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It is an indescribable feeling, sitting in a psychiatrist’s office with your child for the first time. It is a place I never imagined myself. Standing on the precipice of hope and despair, I knew we needed to be here but wanted to run. I wanted to pretend everything was okay and my daughter’s struggles were a result of teen years and puberty. But deep down, that gut feeling I gained when I birthed her knew everything was not okay. Everything has not been okay for a while.
My firstborn has always been responsible, but beyond that, carried the need to be responsible for the actions of everyone else. An avid rule follower, she follows every rule to the letter and makes sure everyone around her is obeying as well. When the world around her feels out of her control, she reacts in anger, anxiety, and resentment. As she grew, she and I often rammed heads. There were times I would make her sit outside until she was ready to come inside and treat her family respectfully. I had no idea the level of anxiety she felt below the surface was what caused the anger to boil over. She has never been violent. Her anger was self-directed.
While some characteristics are common in firstborn children, one event that made an alarm go off in my head about the depth of her anxiety happened during our short time in Louisiana. If you don’t know my story, in 2016 our family of six moved 15 hours south to only live there for 10 months. My daughter, a rising 7th grader at the time, had the most difficulty with the move. However, she had the quickest transition to her new school. She met amazing friends and teachers and had the time of her life in the middle school band. In Louisiana, the middle school band was at a high school band performance level. Her band played at the middle school football games and she was living her best life.
One night, after a football game, we climbed into our van with her three younger siblings and headed to grab dinner. It was late, we were all tired, but we needed food. Suddenly, a switch flipped. My daughter who had just had the best few hours, playing her trumpet and laughing with her friends, turned into a different child. She exploded so severely that she scared me and her siblings beyond words. She began screaming “I don’t want to get food, I just want to go home. Take me home, take me home!” Little did I know, we were experiencing her first anxiety attack. At the time, we were adjusting to our move and so much change. I thought, “surely her behavior was a result of the move.”
We moved back to Virginia and she began to manifest increased physical pain. School became a struggle and she begged me daily to pick her up early. Her band class was at the end of the day and she no longer enjoyed the band as she did in Louisiana. The structure was different and the teacher was less enthusiastic. In December of her 8th-grade year, she had a band concert and I had a clear view of her on stage. I have a vivid memory of watching her have an anxiety attack while trying to keep herself together to perform.
I knew we had crossed a threshold when anxiety made her favorite activity of playing trumpet in the band become something that triggered her. She loved playing the trumpet and being a part of the band family. She worked hard to excel and improve. I knew we needed help when she could not make it through a day of school without messaging me, begging me to come to get her. My child who is incredibly responsible and independent was pleading for help. I had to choose to believe her.
Shortly after that anxiety attack, we began meeting with doctors and determined a diagnosis of fibromyalgia. While we believe this is genetic, chronic pain often increases with anxiety. Since her initial diagnosis, we have been to countless doctors to uncover and rule out many other conditions. Her confirmed mental diagnosis is clinical depression and severe anxiety. While she is receiving treatment for her mental health, we are still visiting doctors and doing lab work to rule out other health concerns that can contribute to her mental struggles.
The anxiety attacks come in waves, although now they are less frequent. She has hit herself, picked her skin, pulled her eyebrows, and done other things to cope. Never did I feel like her life or anyone else’s was in danger, but I did everything in my power to help her through her attacks. Sometimes listening to her favorite music helped. Sometimes just sitting with her and believing her was what she needed. I prayed over her brain, for peace and calm. I cried out to God for relief. I tried not to allow my daughter to feel my fear, grief, or pain as I watched her endure the attack. An anxiety attack is scary. You feel like you might be dying. Recently, we learned that anxiety attacks will only last about 20 minutes. Your brain can only stay in that state for that amount of time. Knowing there is a physiological end in sight has helped her calm down quicker.
Next week, I will share more about where we are with her mental health currently. I will also share how we manage her schooling as well as how her siblings cope with her challenges. I hope this has helped give you insight into our mental health journey. While you may not be experiencing this personally or with a loved one, I hope it will open your eyes to the struggles others face and develop compassion for those who experience invisible mental health illnesses. On the outside, someone may appear perfectly fine. You may look at their life and think “what do they have to be anxious or depressed about?” Choose to believe them anyway.
May is Mental Health Awareness Month. This month I will have a series on mental health based on my experiences through walking this path with my children, especially my teenager. The series of posts are based on conversations with my sixteen-year-old daughter who has been struggling with depression and anxiety for most of her life. In trying to make the right decisions for her, I have had many wrong thoughts and said many wrong things. As a parent, I have needed guidance and a place to ask for advice in this journey. Your experiences may be different than mine. You may not agree with what I have said or done, but until are in the same place with the same circumstances, you may not understand my position. These are our experiences and I hope they are helpful to those in a similar place.
Myth 1: Everyone has anxiety/feels sad sometimes. It’s not that serious, I can handle it on my own.
