A.M. asks from Higley, AZ on August 16, 2008
Anxiety and Panic Attacks
Well, I am looking for a little advice and insight. I have an Eleven year old daughter that up until last week had never has anything more than a cold or flu. She was excited to start Jr.High and couldn't wait. We attended back to school night and she loved it. Her first day of school she was nervous, but nothing that wouldn't be expected on a first day. When I picked her up from school everything seemed good, she loved her classes. We had a great night and when I woke her up for school the next dat she was shaking, gasping for air and began throwing up. After a long talk she went to school and we decided it was nerves. The school counselor insisted my daughter was playing me and demanded she be pushed through her classes. After a few days of picking her up and taking her out of school and a horrible altercation with the uneducated school counselor, we went to numerous doctors. My daughter says she wants to go to school but her body wont let her. To make a long story short, it has never stopped. We have been to a Psychiatrist, emergency room and our general practitioner, all of them agree this is panic attacks and anxiety. I have never known anyone with this before and I realize she is not in control of what is happening to her. I was wondering if anyone has been through this with a child and has any good advice to lend? We are now going to modify her school schedule, continue going to a psychiatrist and resume seeing our counselor that helped us cope with divorce. Again, it is nothing she can control, this controls her.
So What Happened?™
Well, it has been a year and a half since posting my request for help on Mamasource. I first want to say Thank You! My daughter is now thirteen and still suffering from panic and anxiety. She only suffers on occasion and has learned how to live her life with panic and anxiety. It was not easy the first eight months as she lost so much weight and was in a state of panic 90% of the time, she was almost hospitalized. This life experience has taught us so much and I am thankful for every story shared as they were comfort in a world that doesn’t understand emotional and mental hurt. My daughter is thirteen now and lives a normal life and her relationship with her true friends grew stronger as well as did our relationship. She has learned how to calm herself and is truly my hero. My best advice to anyone dealing with this would be to not give up and be there for your child even when it you don’t understand and feel as if you have nothing left to give. Society has a hard time having compassion and it is up to us to give our children a safe place to land. I worry for my daughter in the future, but know we can get through anything as long as we support and love each other no matter what experience that is placed before us. Always go with your intuition as it is your strongest guide in life no matter the situation. Thanks again for all your support.
T.N. answers from Phoenix on August 18, 2008
You're right that her anxiety is probably sincere, and not an effort to manipulate you. I have anxiety also, and have ever since I was a young child. I have a handle on it now. My husband helped me realized that I am in charge of my mind and the thoughts I entertain. It was hard, but things got better for me the more I acknowledged that fact and took control of my own thoughts instead of letting them go wild. When I have a scary irrational thought, I acknowledge it (just trying to ignore it doesn't work for me), then dismiss it as irrational and not based in reality. I visualize myself dismissing it, and then I replace it with reassuring thought or a pleasant memory. Then I remind myself that I am in charge of my thoughts and not the other way around.
I have always had anxiety about death, and I remember once when I was around 8 I was so worked up that someone might die in my family that I was sobbing uncontrollably. My dad tried to comfort me to no avail, and tried saying no one would die. What finally worked was when he said, "Honey, are any of us dead right now? Or are we all okay? Deal with that if/when it happens, but until then enjoy us while we're alive. Why waste time feeling the pain when it's not your reality right now?" It brought me back down to reality. Oh, yeah, everyone's okay, so why I am crying?
Express confidence in her ability to control her mind. It took awhile of my husband doing this before it finally sunk in with me (I just thought he was mean at first because he was being tough instead of coddling me). I was being a victim for too long and feeling like I couldn't choose any differently. I wasn't able to change until I accepted responsibility for my thoughts, so try helping her see that she's in charge. And have her attack the thoughts head on. Like, What's the worse that could happen? And how could I deal with that if it does happen? And how likely is it that that really would happen? Now dismiss the thoughts. And then she can try to focus on pleasant thoughts or meditation or guided relaxation.
I'm not like this on purpose, although the negative thoughts I sometimes allow myself to dwell on contribute to it (I don't watch the news anymore for my mental health!), and your daughter probably isn't intentionally like this either. Err on the side of empathy with her, but don't baby her or she'll never change. Feel and express sincere empathy that she is experiencing these emotions and thoughts that seem beyond her control, but encourage her to take responsibility for what she allows herself to dwell on. It is SO HARD ton take control of your thoughts, but possible. Be patient and comfort her, but also be firm. It's a delicate balance to find.
