This is a blog about an 11 year old girl, my oldest daughter, Amelia. It’s a blog about a child living with an anxiety disorder. It’s a blog for parents, teachers and anybody who would like to understand a little more about a condition which is affecting children and young people everywhere.
Monday 20th February
It’s the first day of the spring second half term. Some children look forward to returning to school after a holiday. Others do not. Some children are ambivalent. Others experience a level of fear that you or I might find inconceivable. Amelia is in the latter category right now. It’s about a month since she was able to enter a classroom and join in with ‘normal’ lessons with her peers. In the two weeks prior to the break, Amelia attended school on just a few occasions. When she did, she was supported in a separate space.
Amelia got her uniform ready last night. She checked her timetable and sorted her school bag too. She did these things off her own bat. No pressure from us. In this routine, she is more organised and seemingly more keen than all three of her siblings! These are the actions of a child who wants to belong to a school and who wants to do well. These are positive traits and they are indicative of her character, beneath the anxiety.
Amelia struggled to get to sleep last night. She lay awake, worried, sad, crying, thinking and over-thinking. She woke in the middle of the night too, as she often does. This morning is as difficult as we had feared it might be. Unsurprisingly, Amelia is exhausted from another broken night, from a lack of sleep and from her adrenaline, which is on overdrive. When she awakes, even the gentlest mention of school causes Amelia to panic. Her heart rate soars and she’s shaking.
Once my wife and I have established that Amelia won’t be going to school today, the morning mostly pans out ok. She’s keen to submit a PowerPoint which she had worked on over half term. She sends that off via Teams and then has a few more spells on the laptop, completing some Maths and French work online. Over the course of the morning, Amelia is hit by a few anxiety waves. I try to use distraction to calm her. We do a spot of gardening, a little painting and have a few games of Mario Kart on the old Wii.
Early in the afternoon, things take a different turn. Amelia asks when everyone else will be back from school and work. She has tummy ache and she’s missing her mum. She hasn’t eaten or drunk all day but the very thought of food makes her nauseous. Worries about all sorts of things seem to come at her from all angles. The colour drains from her face. She cries and tells me she doesn’t want to feel like this.
Over the next few hours, I do my best to reassure Amelia, telling her she will be ok and that the worry will pass. In actual fact, the worry turns into a panic attack. It’s frightening. I’m in new territory here. My daughter has a tummy ache, a headache, a racing heart and she’s feeling sick. She hasn’t had a meal since last night so she’s low on energy too. I’m hugely relieved when my wife comes home from work. Amelia is relieved too. She thinks she has a migraine and she always wants her mum when she feels like this. She falls asleep on our bed, shortly after the rest of us have had our tea.
Tuesday 21st February
It’s been a rough night for everyone and not least Amelia. She was sick multiple times through the night. She’s had just a few hours’ sleep, as has my wife. When she awakes, Amelia panics immediately. She fears she will be sick again and she doesn’t want to be alone. School isn’t on the cards today. Even remote learning is unlikely, given Amelia’s fatigue and worry levels.
As the day progresses, Amelia very slowly begins to feel less nauseous. Her anxiety level remains high though and she doesn’t like being left alone, even for a minute. The high level of adrenalin – central to her anxiety disorder – causes her heart to race frequently and at random times. It also creates an over-riding sense of fear and doom. Amelia needs lots of reassurance. We watch a Pixar film later in the morning and it does a good job of engaging us both and distracting Amelia.
By the early afternoon, Amelia seems a little brighter. It’s a nice day so we spend a short time in the garden. We have an ongoing project of tidying our rockery. It’s calm and satisfying work. Before her siblings come home from school, Amelia enjoys some reading and a little painting too. She can’t face food or drink as she’s worried she’ll be sick again. She’s worrying about worrying.
Wednesday 22nd February
Amelia slept through the whole night, for the first time in ages. She needed that. For the first time this week, she doesn’t wake up in a distressed state. This is such a relief for all of us. Today is my wife’s day off work; if should make for an easier day all round.
We receive a letter in the post, in relation to the Healthy Minds referral which we instigated last November. We had a triage appointment in early December. This letter lets us know that we haven’t been forgotten. We’re still on the waiting list. Of course, like most other families in similar situations, we can’t just wait indefinitely. Our daughter’s health and well being are too important. We’ve sought private support and Amelia has her first appointment this morning.
The appointment goes well and Amelia is relieved. She’d been worrying about that too. It’s hard enough coping with familiar people at present, never mind meeting new ones. Before lunch, Amelia sets about doing some more school work on her laptop. She’s proud of her English assignment so she shares that with me before emailing it to school.
For the rest of the day, Amelia is – for brief spells – relaxed, calm and even cheerful. It’s such a relief. She does some art by herself, we do some more gardening together and she is eating and drinking again. It’s very apparent that Amelia feels safer and less worried when her mum and I are both nearby. She has a wobble when her mum goes to collect her sisters from school at the end of the day but I manage to distract her with a bit more time in the garden.
Thursday 23rd February
For the second consecutive night, Amelia has slept all the way through. This is really good news. She seems relatively relaxed as we begin to talk about the day ahead. At half past ten, we have a virtual appointment in relation to Amelia’s health. Ten minutes before the appointment, Amelia is suddenly overwhelmed. I hug her, reassure her and remind her that the appointment is intended to help her. She has a little cry and she clings on to me. She wipes her tears away just as we turn on the video call.
Amelia didn’t have any breakfast this morning and she doesn’t really want any lunch. Even if she’s hungry, the thought of eating sometimes makes Amelia worry that she might get tummy ache or feel sick. I delicately encourage her to have just one sandwich. Early in the afternoon, we decide to go for a little walk. I’m trying to make sure that Amelia gets some fresh air and exercise everyday. It’s good for all of us, I’m certain.
Friday 24th February
When the alarm goes off this morning, we all struggle to jump into action. We are all exhausted. When one person in a household has an anxiety disorder, the whole family is affected. Everything has changed: our days; our nights; what we do; where we go and what we can say. When Amelia awakes, she is calm but still shattered. The adrenaline in her body is having a similar effect to her running a marathon every day.
Amelia’s mum goes off to work and her siblings head off to school. Amelia and I talk about some things we need to do today. She makes a list of the tasks we decide on. It’s helpful to visualise the day (and to tick things off). We decide to start some school work in the first part of the morning. I potter about doing some jobs in the kitchen but, soon after Amelia has logged on to Teams, she’s overcome with worry. She starts to cry. She tells me she suddenly feels worried and she thinks she might be sick. We turn the laptop off for a bit.
In an attempt to distract Amelia from the worry which has just come on, we do a little bit of housework and tick a few things off the list. It works for a few minutes but Amelia soon becomes very distressed again. If I go into another room, she panics. She says she feels ill but she doesn’t know what’s wrong. During the afternoon, the doorbell rings twice. Each time, Amelia responds as though there’s some sort of immediate threat. She asks me who it is before I’ve even answered the door. She curls up very small on the sofa. Amelia is on heightened alert.
The two visitors to our house were my dad and then our next door neighbour. A few months ago, Amelia would have run to the door, opened it with cheer and chatted with confidence and affection. Today, her adrenaline puts her on high alert, almost continuously. The most innocuous of events – like the doorbell ringing – can cause her to be fearful. It’s utterly exhausting for Amelia and it’s confusing too.
By four o’clock, my wife, our son and our other two daughters are all home. It’s the end of the school week. We should be able to rest, relax and take our minds off work and school. The anxiety doesn’t know it’s the weekend though…
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