Getting Help for my Child with Anxiety

Getting Help for my Child with Anxiety

When I made the decision to start blogging, I had every intention of sharing the aspects of wellness that applied to my whole family- including my children. As time goes by, I find myself saving posts about the kids as drafts, unable to publish them. We all have our fair share of obstacles. We are working individually and as a family to be our best version of ourselves, and most of the time I think sharing our stories would help the masses. On the other hand, my children ARE children. They are learning every day, but also make mistakes every day. It’s hard to balance respecting their privacy while sharing their progress. When something is posted on the internet, it’s there forever. Even if it’s taken down or deleted, someone, somewhere, is able to find the deeply hidden shadow of the original post. The last thing I want to do is embarrass them or write something that I later regret sharing. In the current age of cyber bullying there is a risk that their classmates and peers may get a hold of my posts, and use them as ammunition to torture the kids. With that being said, our family is finally ready to move forward and be more open. We plan to choose our words carefully, and all be active in the writing process. Don’t be surprised if we blog about things that have happened long ago. I’m going to give the kids as much time as they need to re-read, and reprocess. We are a family and a team. We are in this together, and I’m not posting anything without their approval.

As a parent, it can be extremely difficult to identify issues or struggles in your child. It’s even more difficult to accept help. For a long time, I wore my rose colored glasses and chalked issues up to “kids being kids.” Going way back to 2013, Jacen first started showing signs that something was ‘off.’ He was melting down on a regular basis, afraid to go new places or try new things. We once took him to the Mystic Aquarium in Connecticut, and missed half of the park because he refused to walk into one of the dimly lit buildings. We tried to explain that it was only dark by the door, and would get lighter inside. No dice. He absolutely refused, even lying on the floor and clawing at the carpet. If we tried to carry him in, he would grab on to anything he could- walls, door frames, other people- anything to get traction and stop us. We tried to get him to talk to us about how he was feeling, or what was scaring him, but all he could muster was a frustrated, “I don’t know!” Finally it got to the point where I could see that this was no longer normal fear of a three year old child. There was absolute, extreme terror in his eyes. It was interfering with his life and social progress. My heart broke for him. I just wanted to make things better. I wanted him to be able to participate in more, and be open to new experiences. I just didn’t know where to start.

We tried to handle this behavior on our own for far too long. We tried exposure therapy, bringing him new places on a regular basis to try and get him to be more comfortable with new experiences. He started dreading things ahead of time, making the days even longer and more painful. We tried just picking him up, and carrying him into scary places to “bite the bullet.” We hoped that once he got through the worst part, he would calm down and enjoy himself. He started questioning his trust and safety with us. Sometimes we got angry. I’m embarrassed to admit that more than once I had yelled at him to “get over it” or exploded over the money I had wasted on admission, only to not enjoy our experience. My anger made him feel ashamed of his own emotions, and he started turning to other people for comfort. My husband and I were failing him, and he ran to Nana or Auntie whenever he could.

I’m so lucky that Jacen has people in his life that love him. He will always have a special relationship with his Auntie.

My heart broke. He was the most important person to me, and he felt like he couldn’t trust me. I wasn’t able to comfort him or make him feel safe. I was failing him as a mother. The old “buck up and be a man” method was not working, and I could see the emotional toll it was taking on him. I desperately wanted to fix our relationship. I knew I needed to be his rock, and moving forward relied on BOTH of us getting some professional guidance. I wanted to be close to my son again, and finally welcomed help.

I reluctantly reached out to a therapist. I was still holding back, not wanting to admit how much I had failed my child. It was tough to let an outsider in, but I was definitely interested in having him evaluated. I wanted a professional opinion about what was going on. Were these feelings organic, something chemical like my own mental health? Or, were these issues something I created by my own parenting? Maybe these things were completely age appropriate and normal- maybe they would just tell me he didn’t need intervention, that he would grow out of it. I sucked up my pride, and let the therapist in. It was the best thing I’ve ever done for Jacen.

At first, he passed his evaluation with flying colors. He was friendly, outgoing, and very intelligent for his age. At just four years old, he was asking very grown up questions. He would ask how your day was going, or about things you were looking forward to. He knew how to ask open-ended questions and engage in conversation. They were about to close out his file and send us on our way when his therapist asked to try just one more, unorthodox eval method. The therapist had one of his trusted, vetted interns come by the house. She was a college student on the younger side, and a new person to Jacen. When she first showed up to the house, he was his typical, friendly self. She asked to take him outside to blow bubbles in the yard and he enthusiastically agreed. He was even okay walking up and down the street with her. In familiar places he was welcoming and happy, even borderline flirting with her. He had zero issue with new people. She asked if we could all go to her favorite playground, one Jacen had never been to. The three of us were planning to drive there in her car. Even though I was there with him, he started to get nervous about being in a new car. She didn’t want to push it, so we ended up driving separately. It was the first time his nervousness was seen or documented.

