Tag Archives: Coping

Anxiety Sucks

I had a huge meeting this weekend that I spent months preparing for. Truth be told it wasn’t that the content was dramatically different than what I had done before. I recruited a team of some of my favorite colleagues to work with me to pull the content off; these folks are among the top notch folks I’ve worked with and I was delighted that they joined up.

For some reason this meeting really affected me in ways I didn’t really like in the weeks leading up to it. Frankly I was an anxiety-ridden nervous wreck. I can’t even say I know why I was so anxious about delivering this program. The group was one I hadn’t worked with before, but many of the people had either heard of my work or maybe even have been to a program somewhere else.

I fretted about who would come, what they would say about the program, whether they felt like I was teaching or shaming, whether they would think I was worth their time. As much as I love my job, it takes an emotional toll to step in front of a bunch of white folks to talk about diversity and inclusion. Not every appreciates me doing my job or even see a need for jobs like mine—and that’s me being polite. For some reason, stepping in front of this group felt particularly challenging. It required a lot of personal and professional vulnerability.

It felt like a lot of pressure to get this right. I couldn’t sleep. I haven’t been able to get back to my disciplined routine of exercise and eating—so I’ve also put on a few pounds. I started having tummy issues. My shoulders started hanging out near my ears. Tension headaches and exhaustion.  I was a functioning panic attack for the last week.

The program came off beautifully. I hit my zone in the first 15 minutes; I love this stuff. I’m good at this job. Not only did it go off well, I had a wonderful time. It was a blast.

And as I exhaled, it dawned on me that some version of this anxiety is how Hope feels all the time.

All the damn time.

I cried.

It feels miserable, just miserable. I don’t know how she gets up every day. I don’t know how she functions. I don’t know how she can focus on school or the few chores she has or anything. I don’t know how she ever has an appetite. I don’t know how she keeps any weight on. I don’t know how she can sleep. I don’t know why she wouldn’t sleep all the time.

I don’t know how she deals with me? How does she internally manage her reaction to my nudging and pushing to do school work? How does she not breakdown when I fuss at her for letting her room get messy?

How the eff does she do anything?

We’ve been really working on Hope’s coping skills a lot these last few months, trying to raise her self-awareness about how anxiety affects her physically. Most of her symptoms are somatic and it’s often hard for Hope to associate the physicality of her anxiety with the fact that it’s actually anxiety. We’re getting better at recognizing it, but after a couple of week so of my own anxiety and how many days went by before I could admit that I was really suffering…I don’t get her.

She is more magical than I even imagined before.

I get why she can spend hours, days even, watching K dramas; the ability to escape is critical to her very survival.

I hated my brush with intense anxiety this month. I hated it, but I’m grateful for the my own raised awareness about what my daughter must experience regularly. It is a reminder that I really do need to be supportive and sometimes extra gentle with her. I also want to be sure to continue helping Hope build her coping skills.

Anxiety sucks.

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Coping to Survive

We’ve had to make some drastic changes around Casa d’ABM recently in hopes of getting Hope back on track with a few things. It’s tough and painful, and it feels like all I do is pick on her and focus on the bad stuff.

But it’s not all bad stuff. I’m focusing on breaking bad habits and building skills that she desperately needs.

But I’m sure that for her, it feels like I’m picking on her.

Sigh…so in some ways, it’s kind of a short-term, no-win situation.

Damned if I help; damned if I don’t.

So…I’m back to throwing a bunch of interventions up in the air and trying to figure out which one fits, makes sense for us, and has the best chance at effectiveness.

Hope’s general outward response?

giphy1

My response to her response?

giphy1

Our joint response feels like it’s playing out like this:

dancing

Yeah, it’s like that.

We recently had an interesting chat. Hope was sharing her frustrations about coping with a bunch of stuff.

I asked her to give me some examples.

She did.

I made some suggestions.

She rebuffed them and doubled down on how her approaches were foolproof.

I noted that clearly they weren’t, otherwise this would be a moot conversation.

“Oh yeah, right.”

So, I probed how and when she developed her ways of coping. I asked her to explain to me why they had historically worked for her.

My heart hurt. Most of her coping strategies involved swallowing her emotions, withdrawing, learning to be ok just being sad because that was apparently her lot in life. I interpreted so much of the coping to be a sad acceptance of tragedy, the desire to limit her emotional trauma by just not being emotionally involved at all, and straight up denial.

How does that work for anyone??? How can you live like that?

And then it dawned on me.

These coping strategies are right on target if your goal is to survive your situation. If your goal is to just get to the next day relatively unscathed, without much physical or emotional hurt, then if you just fold into yourself, you can survive.

But what if your life doesn’t call for those specific skills anymore? Are those skills transferable in a more stable life? If all of your basic Maslow’s needs are met, and theoretically you can focus on some of those more abstract life goals, do those survival skills still serve you well?

Spoiler alert: They don’t work. You need a different set of life skills if you are moving from dysfunction to function.

I began to understand my daughter’s frustrations. She was using the tools she had developed and refined for years to survive in an environment where they didn’t really help her.

Just imagine that you are a whiz with a power drill; I mean, amazing! And then you are asked to go do a car repair…with just your drill. Let me know how that works for you.

Without being critical, I began to try to explain to Hope that she was going to have to try something new, and that I knew that was weird and scary, but her old bag of tricks wasn’t going to serve her optimally in this chapter of her life. In fact, her survival skills were becoming a hindrance.

She didn’t buy it. It’s ok, it will take some time.

Our kids, they are brilliant in their resilience, but their transition to normalcy is so hard for them to wrap their brains around. It requires them to trust, and that’s something they don’t really do. Hope tells me that she trusts herself, and that’s about it.

She does trust me, but there are some hard limits, and I know where those limits are and I try to earn my way beyond them.

It’s not easy though. I’m fighting years and years of her expertise in living her life in a way that she gets to see tomorrow. In nearly 44 years; I’ve never had to work that hard. Not on my worst day have I had to work that hard to survive. I can’t imagine that much change in her world view after only 3 years; that expectation is not appropriate.

She’s changed some. Her expectations of me increase, and with them her belief that I’ll deliver and ability to meet those expectations increases. But it is very slow, very incremental change.

As our Year of the Try comes to a close, I’m pondering next year’s family theme. I’m thinking the development of life skills is probably something we might give some focus in 2017.


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