Imagine the perfect student. A social outsider. She has friends, but doesn’t exactly conform to teenage stereotypes. She reads. She doesn’t go to parties. But that’s okay. People don’t like her any less for it. She’s clever. Passes every exam. She gets her head down, and she works. She puts in the effort she needs to in order to succeed. She smiles. She laughs. As far as the world is concerned, she’s happy.
Imagine you saw her today. Maybe you spotted her in the corridor. Maybe she came to see you, or perhaps you came to see her. She smiled at you. She helped you solve that problem you’ve been having. Maybe she calmed you down; stopped you from crying. All she did was help you, and you feel nothing but gratitude towards her today. She didn’t just appear happy, she made others happy too.
She’s just a happy person. Radiating positivity. Or so it seems.
Imagine the same girl, only behind closed doors. She sits in her room every night and cries. Yes, she’s clever, but sometimes the amount of stress she puts herself under can crush her. A weight on her shoulders. Yes, she’s got friends, but sometimes the amount of people around her can be so overwhelming, she breaks. Another weight on her shoulders. She solves your problems, but she has her own too. The weight of all of this builds and builds until she can’t take it anymore. It pins her to her bed every morning, and she can’t move. The sheer thought of moving outside of her bedroom makes her shake, and cry, and her hope deteriorates. Everything slows to a halt. She stops going to school. She stops eating. She stops moving. She sees no one, and does nothing but cry. It’s hard for her. She says nothing.
It doesn’t take long for people to notice. Her parents. Her parents, who do nothing but help her, and have all of the resources to do so, notice. They try their best to calm her down, but nothing works. Her friends. They know that she’s not herself anymore. They want to help. Her friends who were far away, they talked her off the ledge. Her friends close to her came to her house, they made sure she was okay. They cared.
But nothing helped. It was as if she was trapped in a box. She knew how to leave. She could get out. But she didn’t want to. The box made her sick. But she couldn’t leave. She hated it. Every second. But she couldn’t leave.
This girl is me. I’m fifteen years old, and I struggle with anxiety. Living in a household where every person is able to help, but nothing works is unbearable. I try so hard. It’s horrible. But things look up. Talking to someone helps. No one is as perfect as they appear to be. Everyone suffers. So check up on that person. Make sure they’re okay. Sometimes that’s all they need.
The author of this incredibly articulate and self aware piece is my daughter, Laura.
I wasn’t sure whether to post this blog. There are many voices in my head today as I type, all with conflicting opinions. One voice says I need to protect my daughter. One says it’s professional suicide. Another voice says that it’s important to be authentic and share my experiences. Yet another tells me this post will really help many people. I have always been honest about my mental health journey, and it is an ongoing journey, it is not possible for anyone to have sustained and infinite good mental health.
I have also been honest about my struggles whether that is confidence, anxiety, physical pain… but this is different. This feels like the worst pain I can imagine. I am having to stop myself from feeling like I have let one of my children down in the worst possible way. Remind myself that I can’t make anyone do anything against their will.
I have watched from the sidelines over recent years as my kind, caring, talented, witty, intelligent daughter has slowly descended into an ever increasing state of anxiety. I have loved, and supported her every way I know how but she’s a teenager and as we all know, teenagers have to learn their own lessons sometimes.
Laura has always been fiercely independent. She didn’t want help with anything as a toddler and that has never changed. She is capable and works things out for herself you can’t tell her anything, she has to work it out.
She is an incredible young woman. I know I am biased but:
- She has amazing friends
- We have never been called into school
- She makes her teachers smile when they see her
- Her teachers have fought over her throughout school every time she has had to make decisions about which subjects to focus on
- I have never had to ask her to do her spellings, reading, homework of any kind
- If anyone is ever upset or needs support she is there
- When she had her first residential at 7 years old she was a little bit worried, but once we arrived at the coach another little girl was crying and Laura immediately began comforting her and completely forgot about her own worries
- She uses social media to support other young people and help them with revision techniques
- She sings like an angel!
She is a teacher’s dream, a parent’s dream. Don’t get me wrong she has her moments just like anyone but I couldn’t be more proud of her.
She cares, deeply, maybe too much.
Anxiety isn’t a sign of weakness it is a sign of caring too much.
Unfortunately I have seen it all my life. People who are caring and compassionate and feel a responsibility to make sure everyone else is happy, who then give too much and forget to care for their own needs.
I spend my life trying to prevent anyone from feeling the way my own daughter is at the moment.
I teach techniques and strategies and show people the signs to look out for. I know what you should eat, how you should live and exactly what to do to prevent anxiety getting too severe. Thank goodness I do because otherwise I wouldn’t have been able to support Laura the last few weeks. Now that she has acknowledged that things have got too much, we have talked about it, and we have talked a lot. School have been amazing and we are slowly coming through of the worst of it.
No child should ever have to suffer like this. No-one should. Yes school is important but it is never more important than your wellbeing.
As parents we are only responsible for our children to a point.
We are responsible for providing for their basic needs; food, shelter and love. But we are also responsible for making sure they are independent, free thinking creatures who can survive without us. So if you are a teacher who’s child won’t read or do their homework, a police officer who’s child has been in trouble with the law, a dietician who’s child won’t eat anything healthy, or an expert in wellbeing who’s child is struggling with anxiety be kind to yourself. Know that we are not in charge of our children. We can only hope that we have taught them enough for them to make good choices but ultimately those choices are theirs and theirs alone.
Top tips for helping an anxious child
Lots of hugs – just being with your child and allowing them to sit, cry, talk.
Keep talking – they may not want to talk but keep communication open. It may mean texting or sending little notes at first but they will open up and feel comfortable talking eventually.
Don’t judge – it is easy with an adult’s perspective and all the stresses that come with adulthood to see whatever they are worrying about as unimportant. It isn’t to them.
Care for them – imagine how you would behave if they had flu, treat them with the same level of kindness; let them rest, wrap up in warm blankets, eat what they feel like eating, watch TV all day.
Be patient – they will get through this but it won’t happen over night. Give them time to find strategies that work for them.
Breathe – breathing is the quickest way to calm down your nervous system so take a few deep breaths together, when you hold them concentrate on keeping your breathing slow and calm and they will mirror that eventually.