RAISE THE CHILD YOU HAVE & NOT THE CHILD YOU WANT.

So many people raise their children in opposition to how they were raised. They decide in advance what they will do differently, how their methods will ensure that what happened to them won’t happen to their own child. This is understandable on many levels, but it’s not practical, and more importantly, it’s not fair. You can’t base the parenting choices you make on the choices your parents made when they raised you. I mean, you can. Go for it, but you’ll simply be perpetuating the very cycle of parenting styles you are hoping to break. When you have a child, you don’t give birth to a mini-version of yourself. Certainly, your child might LOOK like a mini-you, but internally, they are their own person, and it’s that person that needs to be raised.

I don’t have children, but I have read more parenting books than most parents. And I’ve done this because I was a panicked-disordered little kid who needed to be raised differently than I was–but how? Parenting books have told me, and I’ve been able to understand what I needed versus what I got. Knowing this has taught me the reasons for some of my disabling fears, and in understanding what I got vs what I needed has been incredibly valuable for recognizing why I am the way I am, and how I can teach myself the things I never learned. It’s also taught me about the fundamental mistakes that parents make and the most fundamental mistake is this:

Parents so often raise the child they want, and not the child they have.

Little Panicker dancing

Here’s what that looks like. Your child is struggling in school. She’s getting bad grades. You ask her whether she can see the board, hear the teacher. She says yes, but just in case, you take her to the eye doctor, and to an audiologist. When everything comes back all clear, you take her for an educational assessment. You’re told she has a learning disability, and so you meet with her teachers to inform them, sit with her while she does her homework, get her a tutor, ask if she can work one-on-one with the teacher after class. These feel like the right things to do, but each one of these efforts has one thing in common–YOU. You are worried. You don’t want your kid to do poorly. You want your kid to succeed and you want to set her up for that success, and so you do all the things a parent is supposed to do to guarantee your child has what you didn’t. In your search for the answer, you are not only ignoring your child who actually HAS the answers for what is going on with her you’re also sending her the message that there is a way to be, and she’s not being it. You are working hard so that your kid matches the kid you expect her to be and not the kid she is.

But she has a learning disability, you’re saying! Okay, sure. She learns differently from you. But guess what? You learn differently from her. So, do you have a learning disability? There isn’t one way to learn. We are not all the same. The way you learn might work better for the type of educational system that we’ve instituted for all our children, but just because it’s not right for her, doesn’t mean she’s the one who’s wrong. We spend so much of our time trying to bend our child to fit the world, and never work to bend the world to fit our children.

When I was little, my best friend was deaf. She could read lips, and she didn’t sign. It was up to HER to keep up with us. But what if we had all learned how to sign? What if we had helped prepare her to be part of the deaf world as well as the hearing world? We would have learned a new language, she would have felt included and she wouldn’t have had to bear the brunt of learning at the same rate as the hearing kids.

Our children shouldn’t have to prove themselves to us. We should be proving ourselves to our kids. I know people who are constantly pushing their kids to prove to adults how well they can read, or how well they can dance. And when the kid doesn’t measure up while “proving” how well she reads, the parent apologizes on her behalf, assuring the audience of adults that she in fact “can read very well for her age, she’s just being shy.” These demands and apologies send the message to your child that the things about her that are valuable are the things YOU think are valuable. What does she value? What does she feel? Why not celebrate those things?

“Children of Langa” byznagelphotography is licensed underCC BY-NC-SA 3.0

Our children have so much to teach us, but when we’re so focused on getting them to fit into the world as we know it, we’re actually overlooking the essence of what makes our kids so interesting and individual. Let’s spend more time allowing our kids to show us who they are, and a bit less time telling them how we want them to be.

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A New Model for Being Human

We are solitary creatures whose lives are as unknowable to others as they often are to ourselves. The messages I received early on suggested that there was a right way to be known, a correct way to be a person and I wasn’t being it. So, I looked to others as my barometer for how to be. This constant looking out to define myself based on the world’s idea of what was good and right was my attempt to become “normal”; to fit inside the world’s standards.

