It was almost a year ago, on this very day that the monster entered our lives. Returning from the school track and field day, my daughter proudly displaying five first place ribbons and feeling the need to justify the single second place. Yes, a phenomenal athlete in all counts.
Yesterday was track and field… I held my breath as the ‘day-that-started-it-all’ approached again. But this year was different. This year, the monster was silent! After a year of learning how to quell the monster of anxiety, it lay silent. A personal victory for all of us… and the most important ‘first-place-finish’ ever!
Did she return with ribbons? Yes, but the victory was in that she competed – without fear of winning, losing or disappointing. Finding her stride to battle for her personal well-being; overcoming fears of perceived judgments by her peers, coaches and teachers. Perhaps the events that she didn’t win a ribbon in were her greatest personal victories!
One year ago, I wrote the following blog post: The Monster that Swallowed my Daughter. And today, after a long fought family battle, we are standing in the light. The monster has retreated and my daughter is powerful again.
The Monster that Swallowed my Daughter
My daughter was swallowed whole by a dark monster that lurked somewhere in the recesses of her mental health. We had seen glimpses of the monster a few years ago, some fears that seemed unusually heavy for a young child – fears of bad guys, fire and germs – but in the moment, we didn’t really know what we were facing. It was a prequel to something that sat deeper under the surface, growing stronger, feeding on insecurities, fears and worries.
She is a ridiculously phenomenal athlete. Everyone who meets her feels the same way. She was clearly a prodigy. It wasn’t unusual for her to come home from track and field day with seven red ribbons. She was unbeatable! Her soccer coach called her “fireball”. She had immeasurable bursts of speed and a fearlessness that was ‘unteachable’. High levels of success, led to high expectations being placed on her… not only by the adults in her life but also her insatiable desire to please. Her desire to be the best, to push herself to the physical extremes regardless of her limitations. She would push herself to injury if she thought it was necessary. As parents, we noticed, but weren’t worried. We were proud of her physical prowless. Her ability to be the best player on the field even though she was younger than the other players. The parents on the sidelines often commenting under their breath “Who’s that number 5?”. Inwardly, I would feel proud of my child, the star athlete. The standout player on the field. All of this, fed the monster. It grew stronger. Building fears of expectations, worries about the opinions of others, insecurities about being the best, concerns about failing or disappointing.
One day the monster emerged. It seemed to be a cloud of darkness that swallowed her whole. Her fearless demeanor, her outgoing personality, her precocious personality disappeared behind eyes of worry, insecurity and fear. Masked with physical symptoms of headaches and tummy aches, the fear of throwing up and being terrified of embarrassment rendered her virtually socially paralyzed. In a matter of two days, my daughter, my fearless player refused to leave the house. She refused to go to soccer practice, refused to go on play dates, refused to eat anything for fear that she would throw up. She wouldn’t get into a car without a just-in-case bucket. Curled on the couch complaining of debilitating headaches. Refusing to go to school, refusing to live life… the monster had emerged. In one fell swoop, anxiety consumed her every waking moment.
It has been six months since we met the monster. Six months of mental health rollercoaster rides – for the entire family. Everyday life now punctuated with uncertainty.
In the past six months, we have had tremendous support from teachers, and other mental health professionals. This is a family battle… we are trying to fight the anxiety monster together. We have learned how not to feed the monster. We have learned the importance of working through our fears. We have learned to breathe and we are learning how to talk. We have read, journaled, coloured and prayed. We have tried yoga and trying naturopathic remedies. My beautiful, precocious child is fighting her way back. She is working hard to overcome the physical symptoms that are ever-so-real. She knows that her mental health is like her physical health – it can get sick and it can get well. She knows that we need to feed our souls. She is much more in the light than she was six months ago. The monster has shrunk. It is smaller and less powerful than it once was, but it remains lurking. We hope that we can continue to battle the monster, rendering it powerless – but this seems a daunting task for something so dark, so mysterious, and something that preys on our deepest fears and insecurities. If anyone can conquer such a beast, I truly hope it’s my daughter – for once she remembers that she’s unbeatable, once she finds the inner strength that hidden behind the darkness… she’ll beat this monster too!
You see, the eyes do not lie. A year ago, all I saw was fear and worry. Now, a year later, I see happiness, joy, freedom and a quality I call her “sparkliness”. I’m not naïve enough to ever think that the monster is completely gone, I know it’s still there. I know it’s lurking in her insecurities, I know it might emerge again one day. But the stronger she gets, the larger her arsenal will become and the next time the monster peeks it’s nasty head out of her sub-consciousness, hopefully we will all recognize it’s dark presence and defeat it before it ever finds a foothold again. For now, I’m going to enjoy standing in the light… with my ultimate warrior – both on the field and in the recesses of her mind.