My chest is tight.
I am screaming out loud to a room full of people, and no one is listening.
My eyes are wet with tears. I am crying out for help. I am getting nothing from the people surrounding me. No response. No sign of help.
My vision is blurring. I am desperately searching for a focus point, but I am having trouble finding one. Fight or Flight is kicking in. Flight is going to win. Flight always wins. I have to get out of here.
This is a panic attack from the inside. These are the feelings that take over my body. I lose control. Everything I had been working so hard toward slips away from me. I am no longer in control of me.
It is terrifying.
I was humbled to be invited to be a speaker on the panel at Norwalk High School’s showing of Angst, a film that explores anxiety, its causes, and its effects. I was asked to provide a description of my reactions to the film, as well as invited to answer questions from the crowd.
Someone in the crowd asked a question that went something like this:
what advice would you give parents with children who are battling an anxiety disorder?
My immediate thoughts came together and I responded with my go-to response, which is generally the following: Parents who are looking to help their children fight the good fight, I would encourage you to explore all options before deciding to medicate your child. I understand that when a doctor you trust tells you to put your child on any kind of medication, you listen to them. You want the best for your children. Who wouldn’t?
I stand by this. As an adult who was medicated as a child and is now dealing with the lifelong consequences of a decision that wasn’t mine in the first place, I want parents to be able to find the information that they need and the skills that they need to be able to provide the best care and support for their children.
As I was thinking about this question after the discussion was over (and for most of today, because, you know… anxiety), I would like to add more to my answer.
Parents, I encourage you to talk to your children. Speak to them with a real voice, and speak to them with intent to listen. And then listen, really REALLY listen to what your child has to say to you. Encourage your child to speak his or her mind. Make “talking about your feelings” a regular topic of conversation. (“How is your noggin doing today?” is a good way to get started if you are stuck. Thanks for that, Matthew.)
As an adult living with an anxiety disorder, I have mastered the art of wearing different costumes in different situations. I wear several costumes- including (but not limited to): Miss Tangredi-teacher of fifth graders, Olivia the Ballerina-fearless while dancing, Sunny’s Mom-the hired help assigned to feeding my cat…. the list goes on and on.
These costumes are my protective gear. My armor. They are what I wrap myself in to protect myself from harm that the outside world brings. I imagine most children living with an anxiety disorder have their own costumes that they wear. As children, we are not taught how to use language to describe the anxiety disorder we are living with. Most of us don’t even realize there is a problem. For a long time, I thought everyone was terrified of elevators. Why wouldn’t they be?
Encourage your children to build their own armor. Help them build it. Learn and teach them coping skills. Teach them to ask for help when they need it. Create an environment that makes your child feel safe. Ask them questions that make them feel valuable and important. Make sure your child knows that their feelings are valid- that THEY are valid.