Wednesday, February 20, 2008

What does anxiety mean?

For a while now the refrain at our house has been "Brian is doing so well." This is the reason for not making any changes, for not doing care (right now), not letting him go back to the big high school, you know, not anything. So does the fact that he had an anxiety attack at school today a reason for changing things?

Somehow I don't think so.

The school called because he couldn't breathe. I tried to talk to him on the phone but he couldn't get enough breath to say much more than that he couldn't breathe. I spoke to the principal. The people at the school get it. After all, it is The Magnet School for the Anxious and Depressed.* They understand that it is real, that he isn't pretending and can't "just relax" and start breathing normally. They agreed to find him a quiet room to sit in and some drawing materials if he wants them. That was more than an hour ago, so he must have moved through it.

He had already told them that it was an anxiety attack, which is a good thing. That he can identify it as an anxiety attack a major step in learning to deal with it.

I want to know WHY though. Why now? Why when he has been doing so well? We haven't been talking about the possibility of a new placement around him. I did tell him there was "a rumor" about the possibility of a new kid, but that we hadn't even been officially contacted. He made me promise to take it slow and I did. We have also been talking about how he wants to go back to the big high school. Roland and I got out our high school year books and talked about our friends and what high school was like for us. I told him to think about going to a school with 1700 students.

So is the anxiety attack the result of thinking about the new school or about the mere possibility of a new placement?

Do anxiety attacks always have reasons?

Let's see, it was last spring, April to be exact, when Brian's anxiety was so bad. He had breathing problems, was missing Evan, and wanting us to add to the family. We put him on half-days at school and started trying to get him into the Arts Charter School.*

I can feel myself sliding into obsession with Brian's anxiety. I think about the fact that his worst symptoms were last spring and came in between his complaining that he missed Evan, wanting us to get a new kids, and Evan moving back in. So that means that Brian's anxiety isn't about care, right?

You know, mommies are supposed to be able to make it better. I don't like feeling not just helpless but clueless.

*If you are a new reader and/or irony impaired "Magnet School for the Anxious and Depressed" is my nickname for the Arts Charter School. To be fair, I am sure there are students there who aren't there in part because of anxiety or depression -- I just don't know any.


  1. "You know, mommies are supposed to be able to make it better. I don't like feeling not just helpless but clueless."

    If there was ever a statement that summed up how I sometimes feel as a mother, this is it.

  2. Just by being there and understanding is the best thing anyone with major anxiety can ask for. Unfortunately this is something Brian will have to work through himself. He will have to learn to recognize the signs of an attack coming on and learn what his triggers are.
    I have had major anxiety as far back as 6 years old. I was yeleld at and punished for them because my parents didn't know what was going on and thought I was being dramatic. Not until my late teens did I get diagnosed and then able to heal.
    You are doing such a wonderful job. Don't ever doubt that.

  3. Carmel is right. Brian is just going to have to find a way to work through his anxieties on his own. Sure, you can be supportive and all, but in the end he has to figure out how to deal with this on his own.

    I wish I had something more helpful and/or understanding to say. I'm still really sick so I'm not exactly speaking from a position of brilliance at the moment.

  4. I agree with what everyone else said.

    You may never know what exactly causes the anxiety attacks. Maybe it's just that he is an anxious person, separate from all the external factors.


  5. Knowing he has a problem is the first step.
    It could be 100% chemical, actually, but I think it's probably a combination of environment and chemicals. Just speaking from personal experience.

  6. I have had anxiety my whole life. It's not fun, but it IS managable. The number one thing you can do for him is teach him ways to manage his stress levels. For me, medication is a neccesity, but stress management is every bit as important, of not more so. I can actually reduce my need for medication by limmit my stress. Some basic techniques:

    * Exercise. Regular exercise is a must. I do Tai Chi, which also serves as a meditation technique to quiet my mind, so I get a double helping from it, but even going for a daily walk is good.

    * Learn meditation techniques. As I said, I do Tai Chi for mine, but any technique will help to quie and refocus the mind.

    * Limit caffeine and other stimulants. They are a known trigger for panci attacks and increase anxiety in general.

  7. That's the hallmark of panic disorder, which I have - sometimes it comes out of the blue, for no apparent reason. It's more likely to occur when there is a greater level of stress in general in the person's life, but there isn't always a clear precipitating trigger for every time.

    It's great that Brian's in a school that understands what is happening to him, and can help him when this happens.

    I know a lot of people don't like medication, but it can provide a safety net for people with this problem. You still get anxious like a normal person would, but you don't spiral into that off-the-charts, out-of-proportion panic. I take Zoloft for this purpose. As I joke to people, it keeps me from running screaming through the town. :-)

    The other thing that helped me was to learn some techniques to get through these moments. Most relaxation techiques seem to start with breathing and that's the last thing you want to do in the kind of situation Brian was experiencing! One I figured out on my own when I was his age was to walk, counting the steps until I got to 30, and then starting over. Another one I learned from a psychologist, which really worked well for me, was a focus exercise. You name five things you see, five things you hear, and five things you feel (touch) in your surroundings. Then you repeat it, just naming four things, then three, then two, etc. By the time you get to one, you feel calmer. This is useful to know because it doesn't require any space and nobody even has to know you're doing it. I've come up with similar tricks, like naming all the teachers in my elementary school when I was a kid, anything to get your mind elsewhere. It sounds like Brian has something similar in his drawing, and that's great.

    Also, he's learned to pull back enough to identify this as an anxiety attack. There's a panicking part of your mind that is feeling the message Something Is Wrong. But there's nothing external there, no threat to identify, which I think causes further panic, and starts a cycle. Recognizing that the feeling is coming from inside your mind, and that it's a signal gone haywire, a false alarm, helps you stop the cycle before it gets too far.

    It sounds to me like he's learning the tools he needs, but it takes practice to learn to stop these attacks, so I think he probably just needs more time. He's probably going to have some more of these before he gets to the point where he can head them off before they get to that point.

    I have a newspaper clipping somewhere from one of those factoid columns which says somebody did a study that showed that people who were artistic or musical were so many more times likely (I forget the number) to be anxious or depressed. I can believe the School for the Arts seems to have more than their share of students with anxiety or depression.

  8. If you are a victim of minor depression, it is possible for you to get rid of it with little effort but once you fall prey to serious depression, it may become altogether impossible to tackle this disorder without opting for medications. And among the medicines available in the market to treat depression, panic disorder and social anxiety disorder, Xanax and Zoloft are highly popular.


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