boy that he was prior to this awful year. From that point on, I would make sure that he would NEVER have a teacher that screamed at children again, and that every teacher would be aware of what he struggled with. He started 2nd grade with a wonderful teacher and what a wonderful year he had!
Any trips we took that Spring and Summer would have him throwing up with anxiety on the way there, and he would be throwing up with panic usually the day before we were due to come home.
That Spring, we had pulled them out of school for 8 days to go down to Disney. That was one of the best things we did that year. We all had such a good time and us being together – he was able to be free and happy! But the day before we were due to return home, he was throwing up in the morning worried about having to travel home the next day. It took a few hours but then we were able to get out and enjoy our last day at Hollywood Studios.
Ever since this year, when we are due to take a long exciting day trip, or leaving for a vacation he will throw up en-route, and sometimes in the middle of vacation he will get nervous and usually throw up just thinking about returning home. This past August, in the middle of our vacation, when it got close to returning home and it was only 2 weeks away from starting school he had an anxiety attack one morning on our way to Epcot. Sometimes you just want to be “normal” and go have fun going about your day, and you have to pull back and just deal with whats going on, without being mad or upset and try to help him out as much as we can – that can be hard. I remember our waiter at breakfast that morning at the Garden Grill felt so bad for us that he gave us Fast Passes to see Turtle Talk with Crush.
I am sharing this with you today, because if this is happening to your family, you aren’t alone. It isn’t embarrassing – it is a disorder and communicating can help so much! Communicate with your family members, doctors and school staff. And it DOES get better! Yes, it gets better! It has gotten better for us with age and a lot of time and love and devotion!
In my next article I’m going to talk about some of the things we learned along the way that have helped out tremendously with our son’s anxiety concerns and what really worked for us.