Monday, July 12, 2010

Dealing with anxiety when you're not a compassionate person . . .

I have a lovely 8 year old daughter, Abigail, who battles with anxiety on a regular basis. Just this weekend she freaked out, and I mean FREAKED OUT, because we visited a park that we'd never been to before. I knew she had a problem with "being lost" because whenever I take out my GPS she starts crying cause she knows that means I'm not sure on how to get where I'm going. In my mind I'm simply getting directions, I'm not lost. In her mind we are lost, wandering in the wilderness with no hope of survival. This idea was made very loudly on Saturday when she threw herself to the ground and started screaming. I have NEVER seen anything like it. I mean I've seen tantrums - hello I have four kids tantrums come with the territory - but this was pure fear. She was terrified and I had no idea how to handle it.
It all started from the moment we pulled in the parking lot of this really neat nature center. It's a boardwalk area where you walk above the marsh and just watch nature. Nature Girl and The Boy took off very excited to see all that the nature held for them but Abi balked at the very idea of stepping on to the boardwalk. "What if we get lost?" she asked so I took her over to the map and showed her how we will go in a complete circle. We can't get lost. She agrees to go but the entire time she's whimpering and constantly looking back toward the parking lot. I explain to her that as long as we stay on the boardwalk we are on the path back to the car (this led into an impromptu sing along of "follow the yellow brick road" which solidified to our children that my husband and I are, in fact, crazy). At first we coddle and try to soothe her but then our patience runs thin and we start ignoring her fear and keep moving forward. Because that's how I was taught to handle life - both good and bad - you can complain and gripe but eventually you just have to move forward and deal with it. Well, she dealt with it until we came to a fork in the road so to speak. There was a part of the board walk that branched off, you go down some steps that lead to a path in the woods that eventually ends up at a creek. She wanted no part of this detour, none at all and she screamed and yelled and cried until I took her hand and just dragged her along. I refused to allow her to sit at the boardwalk and wait for us to return and I felt I had to show her that taking the road less traveled wasn't a bad thing. As long as I kept her distracted by pointing out various bugs and plants she was ok but anytime her brain wasn't focused she would resort back to the whimpers and pleas to return to the boardwalk. We came to the creek and enjoyed investigating it's wonders and then agreed it was time to go back to the regular path. She bolted out of the woods like they were on fire, so happy to be returning to the safety of the boardwalk. She ran way ahead so when we caught up with her she again was at the fork in the road but this time she was sobbing because she couldn't remember which way to go. Again, I took her hand and we logically worked through figuring out which path to take. She was so happy when we came out into a clearing where she could see the cars in the parking lot. It makes me sad that she feels so panicked at the idea of getting lost, and it makes family adventures very frustrating; we are wandering people - taking nature walks and Sunday drives to destinations unknown. We like getting lost a bit in life and she seems to be so terrified with not knowing where she's headed that I'm afraid she'll miss out on what's around her. And I am no help to her when she has her melt downs because I have no patience for panic and anxiety. I understand that her fear is real but I also know she has nothing to be afraid of so to me it's a waste of emotion and energy.

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