You know the saying “The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree”? Well, that’s my son and I, to a T. Whether it’s nature or nurture, my son reminds me so much of myself as he struggles with his anxiety, internalizing even the most minute details of an interaction everyone else has long forgotten.
The tricky thing about anxiety is it doesn’t present itself the same way all the time. While my anxiety often causes me to become withdrawn and testy or irritable (and, OK, tear-y), my son’s anxiety can cause body aches and tummy troubles, sleep disturbances, and unexpected emotional blowouts. Living with an anxious child is a bit like living with a ticking bomb: I never know when something that’s been bothering him is going to erupt, but I always need to be prepared for the fallout.
It all started to become clear when he was around seven and my vacation away from him caused a myriad of behavioural issues in class. He became angry. He swore at another child. He lashed out at his teacher, had an anxiety attack in the hallway, and was - for lack of a better word - an absolute nightmarish version of himself. I came home from vacation to a note from his teacher asking me to please make an appointment to talk.
I was terrified. My non-confrontational child had suddenly become aggressive and volatile. But, thankfully, his teacher lives with an incredibly anxious child herself and recommended a therapist. I booked an appointment that week.
Through counseling, I learned that my son often felt anxious about the simplest things, like having adequate time to eat his lunch. He was anxious about the cleanliness of the washrooms at school. He worried I would die at work, that I felt sad, or that our cat would get out of our apartment while we were away from home and we wouldn’t see him again. And these anxieties would manifest in rudeness, irritability, or out-of-character behaviours.
As a parent, it’s hard for me to cope with his anxiety so I can only imagine how hard it is for him. Communicating to him that he can always share his feelings with me was an OK start, but it wasn’t enough. Despite my own experiences and an education that equipped me with the tools to help someone experiencing anxiety, my son needed an outlet that wasn’t me. That was hard, but counseling was a life-changing experience.
I also had to learn how to look at my son from a different lens because sometimes the slammed door and crappy attitude isn’t simply him being moody and disrespectful. He rarely asks for the support he needs, perhaps because he can’t yet recognize it.
Through counseling, many conversations, and behavioural modifications, his ability to cope with his feelings of anxiousness has improved, and I think he’s learning to better handle his environment so his anxiety doesn’t get as big and scary as it once did. Instead of making excuses for him like I once would have done, my partner and I challenge him to be his best each day. Most days, he does well and works hard in school, extra-curricular activities, and at home.
But I know this journey isn’t over. And that’s OK.