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The Sickness Chapter

In honor of my sickness and my obsession with what getting sick might mean for me, I have resurrected a lost chapter from LITTLE PANIC, one on sickness, that was killed, swiftly and painfully, at the last minute. I present it to you now…

Sickness

            There is no reason for my back to hurt, but it does just like that and out of the blue, and that’s why I think it’s cancer. Alex’s sister’s back hurt and she ignored it for months and when she finally went to the doctor they told her she had cancer of the soft cells and she died four months later. I didn’t do anything strenuous, so there’s really no explanation for it. If I have cancer then I’ll regret how much of my life I’ve wasted and I’ll be paralyzed because I’ll know it’s too late now to even try and achieve my goals. If it still hurts tomorrow, it’s cancer. Maybe I should take something. I’ll take something. If the Advil doesn’t work, it’s cancer.

            Cancer would explain my relentless exhaustion, which I’ve Googled and is definitely a symptom. I’ve been exhausted for months, and I don’t know why, but now my back hurts and I can feel a new, terrible reality descending on me. Also my pee is pretty dark, which the Internet says is dehydration, but I know it’s other things, too. Just in case, I drink some water. When I lie down I feel a sort of throbbing in my sinuses, which makes me think that maybe it’s a sinus infection that’s making me so tired. When I look it up, I see it’s a symptom. I follow the links in the comments section and wind up on an allergy site and read an article on inflammation, then follow the links in that comments section to a natural remedies site. I love natural remedies. Anything that promises to change and fix me, I believe, and buy. I learn about Edgar Cayce, the father of holistic medicine, who discovered an ancient healing technique that offered instant cures. All you need is hemp or wool flannel, a towel, a heating pad, a glass jar, a plastic bag, a spare bed sheet and Castor Oil. After buying all that, I come across other anti-inflammatory cures: turmeric soaks, Colostrum pills, oil pulling, nasal rinses, tea tree oil and lavender for the bottom of your feet, and a raw CURES EVERYTHING ginger, apple cider vinegar and garlic shots. Soon, it’s four hours and ninety-three unanswered emails later.

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Raising parents

Dear parents of Little panickers,

I am your kid, all grown up, and I’d like to tell you a few things you may not know about the child you raised from scratch.

Your child is not acting out “to be difficult” or “for no reason.” If your child is coming to you, complaining they can’t sleep when they haven’t even tried, there is something going on, they just don’t have the words to say. You need to help them. If your child is having tantrums that you can’t explain, that are getting worse, the tantrum is the frustration they feel being unable to express themselves and what they need. Your anxious kids have extraordinary feelings. They register the world with their bodies first and foremost. Those registers don’t always break down into words, which means they cannot express themselves to you the way you are accustomed. You must learn the language your child speaks before trying to teach her your language, which is the language the world will demand of her.

Ordinary children experience the world with their minds AND their bodies. When they are worried, they can reach into their arsenal of reason and logic. They don’t know what’s going to happen tomorrow, or the next day, and they’re just fine with that. Things are vague and abstract? Not a worry. But anxious kids are not fine with that. They need things to be concrete; they need to know what’s going to happen. This is what anxiety is—the dread of uncertainty. The dread of discomfort. The fear of feeling fear. Of course, no one knows what’s going to happen tomorrow or the tomorrow after that but teaching your child how to break down abstract concepts like time, is a good place to start.

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Panicking in public

I grew up with a panic disorder that went undiagnosed until I was 25. No one knew why I couldn’t leave my mom without fearing she’d die or disappear, why I refused invitations to slumber parties and didn’t believe I’d be returned after a weekend at my father’s. When I had trouble learning to tell time, the adults wondered if I had a learning disability. So began a decade long odyssey of auditory, cognitive, behavioral and intellectual testing. No one told me what they were me testing for, but I knew intuitively my unrelenting fear was the problem—I couldn’t tell time because time meant leaving my mother and I didn’t want to learn more ways to say goodbye. It was dread that held me back, not my brain, but I was too young to have words to explain. Feelings were ruining my life, and testing made me worse.  

