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The Big A

It has come to my attention in recent months that many more people than I knew are medicated for anxiety. Whenever I learn of someone who is benefiting from psycho-pharmacology, my thoughts inevitably turn inwards.

“How can X be on meds and I’m not? I’m pretty tightly wound and neurotic myself. Is this something I need?”

These questions in turn lead me to various online quizzes, books, and once to an unofficial chat with a trained psychologist. The survey questions never change, nor do my results vary. I am high strung and definitely more anxious than average, but I do not cross the line into clinical. Sometimes this is a relief : “Yay! I’m OK!” Sometimes it feels more like a burden:”This is what I get. Forever.” The vast majority of the time it’s not something I think about at all.

Until it pops up with Simon. Last Thursday night he put on a clinic for anxiety in the school-aged child. It began with a sheet he brought home that looked like it was for me to fill out. He couldn’t tell me exactly when it was due or what I was supposed to write, and when I pressed him, he confessed that he couldn’t hear Ms. R and was afraid to raise his hand and ask her to repeat herself.

“Why would you be afraid to raise your hand, Simon?”

“Because what if she thought I should have heard the first time and clips me down for asking again?”

We’ve been through this song and dance before. The worst thing about in-class behavior charts for a kid like Simon is that his terror of ever doing anything wrong inhibits him from fully participating in class. And I have to say that while I shared Simon’s perfectionism and anxiety at this age, my raging extroversion helped compensate a little. I loved socializing with my friends, and if that meant that excessive chit-chatting cost me an “A” in conduct, it was a price I was happy to pay. This is not the case for my more introverted son.

Back to the discussion at hand. As Simon confesses this, he dissolves into an absolute puddle of tears. He is clearly distressed that (1) he’s afraid if he asks his teacher to repeat herself he’ll get clipped down; (2) he’s afraid if he doesn’t get the right information to me he’ll get clipped down; (3) he’s afraid I’m upset with him for not raising his hand and getting the information. By now, any suggestion that he could or should ask his teacher to clarify things he doesn’t understand or cannot hear is interpreted as a direct rebuke, which leads to more—Yup! You guesssed it—anxiety.

We have now arrived at the kitchen sink portion of the evening. This is the time when anything else lingering in the back of Simon’s mind gets tossed into the air and forms a funnel cloud of fear and misery. It happens that Simon also noticed children turning in homework papers when he did not. Obviously, this meant that Simon was somehow missing out on assignments, not getting his work done, and was going to be in BIG TROUBLE.

More tears. I get out his teacher’s newsletters and patiently and calmly show him the complete list of homework assigned to date. We’ve done it all. I can show him this. He can read the list and remember doing it all himself. We can check his daily journal and verify if/when any additional work was assigned. We find nothing. But the funnel cloud is still swirling, and he’s not convinced.

Thankfully, Ms. R is online in the evenings, makes tons of time for her students, and is just generally a super hard worker and conscientious teacher. So I write her asking about the parent sheet and why Simon appears to not be turning in the same work his peers are. She responds immediately that Simon is always welcome to raise his hand and ask for clarifications if he needs them. Further, Simon is not seeing peers turn in homework he forgot about it; he’s watching his peers turn in homework late that he already completed.

Simon’s relief was palpable, and my conversation with Ms. R continued after he went to bed. She told me that he’s shy, that he does not raise his hand to volunteer information in class, and that she can see his anxiety. She thinks a chat with her will help, as will time, as will dividing the class up into small groups now that she has their reading and math levels assessed.

Nevertheless, I found myself anxiously reading about anxiety in school age children last week. I must have read through 10 check-lists on identifying red flags that signal your child might have an anxiety disorder. Not surprisingly, it turns out that Simon is a lot like his mother: he’s more anxious than average, but he’s not clinical.

I was recently reminded of this happy fact when I left his daily folder, the one with his reading log, homework, and personal journal, on the dining room table Wednesday morning. I was on my way out to run errands when I saw it out of the corner of my eye and immediately pictured Simon in a fit of hysterics in class.

Anxiously, I drove all the way to 28th and Kentucky, 10 miles in the opposite direction of my errand, to bring the folder to him. At which time I was greeted by an amused an unstressed child.

“I’m OK, Mama. Because of open house, we didn’t have any homework to turn in. So I figured today was an OK day to forget.”

Ms. Ray and I were equally pleasantly surprised by this rational line of thinking. What goes unanswered, of course, is why I—knowing there was no homework to turn in—found it necessary to drive 10 miles in a fit of panic over a 2nd grade folder myself.

Note to self: When trying to de-escalate anxiety in your child, do try to de-escalate your own anxiety first.




One Response to “The Big A”

  1. blg says:

    My heart wept for Simon’s fear of being “clipped.”

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