Looking at life through orange colored glasses…

Archive for the tag “anxiety”

It’s Not About You

To my daughter’s teacher,

I was very upset after our meeting yesterday.  I tried not to show it because I don’t want to undermine your authority in front of my daughter, but I was, and remain, very upset.  This is the third time I have come to you this year sharing with you that my eleven year old daughter, who struggles with anxiety and depression, is not getting the emotional support she needs in your classroom.  It is the third time I have come to you and it is the third time I have been met with defensiveness, excuses, and what feels like a complete lack of empathy on your part.

When I say my daughter needs more emotional support it means I need you to provide an environment that is nurturing and safe.  An environment in which she does not feel judged or punished for behavior that is often outside of her control.  My daughter has an emotional disability.  She will sometimes have outbursts, tantrums, or cry when she is feeling frustrated.  She may stamp her feet or exhibit other behaviors that seem inappropriate for a sixth grader.  Yesterday, at our meeting I watched you firmly point your finger into the table and tell her that stamping her feet in your classroom is not okay.  That her behavior is not appropriate for a sixth grader.  Your response did not feel safe or nurturing. It felt punitive.

My daughter is not a typical sixth grader.  Her brain works differently than that of a typical sixth grader.  Why do you think it is realistic to to expect her to act like a typical sixth grader.  My daughter is bright and capable but often lacks the emotional maturity to take a step back from her anxiety and frustration to choose an appropriate behavior to deal with those feelings.  Perhaps, in your role as teacher, instead of slamming your finger into the table and telling her how inappropriate her behavior is, you could instead validate that she is feeling anxious and frustrated and help guide her to a more appropriate response.  You say that my daughter knows the resources that are available to her and only has to ask to be able to use them.  I am telling you that she sometimes lacks the capacity to ask and needs additional support and help to find her way.

I feel like we would not be having this conversation if my child had a physical disability like the student you had last year who was visually impaired.  I’m sure you had to make some adjustments to the way you taught and presented material to compensate for the student not being able to see.  I’m sure you didn’t call that student up to the front of the class and ask her to point out the blue line indicating the Mississippi River on a U.S. map.  I’m guessing you made adjustments to your expectations and had no problems modifying assignments for that student so that her disability could be accommodated.  I am guessing that if her parents came to you frustrated about something that had happened during their daughter’s school day that you didn’t tell them that you have 22 other kids in your class to worry about like you repeatedly told me at our meeting yesterday.

My daughter’s disability is not that different from a physical disability.  Her disability sometimes requires that you provide additional support, flexibility, and modification of assignments or a change in your teaching or disciplinary style to meet her needs.  She is not trying to be difficult or get away with not doing work.  She is easily overwhelmed and has trouble asking for what she needs so while she learns how to do that I’m asking you to meet her part way and proactively provide her with a little more structure and support even when it’s not obvious to you that she’s struggling because sometimes her disability is invisible.

You said it’s hard for you to not take it personally when my daughter announces as she approaches the classroom in the morning that she does not want to shake your hand, as you ask each student to do each day.  I’m asking you to try to not take it personally.  It’s not about you.  It is about what my daughter needs to do to feel like she has some control over her day.

I watched you argue back and forth with my daughter yesterday about how many feet she was from your classroom door when she said she didn’t want to shake your hand.  Why does it matter?  Is it so important for you to be right? What I am trying to help you understand is that my child is trying to advocate for herself and tell you that she is uncomfortable shaking your hand.  She is still learning the most appropriate way to do that and you have an opportunity to help her with that goal.  Arguing with her about whether or not she yelled it from ten feet down the hallway or at the classroom door does not move her forward in that area.

I keep coming back to my daughter needing to feel more emotionally supported in your classroom.  Here’s what she really needs from you.  She needs for you to wake up tomorrow morning and imagine what it would feel like to start your day feeling completely terrified that something awful is going to happen to your wife and baby while you are at work.  Imagine that you believed in your heart of hearts that in order for them to be safe you had to stay home but because you have to provide for your family, staying home is not an option.  Imagine that it takes so much energy and courage every morning just to get in your car and drive to work that by the time you get there you are completely exhausted on top of still being terrified.  Now imagine that you go to one of your colleagues and confide in them how you are feeling and your colleague tells you that you are not acting like a teacher should act and that you need to just pull it together which makes you feel even worse.  Imagine that at some point during the day you sneak a minute to call your wife because you need to feel reassured that she is okay.  Imagine that people tell you that if you just tried harder you could stop these behaviors. Imagine that you just don’t know how you will make it through another minute of feeling this way.  Imagine that this is only a small part of the anxiety you feel every day.

Now imagine you have to handle all of this emotional turmoil as an eleven year old who does not have the emotional maturity to deal with all of these feelings, even on medication.  How would you want your teacher to talk to you if you were my daughter?  Would you want your teacher to pound his finger into the table and tell you that you are not acting like a normal eleven year old?  My daughter is not a “normal” eleven year old and that’s what we need  you to understand.  She needs you to be empathetic and kind and to help provide the structure and guidance she needs on the days that she simply cannot get there herself.

I know your job is hard.  I know you have 23 students who all require your attention.  I know that you cannot stop everything and only focus on my child.  I am not asking you to do that.  I am asking you to think about the words you use when you speak to her because she is using those words to judge whether or not you are a safe person for her.  I am asking you to put yourself in her shoes and imagine how you would want your teacher to respond to you.  I am asking you to put your ego aside, let your defenses down and consider how you can best support my child.  It’s not about you.