Everyone is watching me die in public.
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Is perfectionism anxiety in disguise?

Blogging is not a natural inclination for me. That said, as I travel around and speak to schools and organizations about panic and anxiety, more and more people have requested that I use my existing blog to talk about anxiety and panic. While I have an anxiety resources page on this site, my recommendations are just ways to begin conversations rather than actually HAVING conversations. So, I am going to start blogging as regularly as I can (don’t have high expectations!) about all things related to panic and anxiety–FUN!

I’m going to start easy, and repost a blog post I wrote for my favorite mental health advocacy organization (with whom I work in an advisory capacity) called Bring Change to Mind started by Glenn (SHE WAS ROBBED OF AN OSCAR) Close and her sister, Jessie Close.

This post originally appeared HERE.

I’ve been speaking to audiences about my anxiety and taking questions about theirs while on tour for my memoir LITTLE PANIC. During the Q & A’s there are inevitably one or two people who will state that while their child has anxiety, that’s not their issue. Their issue, they’ll tell me is perfectionism, defensiveness, or some other maladaptive trait. I listen, respond to whatever their question is—most likely one about their child’s anxiety, and then afterward, I race to find these defensive perfectionists to talk to them. Because there are a few things I’ve learned having suffered from a panic disorder since I was a toddler, and it’s that anxiety, more often than not, begins with the parents, and something else—anxiety disguises itself in pretty innovative ways. Some of these ways include perfectionism, defensiveness, self-criticism, and hypochondriasis. This is what I tell them, in the kindest most diplomatic way I know. The only tears shed have been ones of relief–Thank God. Continue reading “Is perfectionism anxiety in disguise?”Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedinmail

Excerpt from Little Panic

COUNTDOWN TO KAREN SILKWOOD

 

MY PARENTS LIVE ON either side of Manhattan, uptown and downtown. By cab my dad is twenty minutes away, but that’s time, and time doesn’t work for me. I like being downtown always; I like when it’s just the four of us: my mom, Kara, Eddie, and me. But Kara and Eddie don’t mind leaving downtown. They remember when we lived together with my dad as a family, but I don’t. I don’t even know how old I was when they divorced because my parents tell me different ages—and when I ask why they divorced, my mom says it’s none of my business, which means I’m the reason.

Even though I know he’s my dad, he feels new to me. I try to get my mom to let me stay home, and I can tell she doesn’t want me to leave, but no matter what organ hurts, or how hard I cry and beg and plead, I still have to go. When I was in preschool, my teachers told my parents I was too young to be leaving my mom. They said I was saying and doing things that meant leaving was not good for me, but my dad got really mad and insulted and said too bad, and that was that. My mom says, “What was I supposed to do?” When I was five, my dad married Sallie and I thought we wouldn’t have to visit him anymore, but my mom said that’s not how marriage works. I guess I’m glad, in case Mom ever marries Jimmy.

I want someone to either make my feelings go away, to make me feel okay about going uptown like Kara and Eddie do, or let me stay with my mom. Instead, everyone just repeats the same things over and over, like “You’ll be back before you know it,” and “It’ll be over in the blink of an eye.” But what about before it’s over? What about the part that means “during,” the part that means “being away”? That’s what scares me most, but everyone skips over during. Everyone ignores the things I can’t, and I don’t know why.

When people try to explain that uptown is not far, or that a weekend isn’t long, it makes me feel worse, more afraid that my worries are right, and that the world I live in is different from the world everyone else lives in. That means I’m different, something I don’t want other people to figure out about me. Something is wrong inside me; I’ve always known that, but I don’t want anyone to ever see that I’m not the same as they are. If they find out, I’ll feel humiliated and want to leave the world. Still, I don’t know if I can pretend for my entire life. What if someone unsafe sees through me? I think my dad already knows—he is always telling me I was hatched, not born. I don’t miss my dad when I’m not with him.

