It was a simple email.
“He won’t be coming back and finishing the camp.”
The response email from the camp was, “Why?” But I just couldn’t bring myself to write the word I loathe.
I feel like everyone these days has anxiety. What does anxiety even mean?!
Don’t we all have anxiety?
I do, but I just “soldier” on and get it done.
This thinking of, “Just do it, you’ll be fine, or just soldier on” is a scary phrase for someone who just can’t.
But why can’t you? What’s the matter? What are you afraid of? I know you can do it! I’ve seen it! Why can’t you just do it?
I love answers, I love solving problems.
But after 10 years I still don’t have answers.
I have observations.
I see an extremely talented child who is beautiful, caring, smart, funny, extremely compassionate, and empathetic.
This same child is paralyzed at the thought of trying new things.
This child is overwhelmed at transition.
This child is overwhelmed at the fear of failing and not being the best.
He’s so overwhelmed he shuts down. He puts in zero effort and he looks like a lazy kid.
He’s not lazy. He has anxiety.
When he was younger, shutting down came in the form of tantrums, wild, sometimes violent temper tantrums.
Now that he’s matured, the self awareness of others watching has shifted his behaviour from tantrums to half ass attempts, excuses, usually minimal effort, sick stomachs and a lot of tears.
Inside you are screaming: I KNOW YOU CAN DO THIS!! YOU’RE NOT EVEN TRYING!
You try discipline, and consequences, but it only adds fuel to the fire. If he didn’t think he couldn’t before, he definitely doesn’t think he can now, because you’re punishing him for something he cannot control.
He needs confidence, if he would just try he would see how great he is.
But he doesn’t.
And it is the most frustrating and painful thing to watch.
He needs time.
He needs space.
This kid needs the most delicate balance of encouragement and space.
He needs a nudge to try it.
But sometimes he’s just not ready.
But he will be.
He needs to watch.
He needs to assess.
He needs to feel comfortable with the people he’s with.
This kid needs what so many of us can’t give: Time and patience.
We live in such a rushed society. We are constantly saying, “Hurry up, we’re gonna be late! Hurry we gotta go! Hurry up we gotta get this done!”
Everything is a rush, and that is kryptonite to a kid with anxiety.
Our society is more rushed and it appears the diagnosis of anxiety is increasing. I don’t think these two things are exclusive.
I’m not a doctor, and I don’t have anxiety that impacts my ability to function.
I’m a mom who’s raising a child that looks and acts “normal” (most of the time), but I see the burden he carries, and I wouldn’t wish it on anyone, especially a child.
So what’s my answer to help him and myself? I don’t have answers, but I have observations of what helps.
- Time. Give this kid time, lots of extra time. Think like a Grandparent. Have you ever seen how patient a grandparent is while their grandchild struggles to zip up a coat, do up a seat belt, or tie a shoe? Be more like that.
- Advocate for these kids. They can’t “just do it” that may work for many kids, but it does not work for this kid, and every adult, instructor and educator in this child’s life needs to have clear communication on this.
- This is the hardest one: Don’t worry about what other people (especially strangers) think. From an outsider’s perspective this child looks perfectly fine. He’s just being lazy and needs a good swift kick in the ass. No he doesn’t.
If we could all see people’s brains, life would be so much easier.
So back to the beginning of this blog and an important message I’ve learned.
When I wrote to a camp to tell them my child wouldn’t be back, I was shocked at how hard it was for me to admit why.
I never expected to get so emotional. I wasn’t applying rule #3. I cared what they would think. I was worried the organizers would think we were just quitting, that we as parents were letting him quit.
He so desperately wanted to do it but he couldn’t. The next morning after the first day he wouldn’t budge from bed, his eyes were swollen from the many tears he shed the night and day before. I asked my husband, who understands anxiety much better than I do, “Are we helping him by sending him or are we hurting him?”
My husband looked at me and said, “Michelle, it’s torture for him, he’s not ready. I was forced to do stuff and it didn’t help me, it tortured me. He’ll do it when he’s ready.”
After finally explaining the situation to the camp, I received this response (excerpt):
Hey Michelle. Hope you’re well and yes I was able to talk with him briefly yesterday and saw the anxiety he exhibited. I completely have a heart for all this. It is becoming more common in society now that it is being spoken about and not covered up. He is a great kid.
That line “becoming more common in society now that it is being spoken about and not covered up” just made my tears flow. I am a huge advocate for mental health. I am the first to help someone who is struggling, but when it is your kid, it is really hard to share. We do need to talk about it, we do need to share. It’s not weird, it’s common! The more people that understand the more people can help and be kind.
Thank you to this camp (it was CHE Hockey for the record, I think they deserve a shout out) for showing compassion. Just because you can’t see the physical struggle doesn’t mean there isn’t one. Let’s make mentally healthy adults by advocating for our children who need all the help they can get in managing their anxiety.
*For resources on helpful tips on managing and coping with anxiety in kids, this is a helpful article or please feel free to share helpful comments for others to share.