My son has anxiety. I feel like I should emphasize that a bit more.
My son has ANXIETY. Bold, capitalized anxiety.
Like the proverbial monkey on his back, it’s always there. Sometimes it hovers at the edges, just barely noticeable through my son’s laughter. But sometimes it sits front and center, causing big elephant tears that come from nowhere and tightly-clenched little fists.
“What’s wrong, buddy?”
With his body hunched forward, his eyes downcast and wet, he says, “I don’t know, mom. I’m just tense.”
If it builds up enough, my son “tics.” I don’t know what else to call these invasive physical manifestations of his stress. His body jerks and jumps, he blinks hard, his right arm juts out of nowhere, to nowhere, like he’s throwing an imaginary ball. This can go on for days, every few seconds, without a break. There are nights that he twitches while asleep. And there are days when the verbal tics make him impossible to understand. As if he is speaking a language we don’t know – the language of extreme, jarring, heartbreaking tension.
“Du du du mom du” jump blink blink blink jump “Mom du na-na na-na mom” jerk jerk throw twitch “MOM!”
It finally comes, but the amount of energy it takes for him to say my name leaves him with nothing else to give, and I don’t know what he’s trying to tell me.
In times of high anxiety, my son won’t answer a question directly. He reverts back to safe topics, usually trucks. “Kiddo, what was the best part of your day?” Avoiding my eyes, he’ll reply with, “Mom, how much does a Peterbilt sleeper cab weigh?” On darker days, we stim on the scary. He thinks about getting hurt, hospitals and blood. He thinks about what happens when you die. His mind gets stuck in a place where I have to work really, really hard to reach him. Darker days are tough.
We talk. We do yoga. We have a Happy Thoughts Keychain. We eat clean. We go to counseling. We hike. We hug. We see doctors. We learn coping mechanisms. I watch him. I research. I love him with all my might. At night, when he is sleeping, I stand over him and will everything I have inside of me that is good to go into his little body and help him.
It isn’t enough.
Which brings us to Prozac.
I stared at the most recent doctor begging him with my eyes to suggest something we haven’t tried yet – acupuncture, chanting, green eggs on Tuesdays, anything except meds – and he met my gaze with his own that said you know what I’m going to say.
Trying to combat my son’s anxiety with yoga, whole foods, and yes, even love, is like trying to turn my eyes green by eating broccoli. Due to being abandoned, institutionalized and autistic, my son’s anxiety is now a trait, like my blue eyes, and not a phase. It is a part of him. So said the doctor.
And I said I can’t. Not right now. Not yet. I can’t neurologically and permanently change my 7 year-old’s brain. Because what if he gets better?
The doctor nodded, he understood. But to his credit, he said what needed to be said. “What if he doesn’t?”
I hear you, doctor. I hear you.
Rebecca Masterson is a writer, speaker, and an advocate for children. For more from Rebecca, follow her on Instagram.