We tried a new therapy for our daughter. Exposing her to the everyday experiencing that most of us take for granted, the ones that make her anxious and worried. But she’s not so worried anymore. The therapist has explained to her how her preconceived notions about growing up and her life were lies.
She already holds down two jobs, gets good grades, cares for herself, does her laundry, you know takes care of herself. She’s worried about growing up. It’s been a painful process putting her in the position to do things that make her uncomfortable but with each exposure I can see her relaxing, her confidence grows and she no longer fights us when we say she has to drive. She even said she could when it rained rather than using that as an excuse.
I feel for the first time since the anxiety reared its head that there is a light at the end of the tunnel. Through the fear of wind, the holding up in the basement for an entire summer, the crying, the ADHD, the scoliosis, eye issues, wrist soreness, meds and physical therapy, there might be an end for her. A chance to simply enjoy life.
She’s been through so much and yet we push her through her “homework” her exposures, opportunities to learn how to simply be. Whether its how to fill out her deposit slip for her paycheck, or how to go grocery shopping and navigate on her own, with each experience she’s learning that she’s okay.
She may always be nervous and scared because we are who we are, but if we’re willing to take the chance and make the change, it will get better.
I’ve spent a lot of time talking about the issues of raising an introvert and how many challenges I have to overcome when helping my daughter grow into a productive, confident and happy adult. I’m not the only one who fears for my kids. We parents have so many different ways of hurting and helping our children and sometimes, the best way to help them is to help ourselves. This week let me introduce Marilyn Mages, newly divorced single mom and her perspective of what divorce means for her and her child.
There are very few spaces in life where you feel happy and sad, relived and lonely, and full of excitement as you look at moving toward a new future. At 45 I never expected to be in this situation although it is probably the case that most people don’t. I have found myself starting over as a single person. I am looking forward to the challenge that my new life brings and also I am excited about starting over.
There are things that I miss already. I miss not having my daughter around. I really hate having to share her with her dad. I feel blessed that I am even a mom. And the idea that I have been reduced to every other weekend, well, all I can say is that I hate it. I really just hate it.
I miss my family as a unit. While my husband checked out a long time before we were actually divorced, I miss the three of us being together. I do miss my old life in certain ways, and the thought of coming up with a new routine is intimidating.
I also miss my neighborhood. I loved my house and I loved my life for the most part. I also loved my neighbor. It took 11 years to find her. We shared sugar, vases and she was someone who was there for me even for just 5 minutes when I needed her. Two years later, I find myself deserting her.
What is most scary is really the idea of starting over. Who wants to start all over again half way through life. I therefore choose to look at it like a blessing.
What’s new on the list???
Dating for example. How far do you allow yourself to go on a first date, how long to you wait to talk between dates, is that guy worth all of the effort you are putting in. Don’t get me wrong, it seems like an oxymoron to be single and be a mom at the same time.
I have needs but at the same time, I want to make sure that I am the best mom ever. It is like I am living as a spy with a separate identity, one that my daughter doesn’t know about. Nor do I want her to know about.
Learning how to feel sexy again and feel good about me…Man, I need to hit the gym and I need to achieve my goals.
What is it that I want out of this new life?
I want to date and have someone to talk with.
I want to be happy and take risks and do something that I have never done before.
I want to learn more about myself and what makes me happy.
I want to feel calm and not have life pass me by at a light speed pace.
I don’t want people to be sorry because in the end, this was the right thing to do.
Marilyn currently lives in Glenview, IL with her 12 year old daughter. She has been in marketing/communications since 1998. Marilyn is learning to start over after getting divorced after 22 years of being married. She enjoys writing, reading and biking.
Paralyzing fear and anxiety is when you are so overwhelmed, so terrified by something that you run and hide. I suppose this isn’t such a bad decision say if you wanted to climb Mt. Everest in the middle of winter. But it does become a problem when you refuse to hang out with friends because you’re worried.
