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Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Living With An Anxious Teen

My oldest daughter has been diagnosed with five different anxiety disorders since she was 6 years old:
  • panic disorder,
  • obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD),
  • post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD),
  • social phobia (or social anxiety disorder),
  • generalized anxiety disorder (GAD).
For years, we tried the natural approach of changing diet, trying to control environment as much as possible.  We tried introducing and immersing her in the situation which caused anxiety (school and after school activities).  We tried play therapy, talk therapy, chakra therapy, pointed therapy, not doing any therapy.  We tried pretty much anything and everything we could read and research about.  Finally, one day, when after being taken out of public school and being home schooled, she couldn't even come out of her closet to go to a photography group-we decided to medicate her. 

Now, many people would argue with us that this was the wrong thing to do...but here is my argument: if you child had diabetes, would you deny them insulin?  Of course not. The anxiety disorders weren't just making her uncomfortable. They weren't a little bit of an issue.  They were a HUGE issue.  A sweet, caring and loving 12 year old had shoved herself inside her closet, between her dresser and the wall, shaking and holding her knees crying uncontrollably because she feared going into a social situation to do something she loved.  It was time to medically intervene.

Life since then has been a ride of ups and downs.  She struggles with being on medication.  At thirteen, she feels stupid being on them.  She feels like something is wrong with her.  On both sides of her genetics, there is anxiety disorders, schizophrenia, split personality disorders (from severe abuse as a child) and manic depression.  We've talked with her doctor and we all agree that keeping her brain as stable as possible right now, during her teen years, is the most important thing we can do for her future. 

Unschooling her has been the best choice ever.  She is able to pursue her hopes and dreams, her interests and at her own pace.  She can sleep as much as needed.  She is not graded.  She is not judged.  Is she still uncomfortable in social situations?  Yes.  Do we push her? No.  Is that hard sometimes? Yes.  Sometimes I just want to get out of the house and do something without it causing massive anxiety attacks and hours to get out of the door. 

She was very brave last weekend when just the two of us ventured into Boston, our new home town, on the subway and spent the day walking around the city.  She was certain we would die...be shot, be stabbed, be hit by a car.  You name it.  When none of those happened, she was convinced we'd get lost, be stolen, raped and killed. When that didn't happen, I decided it was time to buy a banana and have a talk about reality and fears.  We sat in Quincy Market, looking at everyone having a good time and talked about how her fears can hold peopleback.  Then, we picked up the rest of our bananas, pretended they were phones and acted like crazy hooligans while we walked back to the subway.  When we made it home, we was so excited she ended up jumping up and down and punched herself in the nose by accident. 

Nothing bad happened.  We ended up enjoying our day, to the best of her ability, just the two of us, in a new city.  Amazingly, I am still here typing this in our new office, in our new home, in a new state....and we are all okay.  :)  We're going off to the mall now to have the kid's feet measured and buy new shoes.  She's not panicking a bit at the moment. I know once we get there, she will fear her little sister will be stolen and that we'll be kidnapped, but that's just another day in our life.  Time to go prove that fear wrong!

Sunday, January 8, 2012

PollyAnna's Day Off

To be truthfully honest, I do not feel like "Pollyanna" at all today!  I have so many Unschooler's blogs that say I should be grateful and happily do everything myself because I am a giving and loving soul.  OMG! There are days where that is true, but today is not one of them. I feel like Cinderella before she meets the Fairy Godmother and gets whisked off to the ball.  I am not feeling grateful for the floors I am sweeping.  I am not feeling grateful for the dishes I have been cleaning.  I do not feel grateful for the clothes I have been folding nor the 5 baskets of clean clothes, already folded, which have to be brought up 3 flights of stairs. 

No. I feel down right annoyed at it all.  I feel annoyed that I have dog hair to sweep.  I feel annoyed that I feel like I spend my life in the kitchen, cooking, cleaning, doing dishes, putting away dishes only to discover that once again it is time to start the feeding cycle again.  I feel annoyed that my children and husband have clothes to wear which I wash, fold and put in baskets to come upstairs.  Yes, they can all physically help out, but when I ask they get all snotty with me.

