A few months ago I posted about one of my sons and his struggle with anxiety. We had a rough couple of months, but things have finally started to look up. As a parent there is nothing harder than watching your child in pain and struggling. You want to jump in and save them and take their pain as your own. But the truth is you can't. You have to tread water right there along with them, help them stay afloat and guide them to safety. That isn't easy. Even for me, who has experienced similar pain, the path isn't cut and dry. As you maneuver your way through you have to come up with a new normal. You have to help your child find a healthy new normal, because just like adults kids get stuck in bad habits and thought patterns.
At our low point, my anxious son was sleeping on the floor in my room every night. He wasn't sleeping and when he finally did sleep it wasn't restful. He was so stressed out that his body couldn't calm down at all. When he tried to sleep his body fought back with terrible hypnic jerks that woke him up and started his panic. These jerks made the cycle worse. As they occurred and interfered with his sleep he grew more and more exhausted, which in turn made the jerks worse. His interest in things was down. His mood was down. He lost weight. He got stuck in a cycle that had me researching things like Cyclic Vomiting Syndrome. It was a tense time for us, always waiting for when the next cycle might hit.
But we got help. At the end of 2011we found a program called Turnaround. It's a CD based program written for children who suffer from anxiety. It gave us a starting point. It made him think about what was happening to him. It helped me talk him through his anxiety more effectively. It helped him to realize that he isn't alone in this- he isn't weird. And it gave my husband some understanding about a world he had no experience with.
We started positive reinforcement. An incentive for staying in his own bed at night and calming him self down. Something to work towards to help him break the bad habits he admitted he was forming. His currency? Music. He earned one song from iTunes for each night that he was in bed by 10pm. But he couldn't get them until he had earned 4. It took a week to get the first set. And 2 more to get the 2nd set. As he progressed I changed things- if he came down in the middle of the night and didn't go back to his room he didn't earn. If he didn't stay in bed he lost a song, etc. At one point he got into negative numbers. And once he was so far back we had to wipe the slate clean and start over. But he broke his cycle. As he got to bed earlier, his body got rested and his jerks stopped. He had interests again. He played again. He smiled again. Things were looking up.
Over the past couple months I have been guarded. I know better than to say he's cured and move on with life. I know there will be setbacks. I know he will struggle with anxiety, and most likely depression, in his life. I know he will enter another cycle at some point. But although I knew this, I can't help but get that sinking feeling when signs start to show. When he ends up in my room at night again.
Are we back at the bottom? No. 10 steps forward, 1 step back. And that is okay. It's part of the journey. We'll make it to the top one of these days. Together.
linked to the Encourage One Another Link Up