We take it for granted the ability to call our friends on the phone, to text them, make plans with them and just hang out. But there are fears of being embarrassed, saying the wrong thing or not having anything to say. Ironically this shy child can stand in a room with hundreds of strangers and deliver a speech without stumbling and with correct inflection in her voice. Go figure.
Fear is about preconceived beliefs we have about ourselves. The key is breaking them apart, learning that they’re false and recreating our ideas about ourselves. You can convince yourself all you like that you are happy being alone, but if fear and anxiety is the real reason you are alone, then you’re lying to yourself. And the journey is far more fun when you can share with someone you care about.
For my daughter to overcome her fears we work on something called Exposures. They are opportunities to put her in the middle of what frightens her in order to grow comfortable in the experience. Whether that be driving, ordering a meal at a restaurant, or making plans with friends, we try to put her in uncomfortable positions in order for her to learn how to navigate through them.
We do this with all things that cause her to be uncomfortable. Every experience that she will have to live through as an adult, we put on a list so that we can give her the experience and grow comfortable with every day tasks and functions. Driving becomes easier and less scary, ordering food at the sub shop second nature. It’s hard to walk beside her making things difficult for her but in the end we know she’ll be far better at dealing with her life than if we didn’t.
She understands now why we are doing what we are doing. She has become a less reluctant participant in the therapy because she knows someday she’ll be going to college and getting a job. But she still has those fears of not knowing what to do. It’s blinding and scary and she still believes she’ll be okay without friends. It’s the hardest lie she tells herself for us to break down. She’s convinced herself she doesn’t need friends, doesn’t need to spend time with them and that she’s okay. I worried me because what I know about human nature, what I’ve learned is people need other people. We need a good support system, people who care about us, people we can care about. People who are the happiest have a good social network. And as I keep saying it’s not about having fifty friends and going out every weekend, it’s about having friends you feel comfortable and share things with.
It’s been a long struggle to get to where we are with our daughter. One day I hope that she will be able to initiate even just a text and invite a friend to go out, to a movie, to the mall or just to hang out laugh and share. One more small step towards a life without debilitating anxiety and fear. That’s what I wish for my daughter.
She no longer throws temper tantrums when we hand her the keys to the car. Her voice is clear and thoughtful during sessions with the therapist, as if a light bulb clicked on inside her head. There’s now a comfort and understanding that comes from the therapy and with time and practice it lessens the anxiety.
The anxiety, I’m sure, will always be there. That’s not the goal of the sessions. The goal is to give her the opportunity to live her life as fully as possible. She’s understanding how to recognize the unrealistic fears and to accept her homework, exposing herself to what frightens her.
There are no easy fixes, no cure-all pill. There’s only a lot of little steps, tweaks to behavior that reduce the stress associated with the things that we take for granted. Will she be able to grocery shop and ask for help, explain to her doctor what hurts, ask her professor for clarification, find someone to have lunch with?
Taking in the whole picture is like eating an elephant in one bite. It’s too big. But by breaking down the problem into manageable pieces to work through, with consistent practice, is the only way to break down the walls.
One problem at a time, whether it be driving, we make her do it more often, or order her sandwich at Subway, I always make her go in by herself. Because practice breeds familiarity which lessens the anxiety.
I hear in my daughter’s voice it’s stronger, less tearful, honest, with me, her father, her therapist. She understands why we’re doing this, this intense training to overcome certain anxiety. She’s no longer a reluctant participant. Though it’s still not easy, it’s manageable and that makes it worthwhile.
As parents we live with guilt, we wonder if what we do for our kids is the right thing to do. When our kids are struggling it pains us, we put a protective arm around them and try to make the pain go away. But what if we hold on too tight, if protecting them stunts their growth as they near adulthood?
I had thought about that, about my daughter’s crippling anxiety. We held her hand, we protected and kept from certain experiences that made it difficult for her. Over the course of the years we added anxiety medicine, ADHD medicine and therapy but what about really putting her out there so completely that she has to feel the fear in order to overcome it.
