“Dr. J thinks we should do something about A’s anxiety, and I agree.”
This was the text message I received from my husband after he took our son to his doctors appointment to discuss his ADHD medications. As I mentioned previously, our 8 (almost 9) year old son struggles significantly with anxiety. Over the past two years we have been through two counsellors and two psychiatrists in an attempt to get his anxiety under control without medications. There have been some improvements with CBT and behavioural modifications.
The first set of counsellor/psychiatrist were not a good fit for our family. Despite us, as parents, working diligently to provide and advocate for our son, they continued to guilt us and imply that we don’t do enough for him in terms of time and attention. Regardless of our responses and our attempts to accommodate their suggestions, it was never enough. And, at the end of every appointment I would leave feeling like a bad mother and that I wasn’t doing enough to ensure A’s success in life.
“Yes, I agree that something needs to be done about it, but I don’t want to rush to medications. We can talk about it with his psychiatrist next week.”
This was my reply to my husband, to which he responded that he doesn’t like this new psychiatrist either. My husband likes quick results. He has also never had to deal with anxiety. He doesn’t realize that managing anxiety can be a full time job for adults, let alone children. We dropped the conversation after this because he could not argue with my final response:
“I think she’s the best we’ve had so far. But given the many side effects I’ve had from SSRIs, ‘m not keen on rushing into putting him on them.”
I began struggling with my anxiety when I was 19, after I was involved in a car accident. However, I have “had anxiety” for much longer and just didn’t really know it. The car accident was like a knife, popping the lid off of a can of snakes. Everything that was once tightly wound up and contained within me was suddenly scattered all over the icy road amongst the broken bumper parts and there was no way I could ever get them back into their carefully ordered place. I walked away from that moment with trailing pieces of my innards shoved as best as possible into my dented and tattered car.
Since then, I have tried every available medication, both on and off label, for the treatment of anxiety and depression. Some were horrible, with intolerable side effects that made it impossible for me to function in any aspects of my life. Others were mildly horrible because the side effects were less intense and they seemed to moderately help with my symptoms. In the end, I worked diligently to develop a set of behaviours and lifestyle modifications that helped me to manage my anxiety without medications. That was effective for many years, until medical school made it difficult to adhere to those regimes. At that time I found a new combination of medications that worked quite well and had minimal side effects and that has been my go-to when I need a bit of a bump during stressful times (like right now).
I may have found the best option for me, but it took going through every option over the course of 10 years to get it right. I don’t want to lose the next 10 years of my son’s life in the clouds of psychotropic medication side effects. I know what the world looks like through a hazy screen that dulls the sharpness of everything around me. I lament missing out on the emotional highs of those periods in my life because the medications did what they were supposed to do: limit the spectrum of emotional feeling. I know what it feels like to take a pill that fixes one problem at the expense of everything that was right.
My son is a happy, outgoing, spirited, and determined child. He is also an anxious child. His anxiety does not define him and it certainly does not limit him. It only means that he needs to know where the fire alarms are in every room we enter. It means that when he wakes up in the night and he can’t get back to sleep, he worries and worries until he cries. It means that he needs a certain level of structure and routine in order to feel comfortable and assured that the world around him will remain safe. It also means that he annoys his parents to death when he asks and re-asks the same questions over and over “just to make sure.”
I get it. I really do. And getting it doesn’t mean that I don’t want to help him or that his behaviours don’t frustrate me. However, I recognize his anxiety because it is also my anxiety. I recognize that it takes time, effort, and determination to effectively manage the symptoms and their effects on ones self. And, I firmly believe that my son deserves a fair chance to learn those skills while he is still young and before life gets really tough. I know that my husband doesn’t get it because I know he doesn’t understand my struggles, either. As my son’s mother though, I don’t believe that catapulting him up into the clouds, where he will likely lose the best parts of himself, is the best way to help him overcome his anxiety.