When I go to my dad’s house I can’t see my mom and I can’t see the house. I worry that without my eyes on them, my mom will leave and take the house with her, and when we return, all that will be left is the black empty space where our house, and all our memories, once sat. Kara and my mom always tell me nothing bad is going to happen when I leave home, that every time I leave and come back the world is exactly the same, but it’s the next time I’m worried about. Everywhere I go and everything I do, I always feel the leaving. I feel it in hi-ing and good-bying, in sunset and sunrise.

They call it homesickness, this feeling of mine, but that word never feels strong enough because even when I’m home, I ache in that leaving way. When I hear my mother say “homesickness,” it reminds me of countdowns, which I hate most of all. Countdowns are how my body tells time. Everyone else lives in a clock-and-calendar world, but my clocks and calendars are countdowns that start light and safe like ocean bubbles, and end dark and dangerous like animal extinction. Countdowns come in stages that change color and sensation as they move from deep to shallow. They tell me in advance when I’m going uptown to visit my father; when my mother is going out to dinner with Jimmy, to a movie, or on a two-week vacation with Jimmy and leaving us with a babysitter. If my mom and Jimmy go away while I’m uptown at my father’s, or we go away from New York with my dad, that’s a double countdown, which is the worst possible countdown a person can have. Countdowns happen for everything. Before a weekend with my dad, they look like this:

MONDAY: When I wake up and remember that it’s Monday, five entire days until I have to go to my dad’s, the doom lifts and my relief grows. On Monday, Friday is far enough away. I’m in Deep Countdown, which is pale yellow and pulses in the distance. Deep Countdown is tricky because it fools me into thinking I have enough time to be cured before the worst of the countdowns come. Maybe I’ve outgrown it since last time. This is what Deep Countdown wants me to think.

During the day, the world is one glob of noise and action. The day’s sun makes me feel like we’re all connected, but daylight makes a promise that night doesn’t keep. Nighttime is when we’re all inside together. The darker it gets, the closer it is to bedtime, and bedtime is when I have to leave my mom by herself in the world. Dinner moves me one space ahead, cleanup is two, bath is three, and on it goes until it’s time for sleep, where I may never wake up.

TUESDAY: I wake up and feel relieved that I didn’t die. Another minute to feel the world, which tells me I’m still in Deep Countdown. The pulse is there, but now the dull tugging is a bit closer. Unlike yesterday, if today someone says the word “Friday” or “weekend,” if I hear a number that matches the date I’m leaving, or I smell something like grilled cheese, which I eat only at my dad’s, I feel a wave of Middle Countdown. I try to steer clear of all the things that set off Middle Countdown, but it’s hard because the radio likes to announce what’s coming up on Friday or the weekend. The world is always freeze-tagging me.

WEDNESDAY: I wake up into Middle Countdown, which doesn’t have color. Middle Countdown is a vibration. Once I’m in Middle Countdown, I feel mad at myself that I didn’t appreciate the safe feelings of Monday and Tuesday enough, that I didn’t prepare myself. Middle Countdown doesn’t wash over me from behind; I walk right into it. It’s a tunnel I enter; sometimes the tunnel lasts only a flight of stairs. Other times the tunnel is the length of recess, or the entire day, crawling toward Shallow Countdown, which is the most dangerous. After school everyone is already talking about Friday like they can’t wait. That’s when the sky lowers. A heavy day cups us close, catching the future, dragging it closer. Melissa never says “Friday” or “weekend” to me, and she protects me when other people do. I don’t even have to tell her; she just knows.

