Due to being a major scaredy-cat in the past (and sometimes still…) this post about how to help a child with anxiety originally ran as a contribution to another website, written under a pseudonym. Some edits have been made.
“You have a collect call from…
I cheated on my social studies test. I pushed Ben down the stairs. I think I wished you had breast cancer. Love you, bye.”
I put the payphone down and hurried back to class. The thoughts had pretty much taken over by then. I was 12.
My mother and I had choreographed an elaborate dance to help me to get through the agonizing six hours I would spend away from the house at school each day. At least once every few periods, I would place a collect call from the payphone by the gym. In place of my name, I would confess a litany of shameful, purely imagined offenses and hang up. It was ironic really.
My mom knew better than to pick up the phone when I called. And that was OK. I knew the answering machine would record my “transgressions” and that was sufficient enough to relieve the suffocating guilt until the bus dropped me off at 3:30.
The thoughts had begun when I was 9. I had a brand new baby sister and I was terrified to touch her. I knew that if I laid my hands on her, I would break her, for sure. Of course I never did, but in the recesses of my mind I was scared to the core that I might. And that fear became an uncontrollable beast that somehow transformed “I might” into “I did.”
One afternoon, I walked to the gas station across the street from our house to buy an after-school snack. When I got home, I told my mother I had tried to poison the baby. She panicked, because well, duh, and told me to tell her exactly what happened. I told her I tried to poison the baby with gasoline.
I had walked across the street to the gas station and maybe stepped on some old, dried gasoline and then perhaps touched some with my fingers when I took off my shoes. The shoes I had just taken off, so as not to track gasoline into the house — in case I accidentally started a fire.
How to Help a Child with Anxiety: How My Mom Saved Me
And as she would many, many times after this, my mother took a long, very deep breath. And even though she was tired and worried and scared, she hugged me close and told me it was alright. And I felt relief from my anxiety. It was a relief that only she could offer and a relief I would cling to until three years later, when we got an official diagnosis for what haunted me.
It was an unpleasant, desperate time for all of us. I was exhausted, upset and uncertain about the thoughts each day would bring. And although I felt wounded and betrayed by my own body — I don’t believe that I ever felt scared. Even through the very darkest moments, my adolescent mind took comfort in the knowledge my mother was still rooting for me. That no matter the breadth of insidiousness that my mind revealed, she would love me and lift me up – when I was too weak to stand on my own. She would be my mom, no matter what.
I still vividly remember the psychology books stacked high on her nightstand, checked out from the Mass General Hospital library – the internet wasn’t exactly a “thing” yet. I remember handing her pages of scribbled confessions of unthinkable deeds and receiving a handwritten love note in return. I remember her picking me up from school when I couldn’t take another step.
She may not have done everything exactly right, but she did everything within her power. In 1997, there was no WebMD in which to type: How to Help a Child with Anxiety or direct you to your nearest children’s psychiatric unit. She went to the ends of the Earth to find a psychiatrist and help me mix the perfect Prozac aperitif to ease my anxieties – all while never making me feel like anything less than her little girl.
I thank God every day we were able to right the ship. But what’s more, I thank Him for a mother, who made me feel human. Who told me she loved me when I told her the very worst parts of me.
I’m thankful she was exactly what I needed – that she was my mom, no matter what.