She got to the park before us, and was waiting in the parking lot to greet us when we pulled in. Immediately, Jacen started frantically looking around, clutching his seat belt to his chest. She opened his door, and used a playful, excited voice to try and coax him out of the car. He blocked the safety belt release, and would not let her unbuckle him. His cheeks were bright red and hot. His eyes were darting quickly between the open car door, me, and his seat belt button. He started breathing in quick and shallow, holding the air in his chest without releasing. She tried to back off, to give him space and time to calm down. It was too late. As soon as she stepped back from the car, he fought to pull the door closed. The tears flowed, the yelling started. There was no reasoning with him, and he refused to listen to anything we had to say. We had to turn back and go home, but his anxiety attack was finally documented. It was painful to watch, but also an important step in getting a diagnosis.

The first thing they worked on with Jacen was identifying the way a panic attack felt. I liked that they didn’t put words in his mouth. They asked him to describe what he felt in those moments. He didn’t use the words anxious or panicked. In four year old terminology, he described feeling “nervous” and “scared.” Those became our go-to words to identify his attacks, and his care felt personal and tailored to Jacen. They asked him to describe how his nervousness physically felt in his body. He described it as “a storm in my belly” and “a balloon in my chest.” We were finally getting some information on where to start, and the break through felt amazing.

Jacen often hyperventilated when he was feeling nervous, sucking in air but not breathing back out. His body tricked his mind into thinking he couldn’t breathe, so he would take in as much oxygen as he could, then try to save it as a reserve in his chest. He needed to learn deep-breathing exercises and self regulation, but those are not easy tools to teach a four year old. Coping techniques have to be learned when the patient is not currently suffering an anxiety attack. The skills are practiced and perfected while calm, so they can be applied correctly in times of panic. It was hard for Jacen to hold interest in learning, or to connect the skills with his ‘nervous feelings’ when he wasn’t currently experiencing them. It felt like he was deflecting therapy, and not absorbing the help.

I was starting to feel frustrated again. The adults were working hard, so why wasn’t he getting better? At the time I didn’t have the insight that I do now. After all of the work my family has put into mental health, the most important thing I have learned is that if therapy is not working, it’s not the right type of therapy for the patient. We had to change it up. If we couldn’t make Jacen fit into the textbook, we had to change the textbook to accommodate Jacen.

He had a habit of rushing through his deep breathing. He didn’t breathe deep enough or slow enough for it to be used as a coping mechanism, and we were not seeing a difference in the hyperventilating. We started making the deep breathing into a game. He held up four fingers (for four years old) and pretended they were birthday candles. He would take as deep of a breath as he could, “blowing out the flame.” When his breath was completely out, he put his finger down and moved to the next candle. At first he thought it was silly, but then began looking forward to it. He even asked if he could make a wish every time all the candles were blown out. It ended up being an unforeseen benefit. The candles were a success, even during the worst panic attacks. After four breaths, he was usually even calm enough to speak. If I asked him what his wish was, he often replied something to the effect of, “I wish it wasn’t so dark in here,” “I wish we could leave,” “I wish I knew what that loud, scary noise was coming from.” His wishes helped us identify the sources of his anxiety, and improved his care. We started being able to zero in on his triggers, working through what we could. He spent about 9 months in therapy. They discharged him in hopes that his new breathing tools and communication skills would be enough to help him grow. They made it clear that the office was always there if we needed to come back, and I could even just call with any questions or concerns. By discharging him, they returned the comfort and coping skills back to us, (as parents) and Jacen started to realize that we were there to help him. Our relationship has strengthened every single day, and we have grown together.

Jacen has witnessed my own anxiety attacks. He now knows how to identify them, and even tries to help me. Just hearing him say, “Mom, try blowing out some candles” can be enough to pull me out of dark thoughts. He will stop and breathe with me. He watches my effort and progress, and I watch his. We motivate each other to work through issues, and have bonded over new therapies. He loves trying different calming methods with me, like Yoga and meditation. We talk about mindfulness, and have rebuilt our trust in each other. We have seen rapid success in his anxiety recovery, and his willingness to try new things. He now knows that I would never put him in danger, and I will always keep him safe. He still loves his Nana and Auntie, but Mama is back to being his number one.