THURSDAY: When I wake up into Shallow Countdown, my limbs feel heavy and hard to lift. I can smell last night on my pillow, but I am not in last night anymore. Shallow Countdown can’t be ignored. You don’t accidentally walk into it or get zapped by its sudden flash. Shallow Countdown paints over the stars and city lights. Shallow Countdown is feeling the things you’re not supposed to feel, like the settings that hold your teeth in place. Shallow Countdown is forgetting the names for familiar things like bed, dog, and window. Shallow Countdown is knowing you’re about to die. Every bite of school lunch is flavored with it. A new word, the last song in the school play, the smell of cooked mozzarella on after-school pizza, the squeaking effort of sneakers on a gym floor, my mother’s closed eyes when she laughs, my siblings’ huddled whispers, the sun warming the cobbles on Wooster Street, the sound of skin sticking to a summer banister, the air on my face as I run down the street. The flavor won’t come out. When the sun starts to set, my dread grows. Night pulls people apart. The shorter days mean Shallow Countdown starts sooner, and the darkening sky is like the subway doors closing: even if you stick your hand in the way, they still close and take your hand.

FRIDAY: The worst day of the week. I wake up and know what today is about. My skin feels tight around my bones. Balloon air takes up all the room inside me, making it hard to swallow, skimming just the top of each breath. There is no gap between times of fear—fear is all there is. I feel the cracks and shadow places between the bones of the world, which is stripped of rules I can depend on. I feel things I know I shouldn’t, like the spinning of the earth.

On those Fridays before my dad arrives I cry, cling to my mother, press myself into the banister. I hide in my closet, but never for long because it’s too far away from my mother. My temples tense with sharp headaches; my stomach hardens into a stale-fisted chestnut. I want to scream and throw tantrums, but I stay very still, afraid of any sudden movement. How come no one except me understands that my heart must be near my mom’s heart in order for us both to survive? When I’m gone my mom might forget I exist, wander across the world, and never send her new address. It’s when I’m gone that she might cross on red, get hit by a car, and die; lean too far out a window and crush her brains on the sidewalk; get mauled by a dog, tetanus-ed from a rusty nail, or stabbed by an escaped mental patient from Bellevue. She might accidentally burn down the house or open the door to a killer who just robbed a bank. Anything can happen when I’m not there.

And then, countdowns change into the actual events, weekends I almost never make it through. I press myself against Kara in the cab ride uptown, and she puts her arm around me. Out the window patches of color fall behind and tumble downtown. Things turn gray at Eighteenth and Park Avenue South, and the buildings change from homes into businesses. To distract myself I try counting the passing buildings, but my eyes are too slow. By the time I feel caught up, we’re already at the Pan Am Building and it’s too late; we’re inside the tunnel and slowing down for the turn, so slow that there’s nowhere I can look to avoid the graffiti: “KAREN SILKWOOD WAS MURDERED.” That sign is my enemy. If my mom is murdered, will my dad know how to care for me, or will he make fun of me all the time, like always? Last summer, we lived uptown at Jimmy’s house, and the Son of Sam killed people and the city had a blackout. What if the Son of Sam comes back? What if an uptown waitress puts acid in my milk and I die like Karen Silkwood? The world moves too fast, and I’m too slow dodging out of the way. I keep getting crushed by life’s revolving doors. No one tries to save me because it’s all invisible to them. No one else sees how hard the world keeps pressing against me. Well, maybe Kara, but she’s only eleven. I hold Kara’s hand and she rubs her thumb back and forth across my skin, which means she loves me.

Two Fridays ago, on a Dad weekend, Kara’s friend Marci Klein was kidnapped. Everyone tried to keep it from me because they knew I’d be scared, but I heard about it anyway. My mom talked about it on the phone, and teachers whispered about it at school, and my friends told me what happened. What happened was Marci was on the bus going to school, when her babysitter stopped the bus and said there was an emergency and Marci had to come with her. The emergency was that Marci’s mom was in the hospital, so of course Marci went with her, but the babysitter lied. Her mom wasn’t sick. Instead, Marci’s babysitter took her to a place of ransom and hid her until her dad dropped off a bag of big money inside the Pan Am Building where Karen Silkwood was murdered.

 

 

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