Helping My Son With Anxiety…As I Struggle With It Myself

One of the surprising things I’ve come across with in the WordPress world are the number of people who struggle with anxiety. It shouldn’t surprise me, but for some reason it did.

I struggle with anxiety myself. Part of it is fed by CPTSD (complex post traumatic stress disorder) and the way my experiences altered my brain structure and chemistry. I react more intensely to normal, every day things and at the same time, my brain is less able to process any intense emotions. Frickin’ bummer, but I do what I can. There are techniques of redirection, meditation, deep breathing and the like which I’ve learned over the years and help me cope with anxiety, even if I can’t dissipate it or make it go away. Another reason for my anxiety is my thyroid illness. Unfortunately, one of the symptoms of thyroid disease is anxiety. Even though the medication and supplements I’ve been taking have improved my overall health, anxiety is still a problem and there isn’t much I can do about it except learning how to cope with it. This is really why I want a quiet, unremarkable life. I already struggle, even with quietude and within a peaceful space. I’ve never felt comfortable in the loud, rushing, confrontational world which is the predominant way of living in the north eastern part of the United States. I love my home of Philadelphia, but it’s not the laid back patrician area that it was when I was growing up. I really miss and long for that old Philadelphia, what I believe is (was) the real Philadelphia.

Anyway, my son also struggles with anxiety. Part of the cause for him is that anxiety is a common symptom of autism. Again, not much to be done. Another cause is all of the therapies he was subjected to when he was younger. It’s hard to grow up and constantly be in therapy. My son grew up with “don’t do this,” “do that,” “do this a different way,” “let’s practice that again” and so on. Constantly being redirected and corrected (for his own safety, not our convenience) has had an impact on him. It’s increased his difficulty with self confidence and feeds the anxiety which is a symptom of the issue which required all the therapy in the first place.

Anxiety is tough to deal with on a daily basis. My son loses the ability to think and speak when his anxiety spikes. He knows what he wants to say, but his brain is unable to form speakable thoughts. This is very frustrating for him. It’s intensely frustrating for all autistic young people who struggle with this and, from what I’ve seen, is the ultimate reason why some become aggressive or violent. You can see the deep frustration and anger on their faces: Knowing the idea of what you want to say, but just not being able to express it in anyway – as a life long disability – is something that I know I would find enraging. I don’t know how I would respond to that kind of difficulty.

We’re fortunate with my son. Somehow, all the therapies worked well enough that he’s able to formulate those thoughts if he can reduce his anxiety and take his time. The thing which has made it easier for him is that I’ve learned to take him by the shoulders and gently pat him on the back. In my calmest, most peaceful, reassuring voice, I always say “that’s okay, buddy. Take your time. No worries. Think it through.” I know that if he senses my anxiety and frustration about his not being able to speak, this significantly increases his anxiety and he completely looses the ability to articulate himself. It’s been vital for him to, in effect, “feed” off my calmness while he struggles as well as the reassurance that doing what he can, in his own way and own time is not only all right, but is a way of being. If he see’s me calm and not impatient or irritated, he’s able to take on that calmness as well and use the techniques he’s learned to be able to find the words and express his thoughts. It’s taken a lot of work over the years – and I suspect more than a bit of luck – but he’s able to express himself, by knowing how to calm himself – rather well.

With my own anxiety issues, it’s sometimes difficult to give him the support he needs. I can’t hide anything from my partner or son. They know me too well. I do what I can, but I’m also honest with him if I’m struggling. I’ll tell him that I need a minute with the result that I’m working to calm myself down and give him the emotional support he needs as he’s trying to reduce his anxiety to find the expression of his thoughts.

My anxiety is interesting. I’ve explained the origin’s and it’s taken me many years to understand where it comes from. The worst was when I didn’t understand or know the cause. Before I had a better understanding, I would assume (quite reasonably) that the anxiety was do to the situation I was in or the people I was with. This make me more neurotic, because I was assuming a connection between the anxiety and something or someone with which there was no connection or the connection was that they reminded me of my parents or a situation of my past. Not knowing what was going on made this emotion difficult to live with and made daily living difficult, often immobilizing.

But understanding better creates a different challenge. My anxiety simply exists, as a state of being. It always tries to lach onto and infuse itself into any negaive thought, experience or worry that I have. It’s always looking for something – some thought or emotion – to infect. It’s a real pain in the ass.

There are some techniques to alleviate the worst of it. But even with these, there are some times when the only thing I can do is just get through the day. I can’t function, I just do what I can to get through the day. Sometimes the best thing I can do is be mindful of the fact that the anxiety is a lie. Because I feel it, it’s valid, but the underlying causes are sometimes out of my control. At such times, I do the best I can to not “feed” and increase it’s power. If I can’t reduce or dissipate it, I can at least work at not allowing it to get worse by deliberately contributing to it. Cold comfort, but I do what I can.

Be Well, My Friends
Theseus

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