We have a picture in our minds of how life is "supposed to be". We graduate high school, on to college, have a career, get married, have kids and live happily ever after, right?! What happens when life doesn't go that way? You do everything you can to avoid bad relationships, but they somehow find you. Or the company you worked so hard to get into goes through mass layoffs and you find yourself without a job. How do you handle it?
I have three daughters. My eldest just started high school and my twin girls, jr. high (Lord, help me). Like any other parents, we did our best with raising our kids to be normal, healthy, God-loving girls. We are not perfectionists by any stretch, but we have encouraged our kids to do their best in school, respect others, play team sports and grow up to be strong, confident women. My husband and I are a great team, we have stable careers and live in a nice neighborhood. The life I dreamed of was coming to fruition, right?!
When my oldest daughter hit the pre-teens and her behavior changed. Shocking, yes, I know. As with any girl with hormones changing, we thought nothing of it and chalked it up to puberty. We did the best we could to maintain a zero tolerance policy around disrespecting her family while gently teaching her the best ways to maintain her anger, fear and confidence issues. We experienced difficult days, happy days and everything in between. But as time went on, it got worse, not better, despite our tireless efforts to partner with her through these difficult years.
One day as my daughter and I were in the kitchen, I just blurted out an observation (to be honest, I vaguely remember this, but my daughter remembers it well) "I think you might be dealing with anxiety". By this time, this monster had followed us for 2 years without being identified or understood and usually resulted in punishments for yelling and/or being disrespectful. As soon as I said the word anxiety, my daughter took it upon herself to do some research and felt like she identified with many of the symptoms that she read about. I knew that she had dealt with difficult friendships and bullying, and that she rarely got invited to birthday parties or any social functions that may have been normal for a jr. high school girl, but I never made the connection that there could be something bigger and more sinister at stake.
As time has gone on, I have found myself sharing fairly openly with friends about her (and thus, our) struggles with anxiety. As someone who does not suffer from it, I am doing everything within my power to learn as much as I can in order to equip her with the tools that she will need to manage herself when she's triggered. But this is the first time that I feel like I'm facing something bigger than me and I'm needing to rely on our faith, other people's experiences, and my strength as a coach and a mom to persevere. I have been prepared to set aside everything I've worked for in this past year in order to prioritize helping my daughter. This is by far, the most difficult thing I have ever been through; being a mother who cannot help her child and my heart is with the millions of moms out there with struggles much larger than this. I have made suggestion after suggestion about what she can do, but as they say, "you can lead a horse to water, but you can't make them drink". This is something she has to decide to do on her own, and it's a daily struggle. Through the years my heart has broken every time I have heard of my friends' daughters being invited to all the usual social activities of a normal 14 year old girl and mine sits in her room dealing with anxiety. The only reprieve she's had more recently comes because she says she "puts on a mask" in front of others and it has helped her make friends. As much as people try not to judge a book by its cover; it happens all the time. It's one thing to teach adults that you don't know what a person is going through until you walk in their shoes but teaching compassion and acceptance of others to a bunch of jr. highers? Easier said than done.
June 1, 2018: 8th grade promotion. A day I have looked forward to for a very long time. A day I get to stand next to my daughter and celebrate with her. Celebrate the blood sweat and tears that went into getting her this far and preparing her for high school. People are standing around, taking family pictures with all their smiles and flowers and my family?! Standing in the corner, trying to console our out of control crying and hyperventilating 14-year old daughter who just wants to leave as quickly as possible. I made the biggest mistake by looking at Facebook and all of our friends posing for proud-moment pictures with their families and friends. My family? No photos with the beautiful lei we bought her, no photos with her among her happy friends holding their promotion certificates. I was crushed and deeply saddened for her.
As time has gone one, we've all learned what we're dealing with and perhaps we are beginning to gain some traction. She has learned coping techniques that are helping her manage in stressful situations. Now that she is in her first few weeks of high school, my prayer for her is simply this: She does not allow this to define her and that the kids at school can see past a girl who may seem a bit off at times, and perhaps approach her with compassion and curiosity. It takes a diamond in the rough to do something like that, but as with every special lady, she deserves diamonds.