We each have some levels of anxiety or sadness, but when it takes over your life to the point you can not be a productive employee, wife, husband, parent, student, etc., you can not handle it on your own. You have to reach out for help. Talk to your doctor, pastor, anyone close to you who can help connect you with a counselor. When your mental health is controlling your life, you will need help to get to the root of your anxiety/depression. Even if you are a professional at pushing your anxiety down and covering your depression with working harder, fake smiles, or binging on tv, that is not healthy. At some point, you will explode.
In the case of your child, children handle anxiety and depression in different ways. Some talk openly, some shut down. Some cry, some get mad. Some hide in their bedrooms for hours, some don’t want to be alone. When something seems off, trust your gut. Start reading, researching, and gathering tools to help your child open up. There are links to resources here for kids to verbalize their emotions. When your child’s mental health gets to the point they can not maintain a positive school life, positive relationships with their peers and siblings or they refuse to talk to you, you may need to find some professional help. Also, if you see some polar opposite behaviors that make you wonder, “who is this child?” that’s a red flag that your child may be crying out for help. We may joke about extreme behaviors in the toddler years or puberty, but when the behavior goes beyond typical to almost scary, you may need to seek help.
Myth 2: I need to pray more, study more scripture on anxiety, and be a better Christian so I can get rid of my anxiety/depression.
Early in our anxiety journey, I wrote scripture on index cards and gave them to my daughter. I thought, “more scripture would surely help her feel better.” While scripture, prayer, and improving your spiritual life are essential, they won’t solve the problem. When you are dealing with an illness, physical or mental, you have to get to the root of the illness or anything you try to do will be just a band-aid. Medicine to treat the symptoms may be necessary but unless you work to get to the root of the illness the medicine will be a band-aid for whatever unresolved fear, trauma, grief, or hurt you may be experiencing. Prayer, scripture, and walking with God are essential for working through anxiety and/or depression, but you can not allow it to be the band-aid to cover up whatever the real issues are. A professional counselor can help you dig and find the root of the struggle.
At the beginning of my daughter’s mental health illness, she was in an active youth group at church, but pushing more scripture and “religion” on her caused her to feel worse. She was struggling with her mental health and then became more depressed because she was “failing” in her faith. Helping your child know she is heard, believed, and fully loved by her parents and by God no matter what is going on in her life is exactly what she needs. She will know she has advocates walking along with her as she gets the professional help she needs on her mental health journey.
3. Admitting my child needs help makes me look like a bad parent.
There have been plenty of moments where I feel guilt and shame over my child’s mental health. In a perfect world, we would all be perfect parents, parenting perfect children. In reality, we live in a broken world and we are broken parents, parenting broken children. Yes, God makes us whole, but without Him, we are all walking in brokenness. If your child has diabetes, you get the insulin and all of the tools to help him through his illness. If your child has asthma, you would get an inhaler and nebulizer to help him breathe better. When children have so many emotions to navigate in a society that is turning up the volume on all their fears, sometimes their brains can not handle the weight of the emotions. Their brains do not fully develop until their twenties. As their parent, getting them the help they need to navigate their mental health shows courage and the deepest sense of love that you will do whatever it takes to help your child, including owning up to your fears and failures. Confess them and release the to God. Do not let those feelings linger. By believing and helping your child, you are proving what a loving and compassionate parent you truly are.
4. Everyone has negative voices in their heads, just ignore them.
Intrusive thoughts are still a road we are navigating. Some intrusive thoughts are minor, but some get quite serious and scary. Hearing what thoughts my daughter has going on in her head is quite shocking. She has never acted on her intrusive thoughts, but she is aware enough when she needs to be more cautious in certain situations. Her thoughts are not easily ignored. They get so strong and loud that she needs medicine to help turn down the volume. As she works through counseling, we hope to get to a place where she won’t need the medicine anymore, but as of right now, I am allowing her to have the help she needs to feel better and function.
5. Counseling doesn’t work.
I used to believe this because I had never experienced it working. Then I realized there are several factors at play. First, a counselor is not a magician able to “fix” a person within a few sessions. You are way more complicated than that. Second, all counselors have different methods of counseling. There are different therapies like Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) but counselors have their method for how they approach therapy. My current counselor is the best counselor I have ever had. Her approach is what I need in this season of my life. My daughter is on her fourth counselor in three years. This one has been her best so far. She has been the most comfortable with her approach and is more willing to open up and talk. If one counselor doesn’t seem like the right fit after several visits, move on. A good counselor will be understanding and want you to get the help you need no matter where you find it. Third, the faster you open up, the more progress you will make. You have to go each appointment committed to getting better. Opening up with no “off-limits” topics will put you on a quicker path to healing. Fourth, when it comes to teens, when they are ready to feel better they will have to come to that decision on their own and utilize the tools the counselor teaches. As I said, my daughter is finally making progress in her mental health after seeing four different counselors. Let me add, I do not believe that a Christian counselor is always the best route to take. It depends on your child and how she connects with the counselor. The therapist should respect your family’s faith and not go against that no matter what. We have been to two Christian counselors and two secular counselors. Currently, she is making the most progress with a non-faith-based counselor, but it is with much prayer that God is helping her break free from things that have contributed to her anxiety and depression.
