Coming Up for Air by Sharon O’Donnell
I’ve been absent from writing for this blog since May; I wrote my blog for about 6 months and then in May, I decided I needed to take a break from it due to my middle son’s ongoing battle with anxiety. He’s had severe anxiety and OCD repetitive thoughts since late October of 2010, and after being somewhat under control with medication, it flared again in the spring. When he goes through these low points, it affects the entire family, especially me. He might be 17 now, but in my eyes he is still my baby, and I feel I have to protect him. Thus, when he has an anxiety flare-up, my world seems to stop as I focus totally on him: I do constant research on the Internet about his most recent flare-up, I’m on the phone with his doctors, I’m sending emails to coaches and teachers, etc., etc. For the most part, I can’t write — I just don’t have it in me. Going through all this with my son drains me emotionally, mentally, and physically. It’s exhausting.
When I feel sometimes that his anxiety is under control, I slowly start to once again get interested in the other things in my life like writing, getting together with friends, going to movies, and working on other projects of mine. Literally, it feels like I’m coming up for air after being under water for a long time. And then BAM! My son’s anxiety will flare again, and I’m back under water. When he hits those low points, it totally overwhelms me. I’ve resigned myself to the fact that this is a pattern and that there will be a few weeks of ‘being okay’ followed by an anxiety flare-up, and then it will repeat again. We can’t let the low points/flare-ups get us down too much because the pattern shows that things will get better again. But then they seem to get worse, and when my son nosedives, he nosedives quickly.
His anxiety, unfortunately, is not about school or performing on his high school sports teams; it’s about life in general, and he constantly asks questions in his head about how life began, what more is there out there, why things in history happened as they did, etc. He comes from a religious home, he’s gone to church and Sunday school, Boy Scouts, etc., but still these questions come because this is the way the OCD has chosen to manifest itself now. It’s called existential anxiety, and it’s awful. In middle school, the OCD showed up in milder forms like his getting indigestion a lot, but last year, it showed up this way, which is so much tougher. The trick is — and it does seem to be a trick — is for him to learn to manage these thoughts and not to let them take over his mind because when they do, he literally becomes unable to function. He can’t go to school, he can’t go anywhere with friends, he can’t even make himself focus enough to play the games he loves (baseball and basketball). We don’t know when the anxiety will worsen and he will suddenly become like this, and I am always feeling like I’m waiting for the other shoe to drop, so to speak. It’s an awful way to live, and I know for myself, for my family, and for my son, I have to get past this myself and not be so overwhelmed and emotional when these flare-ups occur. Easier said than done, though.
Over the summer, he spent a week having a team of doctors evaluate him, and he is now on a second anti-anxiety medication (the first one he was on in May led to a serotonin excess in his system which caused him to crash). Since he is evidently sensitive to these meds, they have to be regulated to the correct dosage because too little or too much can cause similar bad effects (we’ve also tried natural supplements that are precursors to serotonin but that didn’t work). So doctors have gradually increased the new medication, and it’s been doing well overall — but still, there have been a few blips in the past few weeks where he feels bad. I’m hoping and praying that they will remain blips here and there that he will learn to manage (he has therapy with a psychiatrist/psychologist) so they will not become major flare-ups.
The junior year of high school (which he had last year) and his current senior year are very stressful for any student, but particularly for teens like him. Add in all the bad news they hear 24/7 like about terrorism, the terrible economy, the environment — and then throw in how competitive it is to get into college these days – and wow, it can be mind-boggling. It’s scary how many teens have similar problems with anxiety, and I fear that we are creating a society dependent on these drugs because of the anxiety and depression. I’m not sure what to do about it.
I do know that all of this certainly has put things in perspective. I really savor the good days and good times with my son — and my two other sons, too. And I just hope and pray that as my son matures (which he has a lot in the past year with this anxiety), the anxiety will lessen — and as the stresses of high school and getting into college decrease — so will these OCD thoughts. In the meantime, we have to hold on and keep taking deep breaths even when we feel like we’re under water.