Mental illness can be isolating. It’s easy to feel like no one understands, and hard to forget when your symptom create frustration in the people you love. It can make you feel like a burden. I’ve felt this way myself, and it’s terrible. I never want Jacen to have these thoughts again. I never want him to feel alone. Reaching out and getting help was everything. If we had continued down the path we were on, we may never have recovered from our trust issues. Asking an outsider to intervene can feel like you’re giving up control of the situation to a stranger. In reality, it’s REGAINING control of the situation. It’s recovering in a way that will allow you to move forward. Parenting is fucking hard. It’s okay to not know what you’re doing from time to time. It’s  not okay to ignore problems and let them grow. When you can get help, you can get better. You can all get better, as a family.

Don’t fear intervention. Welcome it, embrace it. We all want the best for our children, so utilize every resource you can to make that happen. Let’s grow together- as a household, as a family, as a community, as a whole. All of us, together.

With healthy hearts,

Kate, AND the Kids! (Finally!)

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Apples and Oranges

Apples and Oranges

More than once I’ve said the phrase, “my parents didn’t give me a sister, so God did.” Just like that, my best friend became family. The rest is well- known history. I’ve always been so thankful for our relationship. Most days I wish she really was my sister; that we’d had each other since birth. Other days I trust that ‘everything happens for a reason,’ and this is exactly how it was meant to be.

One day a group of our friends were laughing about how differently a pair of biological sisters looked in our school. One was really, really attractive. The other.. Had a great personality? We quietly laughed along with them, but as the group dispersed my sister said, “maybe it’s good I didn’t have a biological sister. I would have died if someone told me I was the ugly one.” (Trust me, she wouldn’t be. She’s gorgeous.) Those words never left my brain. At first it was a bit of disappointment that something could take away from our desire to be actual sisters. Eventually it became fear. As I grew to raise my own children I always wondered how they would feel about each other. I never want any of my children to feel like ‘the ugly one.’ I carried a lot of anxiety into parenthood. You can’t control what others will say about your children, so how do you prepare them for the future comparisons?

It took approximately 32 hours into my niece’s life for someone to compare her to my kid. I wouldn’t have ever been hurt by the typical “she’s the most beautiful newborn ever” comment until this girl stopped to specify that “Jacen looked like a grumpy old man” and “Anna was sick.” Yep, now I understand that ugly sibling comment.

I feel the same way when people compare Jacen and Arielle in their intellectual and physical development. He’s a much stronger reader, she’s more athletic. They’re definitely cut from two different types of cloth. When others compare my kids to their face, it might make the stronger kid feel special for a moment or two. After that conversation ends, they end up dwelling on the area where they fell short. They feel inadequate, and those feelings last much longer than one fleeting moment.

My absolute BIGGEST problem is the comparison in metabolism. All three of my kids are built differently, and it’s never okay for someone to point out their body type. The only people who should care about a child’s weight are their doctors, their parents, and themselves.

Rebuilding a hurt child is so much more difficult than preventing damage in the first place. I can only do so much to reverse mean words. Bullying is usually associated with peers at school, but some of the most hurt comes from backhanded comments by adults. It ends up causing resentment between siblings, and turmoil at home.

The comparisons and competition are starting to take a toll on my children. They ask a lot of questions, and I see self confidence issues building. I’ve recently adopted that old algebra term, apples and oranges.

If your compliment builds one person up, and puts someone else down, rethink it. Children should be incomparable, and be able to focus on being their own, personal- best selves. As adults, we need to support those individualities. Each child is unique and different. They all have strengths and weaknesses, and they’re all working on getting better in some area. They’re apples and oranges.

The last thing I want to deal with at home are ‘Marcia and Jan’ complexes. Jacen and Arielle compete enough in social milestones, games, and sports. They don’t need to compete in personal characteristics. Comparative compliments only result in bitterness, and they drive siblings apart.

Let kids be kids. Let them grow and develop on their own. Let them forge healthy relationships where they can celebrate differences instead of competing or conforming. Choose your words wisely, and focus on supporting each child individually. The hurt will linger, and it isn’t healthy. Just be kind.

Kate and the Kids.

Surviving the Flu in a Big Family

Surviving the Flu in a Big Family

IMG_2357Thursday afternoon we got the call- Jacen needed to come home from school, he had a high fever. I’ve been incredibly lucky with Jacen, aside from his Ehler’s-Danlos he almost never gets sick. He’s had antibiotics less than 5 times in his life- not bad for an eight year old! As soon as I got to the school I could tell this was a different kind of sickness for Jacen.

 

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It was a long night, as both Anna and Jacen started showing symptoms. We got an appointment with the doctor the next morning, and got confirmation it was Flu B. (We already had Flu A earlier this season.) Mama grabbed a coffee and buckled up for a rough few days.

