Watching your child work his way through an anxiety attack can be an extremely heart-wrenching experience for parents to watch. It is emotional. It is often physical. Most heartbreaking of all? Your child will most likely say things about himself that will make you question absolutely everything you’ve ever done as a parent. He’ll say sorry so many times you’ll never want to hear those words again. He’ll put himself down with words that would make any person crumble, no matter the age. He’ll berate himself, he’ll shake, he’ll cry, he’ll sob, he’ll get sick to his stomach and he’ll make no sense to you at all.
That is what a panic attack looks like. At least, that’s how it looks for my own child.
My sweet boy has been dealing with these attacks for a few years now and over the years we’ve worked hard to help him cope and come up with strategies.
But, all the strategies in the world won’t help if I don’t manage to get to him in time and the attack goes full-blown. The breathing exercises go out the window. Distraction won’t happen. When he’s in it, he’s in it full force and, for us, the only thing that brings our guy out of it is time, love and kindness.
But, this post isn’t about anxiety. It isn’t about my son’s panic attacks. It’s about kindness, love and the incredible support of strangers.
My son received tickets to a Shawn Mendes (holy cutie patootie) concert for Christmas. He’s been excited and talking about it since then. The big day finally arrived and we spent the day together. All day it was smiles, hand-holding, walking around Vancouver together and all day he reminded me of his butterflies in his tummy. Noted, son. Noted. I knew he was nervous.
We had a wonderful Mommy/Son day. Then, it was concert time. We walked to the venue early to beat the crowd (anxiety pro-tip: BEAT THE CROWD as best you can). We walked around the venue. We saw the merchandise lines and he decided he didn’t want to wait in the line and he’d get a shirt online (YAY!), so we went to our seats. He was pumped, excited and all smiles.
The crowd was filled with young girls who looked like Taylor Swift and Selena Gomez. Did you all know bodysuits and flannel are back? I mean…back, back! Like…every single teenage girl was rockin’ my look from 1992!
Charlie Puth was the opener. Jeez…he sings a lot of songs I know. I’m so hip. But I just used the word “hip”, so no…no, I am not hip now. Shit.
During Charlie Puth Owen decided that no, he did want his t-shirt. So, up to the lineup we went. We heard 2 Charlie Puth songs and the rest of the time we were lined up. We got the shirt and headed back to our seats.
The lights go down. My son grabs my hand and tells me he’s scared. The lights flicker. I tell him he’s safe. The audio opening starts. My son says he’s really scared. The light show continues. I tell him to breathe and watch for a spotlight. He squeezes my hand. There’s the spotlight and then Shawn Mendes appears onstage. My son smiles and lets go of my hand.
It’s loud. It’s very loud. Next to my son is a screaming teenage girl. The lungs on the girl were amazing. I don’t fault her. She’s a teenager at a cutie patootie Shawn Mendes concert. Of course she’s screaming. I related to her. She’s me at Bryan Adams.
The first song happens. We’re good. Second song happens, I see the change on my son’s little face. It’s happening. I ask “Are you ok?”. He says yes. 30 seconds later “Sweets, are you ok!?”. Yes. Third song starts. It’s louder than ever. It’s a favorite song. The girls are going crazy. I look at my son and I know. He says “Moommmyyyy”…and we bolt.
Excuse me. Sorry. Pardon me. Excuse us. Can we get by? Sorry. No, he’s okay. It’s okay. Thanks.
We’re now on the concourse and we’re in it. We’re panic attack city. We’re on the concourse and my sweet boy is grabbing his ears, sobbing. One hand in his mouth, the other holding his ears. “It’s so loud, Mommy. I can’t. It’s so loud”. All tears. All sobbing. “I’m sorry, Mommy. I’m so sorry. I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I’m sorry”.
Now, for my guy when he’s here the best I can do is hold on, let him know he’s safe and get him moving. So, I say let’s walk. He wraps his little arm around me and we start walking.
He’s sobbing still. He’s still in it. And he’s getting deeper and the attack is getting bigger and I’m trying so hard to be there for him and do what he needs. Then, kindness wins.
One of the staff from Rogers Arena comes up to us. He says “Hey little man. It’s loud, isn’t it? I get it. It’s even loud out here”. My son nods. And sobs. And bites his t-shirt. The man says “Maybe I can help. Maybe you need a drink. A Pepsi maybe?”. My son looks at me for approval and I nod. He follows my savior to his booth and the vendor says “Do you want it now or would you like to keep it for later”. Later please, my son manages. “It’s on the house,” the vendor says…and just like that…kindness broke my son out of his cycle.
My son, in all his panic and worry, turned to me and said: “that was really nice”. He smiles. Tears still on his face, he smiled. And he’s out of it. Kindness wins.
We continued to walk the concourse. My son’s arm around me. My arm around him. His little face red and swollen. As we walked, I received nods of acknowledgment from many parents. I felt hands on my shoulder and a quick squeeze from strangers in a show of support. Staff member after staff member stopped to chat with us. It was beautiful. Wonderful. And so heart-warming.
To the staff at Roger’s Arena, I cannot thank you enough. From security staff trying to make my son laugh, to vendors handing out earplugs, to the woman who showed my son the set list as he decided to leave so at least he knew what he was walking away from (making the decision easier for him)…I cannot thank you enough.
To the man who offered my son a Pepsi and broke him out his cycle…I thank you with all I am. You saved my son that night from hours of illness and worry. The power of your kindness was incredible. I know it was a simple act. But perhaps the simple acts of kindness are the most important ones.
This world can be a glorious and kind place. During such times of hatred, unease and disturbing behaviors…there is kindness out there.
We left the Shawn Mendes concert after about an hour of walking the concourse. The best part? My son made the decision on his own. He told me what he needed and he felt supported, not only from me, but from all the staff in that building.
We got back to the hotel room and my son turned to me and said “Mama. That was really fun. I had a really nice time walking with you tonight”.
15 words I’ve never been so happy to hear.
Kindness wins. No matter what. Kindness wins.
Again, my many thanks to the numerous people at Rogers Arena for your kindness, compassion, understanding and non-judgement. I am beyond grateful. And, my son…he now has a wonderful memory of how kindness helped him. And, isn’t that an incredible lesson and gift to receive?
If only Shawn Mendes did small venue concerts…like a backyard BBQ. LOL. Now that, my son can handle.