Thursday, December 25, 2014

Meeting Fear and Overcoming

Fear. It can stop us in our tracks. We were talking about it over on the Writer Diaries this week. How to move face the fear.

I've known some writers that let pressures keep them from moving forward. Whether that is the inside pressure of trying to make everything absolutely perfect so that they never finish editing, or the fear of rejection that keeps someone from querying. Sometimes fear can bring dreams to a halt. And that's just a shame.

Time to go into the personal and say I know a little something about sheer fear. When I first started writing, like many people, I was anxious about sharing my work with others. I worried someone could steal  my words or that they would find it terrible. They did in fact find it terrible in those days and justifiably so. But that is not where my fear came from. Nor is it the terror I meet every morning when my alarm goes off.

It started about six years ago. My beautiful daughter went off to her first day of high school. It seemed to go fine. The next morning she woke with a panic attack and an absolute refusal to go to school. Her whole body shut down. She couldn't talk. She couldn't tell us what was wrong or what was scaring her. She curled into a ball and cried. We were mystified. Nothing started it. No bullies. There was no reason behind it. She was just filled with overwhelming anxiety and it center on school. 

So began weeks of visits to doctors and discussions with school officials. Various medications and therapy sessions. Nothing worked. Hubs and I were very concerned that we couldn't let Daughter give into this anxiety. That she go to school as much as possible. The school and her doctors agreed. The medicine wasn't working.  Though her brain understood there was nothing to fear about school, her body was flooded with panic and it couldn't be shut off. The only way for her to move forward was to face it.

But she couldn't face it. And so the battle for our daughter began. It was up to her family to help her through this and that meant forcing her to go to school. Every morning we begged, reasoned, and downright fought her to get her out the door. Often she had to be carried by Hubs into the building kicking and fighting with help from guidance counselors and attendance officers. Other days she threw up from the anxiety. Most days she spent ninety percent of her time in the nurse's office, physically sick. Many times I had to leave work or send her grandmother to pick her up early.

Then my father helped out. She responded best to her grandfather's relentless insistence. Dad come over early every morning and gradually she began walking into the building on her own--somewhat better but still not good.  Hubs was able to go to work on time, which was important as he is our main source of income. Still she argued and begged not to go, crying in a way that tore our hearts. It was hard. Impossibly hard, but it was about to get harder for me.

My father spends his winters in Arizona. Months had passed and it was time for him to go. He was reluctant and delayed a few weeks, but it was unfair to keep him. I had to take over the struggle so Hubs no longer missed work. With daughter somewhat better, it all fell on me to not only get her to school, but also her younger brother, and still make it to my own work on time.

The toughest days of my life thus far began. I woke every morning terrified I'd let Daughter down and not be strong enough to get her into the school. I was destroyed by our family being in such turmoil and it was hard to be so cruel and insistent. She had good days and bad days. Sometimes she'd step right out of the car. Sometimes I'd have to coax and coax and call the counselors for help. We argued. We yelled. We hugged. We reassured. She still struggled. 

I feared my shoulders weren't strong enough. As spring grew closer, the routine gave her some comfort. Whatever panic switch had been turned on in her body dulled. She stayed in class longer. Spent less time with the nurse. Her grades went from Fs to Cs. But the fear over months of never knowing each morning whether she'd have a good day or a bad day stayed.   

Daughter gradually got better. She held on hard to her boyfriend's support. He lived close to school and I started dropping her there so she could walk in with him. It helped. She took interest in friends and life again. She got through high school, though with difficulty (such as she couldn't face taking her SAT test.) On the positive side, she even went to Japan with her language group. Six years later, she has managed to start at community college so she can live at home, and she has a job. We're so proud of her. But...

Every morning when my alarm goes off at six am, the terror is in my gut. For me, the fear remains. Every day I face it again, even though there is no longer any need. The cause is gone, but physical dread remains. SIX YEARS LATER. It vanishes once I get up and moving, but no amount of reasoning does away with it completely. It greets me each day. The fear that I won't get her to school. That I'll fail. 

With God's help and love, Daughter beat it and won. I beat it and won. With more time, it will end entirely. But for now I understand sheer fear. I couldn't be happier that we faced it down. Maybe that's why I have little hesitation with my writing career and where my willingness to try new things comes from. Doubts remain but moving forward is a breeze compared to that year.

Everyone has their own brand of fear to face. You can do it, too. Don't let it stop your dreams. 

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays! I look forward to seeing you all for Sun versus Snow in January!



  1. Thank you for sharing what has been such a challenging time in your life. Like the cliché, what doesn’t kill you just might make you stronger, right?

    We've lived with something similar with our son. His panic attacks started in sixth grade. He'd wake terrified to go to school, and be vomiting by the time we reached the school entrance. We couldn't discover what might have triggered the onset of his panic attacks. We'd had a number of friends and relatives die unexpectedly within the prior year, and the counselor thought that might have contributed.

    The reassurance of our presence seemed to be the only thing that helped him. My husband spent many days working from his laptop just outside our son's classroom. I left work many days to pick him up early, or went in late to bring him in and lend him enough comfort that he could get through (or partway through) the school day. My dad picked him up early, sometimes twice in one week. My mother’s best friend jumped in to help as well (my mom was one of the deaths; otherwise she would’ve been all over this; she was a psych nurse).

    We took him to counselors, and he tried a variety of meds. We got him classified as special needs at school so he would qualify for extra services and help. He took his tests in a quiet, non-stimulating setting. I read everything I could get my hands on about panic attacks in the hope of finding the answer in the pages.

    This past spring he graduated, not with the best grades, but he made it through high school. During the summer, he weaned off all his meds (his choice). He started community college this past fall (and got -meh grades, but we'll see what the spring semester brings).

    We’re not sure what the future holds for him. He’s social and outgoing, but not quite sure what he wants to do in life, or what he’ll be able to do in life. But, he's growing up and taking more responsibility for his own inner strength, so I'll count that as a success.

    1. How strange that we're going through much the same thing. And sounds like our kids are the same age. It's a daily process, that's for sure. Daughter still doesn't like crowds or interacting with people. It's always a fight for her, but the progress is there. Hope it continues for both our kids!

  2. Count me in to this little family anxiety club. My daughter is only ten, but she's had issues since she was about three, off and on, with no apparent traumatic reason. This is our third round with a therapist since she was five, and it is definitely the toughest time so far.

    I was so grateful for the winter school break, but it's only proved that school isn't the problem. Christmas parties with family, church, sport, it doesn't seem to matter what. The tears, the panic, the stomach aches, the refusals to go, the angry "you don't understand me," the refusal to eat because her stomach might start to hurt again - it's all wearing me down. And I'm so worried that I won't be strong enough to push her through it this time, or that I won't support her in the right way or that it will keep getting worse until she hurts herself with more than a scratch on her leg.

    I know you only need strength for one day at a time, and I sometimes hope by it showing up so early, it means we'll get it under control before she gets older. I hope it means the impact on her later life will be less. But it feels like a mountain ahead of me, because maybe her experiencing it early just means she'll deal with it longer. It's really good to hear your kids have managed to cope with it. I'm hoping for the best for them in the future. Please cross your fingers for us or keep us in your thoughts. I can really use the positive energy right now.

  3. I think in a way I was lucky Daughter was older. She understood she needed to fight it and go to school. At some point we reached the stage where her reason won out over her fear. But I hope your daughter starting early will allow her to overcome it sooner, Laura.