 

  1. Tamilflu:

 

IMG_2392The kids were prescribed Tamiflu. After my own swab came back positive in urgent care, they sent some in for me too. I almost had a heart attack when I saw the cost of the medication. Anna’s prescription was just under $80, Jacen’s $145, Mine was $106. I had to take some time and weigh my options. The first thing I had to consider is that Tamiflu does not “cure” the flu- it treats the symptoms and can lessen the impact & duration of the illness. Second, I asked about generic alternatives- turns out these prices WERE the generic, Oseltamivir . IMG_2388There are no prescription strength alternatives that may be cheaper. Third, I had to weigh the family on a case by case basis. I have no chronic illnesses that may become life threatening with the flu- I would be toughing it out without the Tamiflu. Jacen has a genetic condition, and had a procedure done earlier that week- he was a prime candidate for serious illness with the flu. Anna is a previous NICU baby, with a history of breathing issues. Also a high risk patient for complications.  I didn’t have a choice- I took a deep breath and swiped the card. I just had to keep telling myself it was medicine, it was something we needed, and we would figure out another place to cut back this week. The kids got the Tamiflu, I got some extra strength Tylenol.

 

IMG_2394As soon as we got home, I loaded the kids up with Tylenol and their first dose of the Tamiflu. It took about 45 seconds before each child threw the medication right back up. I cried as I cleaned up the vomit, all I could think about was the $250 I had just spent at the pharmacy- all that money and it ended up on my kitchen floor instead of inside my sick kids. I knew I couldn’t afford to let this happen again, so I jumped on Pinterest looking for tips. Unfortunately the medicine has a very strong, bitter taste. It will overpower most liquids it is mixed with. The typical juices are off the table. I found a lot of positive reviews on mixing with coffee creamer, so we gave it a go. My husband picked up a peanut butter cup flavor, and the kids were excited to try it. The creaminess coated the acidity and bitterness of the tamiflu extremely well, and they have not thrown up a single dose since. It’s also been nice that I don’t have to battle with them to take their medicine. They like the taste of the creamer so much that they look forward to it!

 

  1. When I say “Flu” you say “Ids!” FLU-IDS, FLU-IDS, FLUIDS!!!

IMG_2391Having the flu draws a lot of fluid out of your body, (sweat, boogers, vomit, mucus, all that fun stuff that makes you want to gag when you read about it!) and the loss of fluid is for a reason! It’s your body’s way of pushing germs and toxins out of your body, and accelerating healing. It’s important to replace the toxic fluids that exit with clean, nutritious fluids.Drink a ton, I mean as much as you can physically handle! In our home we opt for herbal teas, water and electrolyte replacers like gatorade and pedialyte. When those don’t sound appetizing, we offer sugar free pudding, popsicles, low sugar ice cream, broth, soup and snow cones. Dehydration will only make you feel worse, so do your best to keep drinking!

 

  1. Jello for sore throat

 

This is one of my secret weapons! I learned this trick while working in pediatrics. For a sore throat, make “tea” with a tablespoon of powdered jello mix dissolved into a cup of hot water. (I use sugar free jello and have the same great results.) Drinking the tea will coat the sore parts of your throat and decrease pain. Jello is naturally low calorie and fat free, so it’s a no-guilt way to get some fluids in!

 

  1. Pineapple juice for a cough

 

In the holistic community, it is believed pineapple juice is five times more effective than over the counter cough syrup. Personally, I’ve adopted a joint holistic and western lifestyle. I still treat my children with Tylenol and Tamiflu, but I also believe herbal teas, spices, and juices will expedite healing. Pineapple juice contains a mixture of enzymes called bromelain, which has strong anti-inflammatory properties. The enzymes soothe a sore throat and help break up mucus.

 

  1. Get some rest.

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IMG_2395This week Anna has become the poster child for resting while sick. She has not hesitated to stop, drop and nap whenever she needs it. She has fallen asleep on the floor, while standing up, while sitting in chairs, mid conversation, and mid activity. A girl needs her beauty sleep! Even I slept for about 30 hours within a two day time frame. It’s the best thing for recovery! When you sleep, your body is able to focus its functioning power on healing and fighting illness. It also means you’ll sleep through the most miserable of your symptoms. If you’re sick, sleep. Easier said than done, right? Especially for a mom. Take help when it’s offered. If it’s not offered, ask for help. Don’t be afraid to put the babies in a safe place- like a crib or pack and play- and nap when they nap. As always, remember that you can’t pour from an empty cup, and mom needs to heal and recover too.

