I was going to title this piece:
“Why?” – The question that almost made me lose my cool.
But, after some thought, the other title is better and hopefully many, many parents will read this as a way to grow their knowledge base around mental health and mental illness.
This week, my son (diagnosed with panic disorder, social anxiety, generalized anxiety disorder and depression) had a hard week. We’ve been doing really great for a few months but were warned that anxiety will creep up on you, punch you in the face, sit on your chest and demand attention at some point. That moment happened this week. Shoot. But, we’re a team and we stand together as he fights through his panic.
I have two scenes to share with you:
Panic attack city. It started at home where my son demonstrated all of his anxiety “tells”. Tongue moving side to side, feet marching in place, pale, welling tears in his eyes.
Now, we don’t allow anxiety to rule our house and as long as my son is moving forward – I go with him. He gets a ride to school with a wonderful friend – he couldn’t get in the car. So, I ended up driving him to school because anxiety doesn’t win and I don’t allow him to let it, so WE GO TO SCHOOL.
He panics in the car. I finally get him inside. He panics in the school. I get him into the counselor’s office. He panics in the office. This has now been 1.5 hours.
He is battling HARD. He won’t let go of me. We breathe. We distract. We talk. We distract. And finally, he lets go of me and we can sit quietly for a second. We decide to go to the library to sort books – we distract.
At the library, there is a class reading. I move away from my son to talk to the librarian – who obviously doesn’t know how to handle kids with anxiety but is FULL of compassion and says “whatever he needs”.
But then, we ask permission from the adult in charge of the class and she says “You want to bring him in here like THAT?! – I mean, I guess – but *shrugs* – that won’t look good for him.”
Um…excuse me – pardon?
I leave it alone and go back to my son – but oooooooh, what I would have loved to say.
My son begins to engage with the librarian. She is wonderful. Distraction is key during panic attacks – engage another part of the brain. The school counselor (the unsung heroes of the education system) asks if my son would like a friend. He says “Oh yes, please” and asks for a compassionate, beautiful, warm, supportive friend he has (I adore this friend).
I told him I would get him (you see, I need to distance myself from my son during a panic or it rolls and rolls). I get to his class and see them inside, but the door is shut. So I knock. Behind me, a support staff asks what is happening and I tell her my son is having a panic attack and would like a friend.
Me: “Why what?”
Adult: “Why is he like that?”
Me: “He has a mental illness and he’s battling right now.”
Adult: “That’s weird. That must be embarrassing to be crying like that.”
At that point, the teacher (she’s wonderful) came to the door, got my son’s friend and I didn’t have to reach over and strangle anyone. Back to the library – distraction in place (hello, book sorting ftw!) and support friend beside him.
BAM. That is how we do it! THAT is how we conquer a massive panic attack at school.
I have a job with the Stigma-Free Society where I get to go to schools and talk about mental health/illness with our Children’s Mental Health Program (we also have a Stigma-Free Zone School presentation for older grades students in grades 7 – 12). It’s wonderful because I get to use my son’s experience to help kids learn, relate and know they’re not alone.
*And yes – he has given me permission to tell his story – thank you very much.
This week I got to speak with the sweetest Grade 4/5 class. I was warned they were a little rowdy, but they were wonderful.
Me: What do you think you can do if you see someone who is crying or upset?
Student: Ask them if they’re okay. Share your warmth.
Isn’t that the most beautiful answer?!?!
Ask them if they’re okay. Share your warmth.
The difference between these two scenes caught be so off-guard this week, I’ve struggled to comprehend the incredible gap in compassion and understanding between adults and kids.
Kids win. Hands down.
Keep cool all of you adults who ARE educated and are starting to get mad at me for not acknowledging you – I’m not talking to you. There are many of us who are in the middle of this, fighting our way to get noticed and get attention to help educate those that are not. I salute you. I do. BUT – for the most part – our generation and the one before us SUCKS at understanding mental health issues.
No disrespect meant AT ALL – but it’s the truth. We grew up in an era of “get over it”, “suck it up”, and “get ahold of yourself”. It’s time to learn what this generation is now learning.
Compassion and understanding. Kindness. Warmth.
I love that I get to go into schools and talk about mental health and stigma. I love that I get to help this generation be the change and create safe places for people battling mental illness to exist and thrive.
Adults, please – get with the program.
If you’re unsure how to handle mental illness, the best place is for you to start using the word “mental illness” and start de-stigmatizing it. It’s nothing to be ashamed of or feared – the KIDS – they get this. But most adults, my lovelies…COME ON.
Educate yourself. Learn a little. No, learn a lot. Especially if you work with, coach or are around children and youth. Mental health matters and while a lot of the kids who are worrying and are nervous are not diagnosed with a mental illness – you can help them through their worrisome days with compassion, support and many, many strategies – BUT – you need to educate yourself.
If you ever see a child in a panic – please know there may be no specific moment that they’re upset about. Please know they would choose to be anywhere but in their brain at that time. Please know they can’t answer your WHY because they are fighting for their lives at that moment.
But to clearly answer the question of “WHY are they acting the way they are”? …it’s simple…
It’s called mental illness and they’re a f**king warrior fighting for peace at that moment.
Share your warmth.
It’s so very simple.
Share. Your. Warmth.