Recently, Oliver’s school was closed for voting and so we were excited to have a day together on our own. I say on our own, but we had a pain in the arse (for us both) companion for most of the day…Oliver’s anxiety.
When did it begin?
I couldn’t tell you a specific time or place that Oliver began to worry about being apart from me or his Dad. I think over time, the fact that Harry was a flight risk and I had to dash after him more than once leaving Oliver with whoever I was with on the day, meant that he didn’t form the ‘secure’ attachment that psychologist John Bowlby claimed all children need. A safe base from which a child could explore their surroundings and return to a predictable and secure care giver. I was like a moving target and so it’s no surprise that my gorgeous, charming boy is also nervous and fearful in unfamiliar situations. And while I am aware that there are definitely more factors than bonding alone that shapes a child’s future (read my article if you’re struggling), I do see why Oliver suffers.
The mental preparation
We went swimming first. I had to mentally run through the visit before we arrived. This is essential every time we are somewhere together and although it sounds easy enough, its draining. I am like some sort of MI5 spy constantly looking for a safe base and potential threats to Oliver’s mental well being. (Being a spy sounds more fun though as I never meet any Bond types in my missions – mores the pity!)
I knew that I would have to tell him in as much detail as possible what would happen inside the men’s changing rooms (I’ve not been in them myself but I imagine they’re just like the women’s. Maybe with less hairdryers!) I also knew that once we were out of the water, Oliver would panic massively when I wasn’t waiting in reception as quickly as he was. In his mind one of three things would have happened – I had had some sort of heart attack (this was his fear when I went to the toilets in Manchester Wagamama’s and he sent a random woman in looking for me when in fact I was just having a poo! Give me strength!) Other options were that I had got dressed faster than him and already left or I had left through a different exit in the changing rooms. Completely ludicrous thoughts to anyone else but entirely conceivable for Oliver.
He settled into the pool and we completed our lengths. After a while I suggested that I get out and he did another few lengths to give me a head start. I would then come back onto the poolside to signal that he could get out and I would be waiting in reception. Even I was impressed with this plan and believed it to be fool proof! He seemed ok with this until I returned to find him stressed having noticed the emergency exit sign above the door and fearing that I had indeed left (insert big sigh, eye roll and drooping shoulders!). As much as I try to be one step ahead at all times, that damn anxiety gremlin still beats me!
Following swimming, we walked our dog around the beautiful local reservoir. Being mid-week it was really quiet and so I took Sherlock off his lead much to Oliver’s distress. Clearly a dog without his lead is facing constant impending doom – be it slipping down an embankment, falling into the water, getting lost in the grass (even though its only two inches high) or being mauled by the four-legged teddy bear that approached us half way round. In Oliver’s mind, it’s really not a case of ‘if’ but ‘when’. Sometimes I understand Oliver’s anxiety but at other times, if I am honest, I just want to shake him and ask how much more I can do to reassure him. I am helpless and frustrated. Battling against an invisible opponent who has so much more influence over my own child than I do!
Living with anxiety – my attempts to help
I have tried everything imaginable to help – comparing his anxiety to a gremlin that he feeds with his irrational thoughts, reiki and relaxation, herbal tonics and remedies, counselling, constant reassurance which is as exhausting for me as it is useless for him. We’ve tried regular contact on a mobile when I have nipped into a shop and left him waiting right outside in the car (which doesn’t happen very often due to Oliver’s reaction) and in the end, I can’t say that it’s got us anywhere.
Living with anxiety – the implications & frustrations
I am exhausted. Tired from the constant reassurance of what I believe is common sense anyway; I would never leave my children. But I know that whatever I feel, Oliver is experiencing it ten times greater. A prisoner to this internal terror. Limited in where he can go and with who. Missing out on days out and school residentials that he fears he will never return from. Aware that his constant requests to return to meeting points on school trips annoy the peers who have no idea how he feels meaning that they choose to partner with other children instead. Unable to override the mental panic switch with rational thought when the fear grips him. And quite honestly, I don’t know how to help him beyond constantly reassuring him and putting him situations where his comfort zone is stretched ever so slightly in the hope that one day he realises all the worry was for nothing and I am indeed the secure, predictable care giver that Bowlby said my boy deserves. I hate that he is living with anxiety every day. I also hate that I feel unable to help when that’s a Mothers very job! I feel like I’m failing my boy.
Getting rid of that gremlin
If Oliver’s anxiety was actually the gremlin I metaphorically compared it to, I would take it swimming and drown it. Or I would take it around the reservoir and let it wander in the grass while we quietly slipped away. Better still, I’d take it to the toilet with me and flush it with my crap. But it’s not that easy to get rid of an idea that now forms the essence of who you are. And while I adore time with my big boy its certainly true that two’s company and three is a crowd.
The question is, how does this trio become a duo? Answers on a post card please!