 

 

  1. Flu Shots

 

IMG_2262Don’t be confused. Anna contracted both flu A and B this year, and Jacen caught B. We all got flu shots. THIS DOES NOT MEAN FLU SHOTS DO NOT WORK. Flu shots are proven to reduce symptoms and length of illness. They can also be lifesaving for people who have chronic illnesses. Just like with any vaccine, you are not only protecting yourself but those around you. When you choose to get a flu vaccine, you are lessening the impact of the virus for yourself, but also the virus that you may give to others. This is especially important when you are around someone who is chronically ill. Not everyone who is chronically ill appears so, like Jacen and Anna. Both were high risk kiddos, but even our close friends and family may not have realized it. Most of the time sick kids do not look sick. Get your flu shot. Protect yourself, protect others.

 

I am happy to report that we are all on the upswing. I had anticipated that the flu would have us down for much longer, but we have bounced back within just a few days. I hope you and your family are able to avoid the flu this year, but if you do, may it be as minimally painful as possible.

 

With healthy hearts,

Kate and the Kids.

Work it, Girl! – Even when it’s a literal pain in the back.

Work it, Girl! – Even when it’s a literal pain in the back.

Exercise has been a crucial part of my weight loss journey. It was torture to move all 303 pounds of me originally, but I soon became addicted. I loved the feeling of accomplishment after a good cardio session. The more I lost, the more confidence and motivation I acquired- especially when I discovered my first “runner’s high.” For those that haven’t herd this term, it refers to the feelings of euphoria and reduced anxiety after a long and effective aerobic workout.

As I rounded 150 pounds, I looked forward to my daily 3.3 mile walks. I’d pop Anna in the baby carrier and take her right with me. Bonding, euphoria, weight loss- what could go wrong?

..Until the “POP.”

I wasn’t lifting, or twisting, or doing anything unfamiliar. I was just wearing my 9 month old in the baby carried when I herniated a disk in my back. Driving and sitting is excruciating. I was put on a weight lifting ban, and started physical therapy.

It’s been a few months now, and the pain comes and goes. From what I understand, when the disk bulges on the nerve it causes electric pain in my back and leg. When it’s closer to where it’s supposed to be, I have less pain.

The injury has forced me to change my workout routine- but there’s no way in hell I’m giving up. I can’t imagine carrying those extra 153 pounds around ever again. I will not go back.

So what’s plan ‘B?’ I still walk, but I have to use the stroller or wagon for Anna. Unfortunately that means I cant take her on the track with me at the gym. I’m totally digging HIIT workouts at home. I use a free app as a timer. I warm up with 15 minutes of cardio, then lift and and move in intervals with the timer.  I’m careful with lifting, and cross reference with my physical therapist if I’m unsure. For cardio I walk outside with Anna, do step inside, and lots of jumping jacks.

The best thing for my back pain has been yoga. I’ve loved the relaxing aspect of yoga for years, but now that my body is aging I have a new appreciation for the stretching.

This is the routine I’ve found most helpful for back pain:

  1. Child’s pose – best stretch ever, and great for mental grounding.
  2. cat/cow pose – gets disks moving and warms up the surrounding muscles.
  3. downward dog– stretches my back and spine, and often puts enough distance between the vertebrae for my disk to work it’s way back to its painless place.
  4. Windshield wiper– slow stretches for yoga, slow tight sets for an awesome ab workout.
  5. repeat child’s pose
  6. end with shavasana, relax, meditate. Let you back muscles rest for a few moments. enjoy the peacefulness and rest.

 

Yoga and distance cardio (or HIIT) have been my winning combination lately. As with anything, if you’re hurting consult a doctor.

 

Just to bring this all full circle, I’d love to tell you how exercise and yoga affect mood. Endorphins released during physical activity diminish the perception of pain- some say it even mimics morphine. It’s been scientifically proved that activity reduces stress when used as an outlet, decreases anxiety and depression, boosts self- esteem, increases productiveness, and creates opportunity for more restful sleep. It increases your energy to assist with depression and lowers blood pressure to ease anxiety. Physically, it strengthens your heart, improves various muscle tones, and makes you feel fit and healthy.

Whether you’re looking for physical or emotional benefits, exercise is the way to go. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, out of shape, or don’t know where to start- start small. Go for a walk. Stretch. Lift a gallon of milk a few times. Tomorrow, walk longer. Stretch deeper. Do a few more reps with the milk. I promise if you just take one extra step each day, you’ll soon be confident enough to try new things.

Believe in yourself as much as I believe in you. You deserve health, you deserve happiness. You can do this. 

 

With healthy hearts,

Kate and the Kids.