The Best Day Ever…

“Most of the shadows of this life are caused by us standing in our own sunshine.”

–Ralph Waldo Emerson

Back in March of this year, I wrote a post called ‘The Year of Meryl” (see full post here in which I proclaimed that starting in September of 2012, with both children on the same school schedule for the first time ever, I was reclaiming my life, my time, my purpose.   I was going to strive for balance between the things I have to do (i.e. chores and errands) and the things I want to do (such as write, exercise, and think deeply about important issues).  More importantly, my plan included doing the things I want to do without feeling like a “time thief”- stealing five minutes here, and five minutes there in order to fit in those meaningful activities.  I envisioned myself saying goodbye to chaos and ushering in a new era in which I had time to do housework, get fit, be social, and think intellectually.  ‘The Year of Meryl’ was meant to be a time to rediscover what is meaningful to me- not me the mother or me the wife, but the me who was once a musician, a political advocate, a traveler, an educator. And I thought the universe was just going to hand it to me on a silver platter.

Not so much.

On the first day of school, I loaded my kids onto the school bus, watched the bus drive away, and did a little happy dance, even while other moms dabbed melancholy tears from their eyes.  I didn’t do anything out of the ordinary that day, but the feeling of freedom I had for the rest of that day made me positively giddy.  The giddy feeling lasted until that afternoon when my 4th grader got off the bus, walked into the house, and burst into hysterical tears.  My nine year old has been dealing with an anxiety disorder on and off for the last few years and had been pretty well managing it for the prior 9 months.  But something about the first day of school this year, brought her anxiety back full throttle and it threw the household into something of a crisis mode.  My primary job the past few months has been to reconnect my older daughter with the resources that were helpful and necessary in managing her anxiety the last time it tried to take over her head and her life.

September and October were jam packed with meetings with teachers, school administrators, private psychologists and a psychiatrist (during those same hours that I was going to be writing, exercising, and thinking deeply).  For two months it meant using all of my super mom (and my husband’s super dad) powers to even get my daughter out of bed and to school in the morning, and then wondering all day if I was going to get a call from the school that she had experienced another anxiety attack.  It meant helping her to battle the worry monsters at night until she finally (far beyond bedtime) fell asleep.  It meant trying to not take it personally as my scared, angry, and frustrated child took most of her emotional turmoil out on me because on some level (I hope) she knew that my love is unconditional.  It meant extra hugs and snuggles for my younger daughter who felt a little neglected by all the attention that big sister was getting.

Where did this leave me?  Too tired to think deeply.  Stealing time to fit in exercise and writing.

I could say ‘The Year of Meryl’ got off to a rocky start, but if I am being really honest with myself that’s not really true.  It’s just that it was naive to think that just because my kids are both away from the house at the same time, that the time without them is any more mine as it was last year or the year before that.

Or maybe the better way to think of it is that the time without them is JUST as much mine as it’s always been.  I’ve just never thought to fight for it before.

Whether or not you have children, life is busy and something is always there to pull you away from the things you love.  In the past, I have just resigned myself to the idea that my life is no longer my own and figured  I had no control over it.  I let what was happening with my daughter completely take over my own life which I have now learned is not necessary.  Just because my nine year old may feel anxious and sad and angry does not mean that I also have to be feeling anxious and sad and angry.  My first success in ‘The Year of Meryl’ has been learning the lesson that it is okay to decide to be happy even if people around me are not.  I can take care of my sad, anxious, and angry child without being sad, anxious, and angry myself.  

It took me a couple of months to figure this out and in part I have learned how from my 5 year old.  My 5 year old wakes up every morning and says, “Today is going to be the best day ever.”  It doesn’t really matter what is scheduled for the day.  There is no reason for her to believe she is going to have a bad day, so she assumes she is going to have a great one.  And she does- pretty much every day.  Her kindergarten teacher called me one day in late October to share that my little girl had fallen on the playground, landed on her face, and her lip had started bleeding.  He went over to make sure she was okay but she just stood up, brushed herself off and said, “these things happen sometimes.”  He told me that in that moment he thought yes, that’s true but for a five year old to think that way is pretty impressive.

Her days are not perfect.  Like everyone, my five year old faces her own version of adversity throughout the day.  She just doesn’t let it bother her or keep her from having the best day ever.  I decided to try to be more like my five year old.  On October 31st I made the last minute decision to participate in National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) for the month of November.  Participants are tasked to write 50,000 words in 30 days giving them a jump start on that novel they have always wanted to write.  I wasn’t sure I could do it- in fact before I even started I was rationalizing to my husband why I wouldn’t be able to complete it, but at least I could try.  I woke up on November 1st and decided I was going to write 1667 words that day.  Somehow, I found time for it that day, and every day in November.  Nothing else in my life had changed except my attitude.  Proving to myself that I could accomplish a goal I had set for myself despite the other things in my life that I was dealing with was huge.  The writing I was doing (while mediocre at best-it’s hard to write for quality when you are writing primarily for quantity) completely energized me.   I started waking up happier.  When waking up my older daughter for school (a task which was arduous at best) instead of pleading, threatening, and physically dragging her I simply turned on some upbeat music and danced around her room.  Her little sister would join me and eventually big sister couldn’t resist joining us for our early morning dance parties.  Are there still some rough mornings? Of course.  I just don’t let them dictate the rest of my day anymore.

Learning this lesson was not part of my original plan for ‘The Year of Meryl’ but sometimes the Universe knows what we need better than we do.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to go have the best day ever.

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