I don't like to be this intense, which is why I have put forth tremendous effort and improved, and still try to. This might be something I struggle with for the rest of my life, but it gets easier and easier. You get good at what you practice at. I was getting really good at having anxiety there for a while :) But now I can dismiss panicky thoughts on my own pretty quickly before I get paralyzed with fear. It feels so good to overcome a weakness like that and to learn to be strong and develop good coping skills! I feel so confident in myself and my ability to overcome other personality flaws, so I'm glad I faced this problem head on and created a positive history to draw on for myself. I used to always have to wake my husband up (the most common time I experience anxiety is if I half-wake up in the night and my mind is not completely aware). So you may need to help talk her through it and bring her back down to reality before she develops the skills all on her own.
Her anxiety may have reaped rewards, whether it be attention or not having to face what brings her fear, and so perhaps it fuels it on a subconscious level. It's very overwhelming to deal with these intense feelings, especially at a young age. The feelings feel very real, however irrational they may be. That's what I've learned to do--recognize and sift out the irrational thoughts. In high school I remember getting so worked up that I vomited. I felt completely out of control. Sometimes my body would shake and I didn't feel like I could do anything about it. Well, my husband let me know right away that I could do something about it and he would get exasperated with me. It freaked him out to see me out of control, something he was completely unfamiliar with. He wasn't as tender as I would have liked, but it was him insisting that I get a hold of it that made the difference for me. It's a delicate balance to find between being firm and insisting that she learn coping skills, yet remaining sensitive and empathetic at the same time.
I am completely functional and have never been on medication. Therapy is probably helpful (From what I know of them, I prefer Life Coaches over traditional counseling) but my husband has helped me enough that I haven't sought out therapy.
I would also suggest looking into the "Attacking Anxiety and Depression" program as seen here: http://www.stresscenter.com/program/
My mom gave me CD #2 to listen to, and it really helped me with positive thinking and controlling my thoughts. It's geared towards adults, but maybe they have a program for children. Browse their website for more info. Anyways, even though it's for adults, it might give you tools to help your daughter out with. Also, my parents always listened to self-help tapes in the car as I was growing up and the tapes really influenced me and I still absorbed a lot of what I heard even though I was a kid, so don't underestimate your daughter's ability to comprehend the message the CD contains. Maybe the local library has a copy of the program. Again, CD 2 was what was beneficial to me. There are probably books written specifically with children in mind.
Good luck, and way to be your child's advocate.
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L.W. answers from Phoenix on August 17, 2008
I'm sorry to hear about your daughter's panic attacks! I know there's a holistic center called Life Sculpting, with a therapist and naturopathic doctor, who treat lots of people with anxiety and depression if you decide you're interested in a natural way to treat your daughter's panic attacks. The number is ###-###-#### and they're located in Chandler.
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A.T. answers from Phoenix on August 17, 2008
I'm so sorry you and your daughter are going through this.... I know how stressful it can be. My husband has gone through a couple of stretches with all the same symptoms, etc. It really DOES affect you medically, and it's very hard on everyone involved.
If you'd like to chat with him, tell him Toni told you to call. He's also a minister with a very caring heart, and since he's personally experienced this, I'm sure he could relate with counseling, etc. His last bout was about a year ago, and God has amazingly brought him through it.
here's the #- Joel ###-###-####... He does free counseling.
I hope she gets better soon.
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K.S. answers from Phoenix on August 17, 2008
A., I can totally relate to what you're going through--both personally and through my children. Firstly, your school Psych needs to be fired. That is such unprofessional advice! This sounds like it could be Generalized Anxiety Disorder, otherwise known as GAD. I suffer from it, as does my youngest child (13 yo boy). Even though my middle child (a girl, 16) doesn't have GAD, she tends to be more anxious than your normal child. It sounds like you're doing all of the things I would have done and going to doctors is quite appropriate. A lot of people think that it's all a scam, but it is not. Our kids have a chemical imbalance and/or electric short in their brain that causes the synapses to not fire properly. Therefore, the brain does not work like everybody else's, so you can't expect them to understand it. Now, as you know, you can possibly go several ways with this. There are the schools of naturopathic herbs and meds, and there are those who suggest anti-anxiety meds. I, myself, take medications, as does my youngest. We tried, at first with him to try other options, but finally put him on meds. Therapy works, too, and you can probably look into things like bio-feedback and other therapies. The best thing you can do, for now, is what you are doing. Stay close to your doctor, psychiatrist and therapist. But the best thing you can do is be there for her and be her greatest support and friend. Let her know, repeatedly, that you are there for her. Junior High can be a very big shock, socially, and it's possible that some of the students are being mean and spiteful--that happened to my daughter. And another suggestion I make, is to look up an agency called "Raising Special Kids". Talk to them about an advocate for your daughter, and go into the school and pursue an Idividualized Education Plan (IEP). This will protect her academically and ensure her rights are upheld. It is not school rules, district, or state...it is FEDERAL. She is protected under the Americans with Disabilities Act with this disorder, so please look into it. I wish you the best and take care. You sound like you love her very much and that is more than half the battle. Hugs, Kat
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J.D. answers from Phoenix on August 17, 2008
I am so sorry that this is happening to you and your daughter. Is there a history of anxiety in her family that you know of? If it is profound anxiety, then psychotherapy, including medication may be needed to help her get her symptoms under control. However, I am not sure that I would tell her that this is something she cannot control. If she does not learn to handle her symptoms, then she won't get better. She needs to believe that she can get better. She may need to use biofeeback or eye-movement desensitization in therapy to help her mind to calm down, but she can do something about it, even if it just baby steps towards her goal. I believe that was you are describing will requrie the services of a PhD who specializes in anxiety.