I hope this list helps you lay aside any myths or misconceptions you may have about mental health or counseling. Next week I will talk more about our story and navigating mental health challenges with my sixteen year old. I have updated my Resources page with links to mental health websites.
If you have any questions you would like to ask regarding this topic, feel free. I will anonymously incorporate the answers into my blog posts. You can e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org Subject: Mental Health
My May newsletter is coming out tomorrow. Head over to the home page sign up if you are not already on my mailing list! There are details on my new Bible study as well at the graphic for the chronological Bible reading plan.
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This is the beginning of Holy Week.
Without this week, there would be no hope.
Each day, you and I would walk around weighed down by guilt and shame of sin.
This week, the steps Jesus Christ took to the cross, to the tomb, and to his resurrection changed the world and ejected Satan from his hold on all of us.
Your sin and mine were nailed to the cross and died.
Your sin and mine were buried in the tomb and left there.
Our lives were resurrected with Jesus.
Is evil still present in the world? Yes.
Does evil have to have a grip on you? No.
Live in freedom. Walk with Jesus. He knows where he is going. Do you?
As a mom of four, I often feel like a broken record. I need a recording of myself saying, “please put your plate in the dishwasher, pick up your room, put away your clothes.” Is that even a thing anymore? Broken CD? DVD?
I am old enough to remember my little blue record player. I quickly learned records that are heavily scratched repeat themselves over and over. Tiny scratches don’t make much of a difference. The needles of the record player pass over the scratch without much of a disturbance. But an actual broken record is heavily scratched with deep gouges on the surface.
2020 & 2021 have sounded like a broken record as the same cycle of news stories, and global pandemic media coverage has etched deep gouges into my soul, leaving me weary. 2021 is almost 2020 on repeat.
If you have been reading through the Bible chronologically, you are finishing Deuteronomy and headed to Joshua. Reading Deuteronomy feels like a broken record doesn’t it? Over and over, God reminds the Israelites through Moses all of the statutes they are to remember and follow to live in the land God promised. You may be thinking, “Ugh, I read all of this in Exodus, Leviticus, and Numbers. What is the point? It’s like a broken record.”
The Israelites are a broken people. Life in Egypt introduced them to idol worship and corrupt practices. They wandered the desert for 40 years because of their disobedience. Their brokenness and stubbornness etched deep scratches into their lives and God has had to repeat his words to them. He is a loving father, trying to teach his children how to live and honor Him. God had many blessings waiting for them, but they needed to understand what is required of them. God also had to remind them of who he was and who they were in him because of his deep love for them. They were no longer slaves, but children of the one true God. He told them, “I will be your God and you will be my people.” (Leviticus 26:12)
I love my children. My broken record moments are teaching my children responsibilities to help them be productive in their adult lives. It would be cruel to tell them my expectations one time and expect them to remember. Repeating my instructions and guiding them on the right path is part of my job as their mother, understanding they will make mistakes along the way.
I am thankful God is a broken record with me by reminding me of his commands and promises over and over. As I have walked through the chaos of this past year, His simple, broken record reminders, have helped me get out of bed, place my feet on the floor, and walk into all He has for me each day.
P.S. Do you need some broken record reminders from God today? Here are some verses from Deuteronomy to encourage you:
How is your read-through going? To be honest I am a bit behind, but I’ll get caught up this week. If you are behind, no worries! Thankfully this isn’t a race. The important thing is that you are spending time in God’s word each day.
My daughter asked a great question this week. She said she felt like she wanted to get closer to God, but didn’t know how. I had two responses for her:
1 – Open the Bible. Pick a book and read a chapter a day. If you are a new Christian, or (like her) wanting to get closer to God, I recommend holding off on the chronological read through. Pick one of the first four books of the New Testament. I recommend John (and even wrote a Bible study on it here).
2 – Trust God’s Voice. When you feel God urging you to do something, follow that urging. Hearing God isn’t through an audible voice. It is sensing His guidance in your life. My daughter felt the urge to get closer to God, to know Him more. This was not an accident. God is always trying to pull his children closer. If you feel God’s urging, follow it. That is how you know get to know his “voice”. The more you follow, the more you can feel His guidance in your life. If you ignore His voice, you won’t know what it sounds like when He’s trying to speak.
Open your Bible, friends. You are called to be mature in your faith. While we will never know all there is to know about God and his Word, one way to move toward maturity is through getting to know your Creator through reading the Bible consistently.
If you struggle to make time, ask God to help you. Ask God to help you carve out time to open your Bible. Bring a Bible in the car. As you sit and wait for appointments or in the car rider line, it will be time well spent.
Listen to the Bible. There are many audio Bibles to choose from online, as well as Bible apps that offer audio features. Turn off the negativity on the radio during your commute and listen to scripture.
You can do this friends! Ask God to help you make it a consistent part of your day. He will do it because He always wants His children closer!
Here are some helpful sites:
The Bible Recap – podcast for explaining the Bible
Happy March, Friends!