It came about when I realized she had two years left of high school. I thought, will she be able to talk to her professors, her boss, other classmates. After realizing she had convinced herself it was okay to be alone, she’d be okay, we took the drastic action to reprogram how she thought about herself and the life that was possible for herself.
They’re called exposures opportunities to fear safely. We started this on our own though we didn’t know it. She wanted tuna from her favorite sub store, she had to go in to the store and ask on her own. But with the bigger things, we were stumped. How to make her drive, how to convince her that not going to college is wasting amazing grades and experiences. But after a few sessions with the therapist, someone other than her parents to fret, cajole, yell and scream, we had a breakthrough of sorts.
For the first time, she could put her fear aside for just a moment and realize that college, she could do it. There are options, she doesn’t have to leave home. She could start small at the community college and work her way in. There are possibilities and the world is too big to not experience it. I could have cried, gathered her in my arms and kiss her, but I didn’t. I knew then that pushing her out of her small comfort zone will wield benefits that neither of us can forsee. And as she gets older and more mature, maybe someday she’ll thank us for not giving up on her.
She makes faces when we ask her to drive, she runs and hides if its time to text a friend. I worry about the future of my daughter, the smart and funny girl who no one realizes is smart and funny. It’s because of crippling social anxiety. It occurred to me this summer that she only had two years left of high school and then it would be college and job interviews and moving away. I began to wonder, had we held her hand too long? Is it time to push her out of the nest, let her stumble and fall with our open arms waiting to catch her?
My goal isn’t to have a child with 50 close friends. My objective is to make sure she’s able to speak with her teachers and professors if she has an issue, to be able to walk into a class and find someone to sit and chat with, to go on a job interview and deal with her boss should something come up. Sometimes we’re programmed to be able to handle these relatively mundane activities and sometimes, fear grips us and we’re frozen.
Whether she admits it or not, she needs to be pushed. She needs to not make any more excuses as to why she can’t do something. And she should no longer be able to tell herself she’s fine the way the situation is, she doesn’t need any friends. I know she’s lying. There are those times she’s upset she wasn’t included. She gets angry when she thinks she should be in Honors classes and isn’t. Deep down its there. And as a parent I know what’s coming.
It boils down to the desire to not grow up. To remain a kid forever. But we all know that’s simply not possible. The kid gets great grades, works two jobs, is a black belt in Tae Kwon Do. She’s almost already there and yet her preconceived ideas block her from moving forward.
Medicine isn’t the only therapy for someone with severe anxiety. We learned that pills can only do so much. There’s a rewiring that needs to go on, and learning and understanding that fear is nothing but the lies we tell ourselves. She tells herself plenty. And that’s why I’ve chosen to be the mean mom, force her out of her comfort zone and make her face the things that scare her. She will learn one of two things: the first is, that wasn’t as bad as I thought and I was being really goofy or she’ll learn how to live with the anxiety and learn to maneuver through it so that she doesn’t end up alone and hiding in her house with twenty cats.
I keep telling her life is more fun if you share with friends, if you go out and experience anything. She still doesn’t believe me. I hope someday she’ll understand. Reluctantly she’s been trying. She’s been texting, we’ve had her driving. It’s a struggle, its work, but in the end, my goal is to raise a child who can live in the world, understand what frightens her and hopefully she’ll have those magical tools in which to pull from to help her through what’s hard.
It breaks my heart to throw the kid out of the nest, to watch her tear up when it becomes uncomfortable, but after some time, I know, I’m not here to be her friend. I’m here to be her parent. I still know what’s best for her. And whether she likes it or not, adulthood is looming around the corner. If I dig my heals in a little deeper than her, she’ll be alright.
I’m an introvert; the type of person who if I have more than one scheduled event in a day, I’m not happy. It’s not because I hate doing things, it has to do with needing down time; time to recharge, to refresh and to get away from people.
As an adult I realized that I’m responsible for adjusting to situations that render me anxious. I can either hide from those experiences, or I can face them head on. Knowing this, I recently took a job at a small firm in which I was to sell a service to members. It was such a departure from the types of jobs I normally take that I wasn’t sure it was the right path for me. I’ve always hated speaking on the phone, I need visual cues to adapt my conversation, but this job, I lost that and talking on the phone is generally stressful for me. But I’m adult and I realized that the only way I can gain experience and feel comfortable was to make myself uncomfortable.