All that said, I am also very concerned about what could have triggered this. It appears that some deep trauma has occured that she experienced at school or something at school has awakened this fear response in her. Unless she is genetically predisposed (and she may be) to this type of severe anxiety, I would throughly look into some trauma explanation through the therapy. What that trauma could be there is no way to tell -it could be related to the divorce or anything that she has unresolved emotional issues about. Just remember that this is her journey, so whatever happens just be supportive and not judgemental because she needs you to help her get better. She may not even be aware of what trauma could be causing this, the mind is an interesting creation! It sounds like you are doing a great job so far. Praise to you for not listening to the school counselor and choosing to help your daughter!!! Please let us know what happens...
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B.H. answers from Phoenix on August 18, 2008
I think you are doing the right thing by altering her schedule and seeking therepy. I have never expereinced panic attacks until recently. All of a sudden, one day, the same thing happened to me. I couldn't control it and it was so scary! It hasn't stopped for me, but getting support from family and therepists has helped a lot! I am not sure if your daughter would be open to this, but Yoga and acupuncture have helped a lot too.
Also, what if she tries an activity after school (at home) that allows her to focus on just one thing. For example, drawing, reading, beading necklaces. That way, she can get her mind off of the "trigger" (which seems to be school).
I wish her the best! It is a frightening experience and I hope she feels better soon!
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B.S. answers from Phoenix on August 17, 2008
I am sorry to hear about your daughter's anxiety. I have had bouts with this and it can be paralyzing. Anxety and fear is not of God. There are many christian books than can help. May I recommend the Lies Young Women Believe and the Truth That Sets Them Free, by Nancy Leigh DeMoss and Dannah Gresh. Found in Christian bookstores. I have a group I started called IssueS, (Individual SituationS Using Everlasting Solutions). It is for girls from the ages of 11-13,meeting the 3rd Monday of every month. We talk about their "issues" and discuss what the Bible Says, we have skits, and other activities as well as a snack. Subjects are anything from gossip, to what we wear, to choosing friends and even "dumb" parents. If you would like more information I can email you, just let me know. I did the book I recommended with my IssueS girls this summer during our "swim Studies", it was totally awesome.
I pray God helps your daughter with this issue because from expereince it can be extremely hard to deal with.
I look forward to hearing from you.
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L.M. answers from Phoenix on August 17, 2008
I am so sorry to hear that your daughter is going through this. I myself actually went through this situation when I was in 4th grade, all the way through 6th grade. But, my anxiety and throwing up attacks were on Sunday and lasted all day with a migraine.
At first my parents just thought I was full of it, everyone around couldn't understand why I would stay in bed all day with a migraine, then throw up that evening and in the morning be ready for school.
I honestly don't know why it happened to me, I enjoyed school, my parents were together, I had a wonderful family and was very lucky where I went to school. I was a very social child, I played numerous team sports, and played musical instruments. The only connection that I can think of now that I am an adult, is that maybe I had stressed myself out to the point of panic attacks because I was afraid to fail at everything that I had taken on. I had an older sister that was just as talented if not moreso than myself, not sure if that played into it as well.
I dealt with it as best I could, there was no counselor or psychiatrist for me to talk to, the hardest part was dealing with everyone that thought I was faking it. I don't really have any advice in terms of what to do for her, the best thing I did for myself was try to unwind, listen to music that had water sounds (rain, beach, running streams, etc.) and just turn my brain off as much as possible.
I wish you and her the best of luck, it will pass.
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