Most days, this does not bother me.  But, today, I am feeling very much like Cinderella.  Perhaps, I should begin singing as I continue to sweep the floors. Perhaps, a mouse in a little hat and jacket will come and join me.  Perhaps, I should start that nudist anorexic camp I often fantasize about...no cooking, no garbage, no laundry....of course, in New England this time of year that would be rather cold...and I would get hungry. *sigh*

There are just days where it all seems so not fair.  I want to do the "It's Not Fair Dance" and turn around in a circle, stomping my feet, swinging my arms and chanting "It's Not Fair" at the top of my lungs.  What is stopping me?  The chores...so back I go again.  But this time, on my gerbil wheel, I will try singing.  Maybe, if I'm lucky, my prince will return from his month away and whisk me off my broom to gallantly take me away.  Yeah, I'm dreaming!  LOL

Back to sweeping I go.  In the distance I hear laughter and the girls playing together nicely.  I am grateful they love one another and want to be together.  I suppose it is all good...now, if only that Fairy Godmother would come in and sing "Bippidy Boppidy Boo."  If she shows up at your place, can you please send her to mine?  Thanks!

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Be Seen, Not Heard

Why is it that we, as humans, find so many faults with ourselves?  Is it the media?  Our parents?  School?  Work?  I honestly think it goes back to the old "Be Seen, Not Heard" mentality. With that mentality and way of being, there is never a sense of being secure in who you are because you are never valued.  You are on display, to be adorned, adored and then put back up on a shelf. Perhaps, if not so blatantly dismissive, you were raised more like how some feel about their animals...there to glorify them rather than to be loved and be a part of the family as a whole.

This past year has seen many changes in my family.  Family members have left due to circumstances beyond our control, this is our third home in less than 12 months, we added a dog to our family, we moved over 150 miles away from our support base and most importantly, we removed my daughters from school.  It has been a year of trying on different ways of being: "in the box", out of the box, half in the box and then deciding that a box wasn't even what we should be trying but instead something more akin to a circle would be best or maybe an overlapping spiral.  Child-led learning, or "Unschooling" has been the biggest change in our lives, and for the best.

To be perfectly honest, I still feel frightened when I think of a life without a curriculum. There is "safety" in a curriculum.  Boredom and listlessness, but "safety" of the known.  Sometimes the bogyman comes and raises his head and says things like: "How will they get ahead in life if they don't read Catcher in the Rye" or "What  what are they learning?" I believe that goes back to the "Be Seen, Not Heard" mentality. 

On a personal level, in school, my interests didn't matter.  My skill set didn't matter.  It didn't matter that I could debate with the best of them, point out inconsistencies and type 100 wpm.  What mattered was whether or not I could adhere to their way of wanting something completed.   I'll never forget I had to take English Grammar three times because I'd failed it.  I didn't fail because I didn't know the work, but because I felt it was more exciting to show the teacher I knew how to truly use the vocabulary words properly in a well written poem than in filling in her stupid blanks.  I failed every vocabulary test I ever took with that teacher because I refused to fill in her blanks.  How stupid, I thought, to fill in a blank.  Why should my life be full of filling other people's blanks? 

I never finished college.  I decided to go off to Hong Kong to work, rather than graduate.  I've owned four businesses.  I've dined with celebrities.  I've had well known business moguls on my speed dial.  I've had stand up ovations after some lectures and sales pitches I've given.  I have a book contract with a well known company, who is just waiting for the economy to turn around so they can pay me. :)

 Did school teach me any of this? NO! Did school teach me anything other than I was worthless?  NO! I have figured out what I needed to know by teaching myself.  By doing the research required to figure out what I needed.  I can now write an 80 page business proposal, complete with financials, and have it approved by a bank and angel investors. I have come to realize that real life experience and the need to learn something turns into desire when the interest is there. 

So, if my daughter's never want to read Catcher in the Rye, then so be it.  Let them be seen, let them be heard, and let them follow their own passions. I don't know where that will lead, but so what?  Life is an adventure. Grab onto it with both hands and go for the ride.  You never know who you'll become on the way!