Today, I’m sharing an anxiety story that has stuck with me even up until now, 18 years later. It’s an anxiety story that really strikes a chord with me because it highlights the struggles that every child with anxiety goes through. And even 18 years later, I still cringe at the moment wondering how it contributed to my anxiety moving forward.
The day of my cousin’s wedding, I woke up with the jitters. In fact, I felt down right sick but I didn’t say anything to my parents because I knew they wouldn’t think it was anything serious. And by all means, looking back, I wasn’t actually physically sick but in my 10-year-old mind, there was something going on and I didn’t feel right.
(Photo of the actual day)
Fast forward to the wedding and there I am, sitting on the church pew in a pretty white and purplse dress that I wore to my Dad’s wedding. My stomach began to churn, my body temperature raised starting in my toes and making its way up towards my head. I started to sweat profusely as I watched everyone around me celebrate this wedding and here I was, with the world going in slow motion. My hands got clammy and I began to gag under my breath.
“I’m going to be sick!” I said to my family.
They grabbed my hand and ran me out to the back of the church where the staff let us out a side door. I sat on a grass hill in my pretty white and purpose dress, gagging. I could tell my family was upset. “You aren’t sick,” they would tell me, knowing that what I was experiencing was anxiety. But as I sat there gagging uncontrollably, my 10-year-old mind thought otherwise.
I remember thinking, I hope I actually get sick so they’ll see that I’m serious. But just like every other panic attack I’ve had, the vomit never came. I just continued to dry heave and gag in a panic. Eventually, we headed back into the church where we sat in the very last pew, in case I had to leave, which eventually became my routine.
But on this particular day, my family was disappointed and I could feel it; making my self-shame even worse. If I wasn’t actually sick, what the hell just happened? What the hell is wrong with me?
After the wedding, we were standing outside the church and someone came up to my family, asking where we slipped out to in the middle of the ceremony. They went on to explain how I’m a child with anxiety and the girl stopped in her tracks with a weird look on her face, “Oh, that’s an actual thing?” But the worst part was, I was standing there watching these adults talk about the situation as if I should have handled it like an adult.
Why didn’t she just take deep breaths?
Why didn’t you make her just sit there?
Why is she so messed up?
But I wasn’t messed up. I was just a little girl – lost and confused – a child with anxiety. Despite everyone telling me I wasn’t actually sick and that it was just my nerves, my mind and body were convincing me otherwise. My “sickness” was real enough to have me sitting on top of a grassy mound in an expensive white wedding dress gagging uncontrollably.
This is only one example of the many times I’ve had to run out of something, for fear of getting sick. In fact, I still fear weddings to this day. The mere thought of attending one sends me into a vicious cycle of “What if’s”.
What if I get sick.
What if I have to run out?
What if I ruin someone’s wedding?
What if I disappoint my loved ones?
It got to the point where I would pretend to be sick even prior to getting an anxiety attack because then, everyone would think it was real. In fact, I played sick every single day for the majority of my life. If I’m sick now, they’ll really believe me when I run out of – wherever – gagging. What a sad way to spend your childhood.
After many situations like this, I no longer feared the panic attack. I feared the disappointment from my loved ones that followed, the “You’re not actually sick,” comments and more importantly, I feared never having anyone believe me. Remember, in my 10-year-old mind, I was sick. I was sitting-on-a-grassy-hill sick, I was screaming “I’m sick!” but no one was listening. It’s just anxiety. They would tell me.
So, I hid in my anxious shell; I convinced myself every single day I was actually sick just in case. Even today, 18 years later, you’ll often find me rubbing my stomach out of habit. What a sad reality.
However, the reason I wanted to share this anxiety story with you is because this story is a reality for every child with anxiety. You know, the child with anxiety knows and everyone around them knows they’re not really sick in the sense of having the flu but it’s important to recognize that they are sick. They have a mental illness that should be treated and taken just as seriously as any other illness. A child with anxiety might not be vomiting; they may not have sniffles or a fever but they’re sick. Instead of Buckleys and Ginger ale, they need love, support and understanding; that’s their prescription. The longer you keep them from receiving their medication, the longer (and worse) their sickness will become.
Now, in no way is parenting a child with anxiety easy. However, it’s crucial for the parents to know what to do in different situations to ensure they’re encouraging their child with anxiety to overcome this hurdle, instead of hiding from it altogether.