I took the job against my better judgment because I’m 46 years old. I have more experience, more live behind me and most importantly, the desire to make a change. But what I really have is a 16 year old daughter who I recognize in her, all of my struggles. And as I live through them once again and for my daughter, it breaks my heart.
Over the next few weeks, I’ll be sharing her struggles as she works through her fear and anxiety. The goal is to help her grow into a functioning adult and learn to enjoy her life, not hide from it. I recognize me in her and as a parent; I want her struggle to not be as hard as mine was. But when is the right to let go of our children and push them out of the nest?
We decided it was time to make her uncomfortable, to bring the fear to the surface and retrain her thought process on anxiety and fear, reconditioning her to learn what she needs to take a step toward what makes her scared. She doesn’t like it; it’s hard to watch her cry and fight it, but in the end, it’s my job to help her reach adulthood as happy and healthy as I can.
She may not like me now, but I’m hoping by the time she reaches adulthood, she will at least see that the emotional pain was all worth it. We aren’t always able to go against are basic personality. My daughter and I will always be introverts. All we can do is find a ways to deal with it so that life is better, more rewarding and fulfilling.
Sometimes raising kids is really hard and we have to do things that break our hearts, but in the end I know for my daughter, she will come out on the other side stronger than she started.
Every bad situation has a rock bottom. That place when you just can’t endure the sadness, frustration or pain any longer. For some it can sink deeper than others, we all have our limits. They’re determined by our experiences; all that baggage we carry with us, our struggles our travails. We all have them, we all dig deep as we endure and our brick walls or rock bottom are ours and ours alone.
My rock bottom isn’t one experience, it’s a period of time, that encompasses a whole lot situations. A job, a personal relationship, health issues, regardless of what comprises my rock bottom, I think I finally hit it. I think the climb out of mediocrity and moving slowly upwards, the lack of sleep, the lack of fun, the constant work, the job change, finding myself taking one step forward and moving two steps back, finally crashed down around me.
I feel as though I’m walking through a pile of rubble. All of my experiences broken pieces lying on the ground around me. All examples of my trudge through mediocrity and I’m tired. Sleepless nights tossing and turning, dreading the daylight because its ugly and it doesn’t lie. It shows everything for what it is, in all it’s brightness, exposing what I try so hard to hide.
Near tears all the time, because what I do while awake is for everyone else but for myself because when I try to do for myself, the rest of my life crashes in around me. Things don’t get done, kids get angry, guilt that I should be anywhere other than where I am chokes me. I clench my jaws as I keep the tears from falling.
I don’t believe in self-help books because I know what the issues are and I know what I need to do in order to release the stress, remove the sadness and let go. I know what I need to do. But will circumstances allow me to make the changes and do what I need to do to not feel like this anymore.
It’s the feeling of walking on a treadmill, the one in which I walk at a brisk and steady pace and yet I move nowhere. I think this is my rock bottom, my fork in the road. The time to make the decision on where I need to go. I just need to find my way out. It’s not a matter of picking the path less travelled. It’s about picking the path that will allow you peace and happiness. For some that’s through the untamed jungle and for others it’s the path that leads them to the dream.
I’ve given up the last year of my life for the dream. I’ve given up time with family and friends. I’ve given up time for myself, I given up hobbies and I’ve agreed to do things that I don’t wish to do, things that are good for others but not good for me. Because somewhere along the line someone wrote doormat on my forehead.
It’s my rock bottom. The place where I say Enough. Because I no longer want to settle for mediocrity. I no longer want to believe that someone else is thinking of me and this is good for me, especially when I know it’s not. It’s time to no longer let someone dictate what’s best for me. Only I can be the judge of that.
This is my rock bottom. My acknowledging that this is no longer acceptable. I have a dream and not honoring me, is no longer allowed.