Anxiety and the Overthinker

anxietyToday Jack texted me from school:

Could you pick me up? I had a panic attack in history and I just can’t do this today.

Ugh. Crap. I was in the middle of a run, and then I needed to shower, go to a meeting, go to another meeting, and then, well, work. Jack’s school is 30 minutes away, in good traffic. I didn’t have that kind of time.

And … crap. What did he mean: panic attack? Sure, he had enough going on to overwhelm a person. It could be finals, or the speech he’s supposed to have ready this weekend – four minutes translated into Danish and memorized for a youth exchange retreat. It could be something a friend or a teacher said to him. It could be the weight of the world. Or it could be everyday teenage angst.

I know a few people with very serious anxiety problems. Some who can’t sleep through the night, or speak to a crowd, or – I don’t know – navigate a car through traffic, depending upon the day. What if this episode was the start of something chronic and debilitating?

And here my first thought was how much of an inconvenience picking him up in the middle of the day would be for me.

Mom of the year. Right here.

I joke about being the ‘meh’ mom, but I’m not always good with chill. My brand of parenting would probably be a trigger for someone with anxiety issues. It’s not unheard of for me to be on his case about any number of things: studying, practicing his violin, staying off his phone at dinner, occasionally putting a freaking dish in the dishwasher, or taking out the trash in his room before we get critters.

And there’s this Danish thing. A year from now he’s going to be in a foreign country, probably still not fluent after months of immersion. If he’s thinking ahead about this at all, there’s plenty to stress about.

And even though there’s very little hope of fluency by the time he gets on the plane in August, it won’t be for any lack of trying. On my part. In fact, I’ll probably be pretty close to proficiency in Danish by that time. I’ve been challenging him to competitions (DuoLingo is a great free app if you’re in the market), playing language instruction CDs every day to and from school, pestering him about practicing his speech. We’ve filled our Netflix queue with Danish shows, in which he’s expressed exactly zero interest, but his dad and I are enjoying (if you still miss The West Wing and feel like rescuing your IQ from the current parade of stupid represented by our depressing, vitriolic American political scene you need to watch Borgen. Like pronto).

So, just so you know, thus far, my Danish seems to be coming along swimmingly. His? It’s anyone’s guess. But the poor guy is getting hammered. By me, mostly.

So I cancelled a meeting and gave up an hour or so of billable time and headed out to pick Jack up. Maybe I’d give him a pass on the Danish that day. Maybe a few days. I’d talk to him about visualizing something calming when he felt overwhelmed. Maybe we’d talk about taking up meditation or deep breathing exercises. I’d talk to him about cutting off the screen time an hour or two before bed, about not procrastinating his speech or his studying. About picking the clutter up off his floor so he wasn’t faced with chaos first thing in the morning, and again at the end of the day.

And then I wondered what the Sam Hill I was doing, coming up with this list? Maybe I needed to focus on dialing things down a bit. We’ve been barely managing the chaos around here with work and volunteer projects and workouts and skiing and trying to keep our head above the laundry and making time for three or four (okay, two or three) dinners a week where we actually sit and talk to each other for 30 minutes.

Heck, I’m half a cup of coffee away from an anxiety attack. Right. Freaking. Now.

As I pulled into the parking lot I was thinking seriously about stuff I could take off our lists. I thought about getting a little disciplined about saying “no,” and not trying to do all the things all at once. I’d let Jack take a mental health afternoon and not nag about violin practice or washing the dinner dishes or practicing Danish. I wouldn’t ask about work he was taking home to make up for this lost afternoon. I wouldn’t suggest he do something other than binge watch Youtube videos. I’d very gently remind him to get enough sleep and reset for tomorrow, and later we’d have a chance to talk through this panic thing he went through in history class.

But I pulled up and he bounced out of the school like normal. Not pale or wan. Not shaking or tentative. Not looking at all like someone just recently in the throes of an “attack” of any kind.

“Oh, I just had a moment, you know, where I wondered if I’d be able to get a sub for work this weekend,” he said when I asked him why the hell I’d just taken half my afternoon to hoof it out to Timbuktu to pick him up.

So, it wasn’t about learning a new language, or about my nagging, or about school, or teenage existentialism, or anything on my long laundry list of worries for my kid who this time next year will be nowhere near where I can obsess and fuss and give him one of my lengthy pep talks. It wasn’t a thing that would turn into something chronic or debilitating or requiring of therapy or medication.

Nope. It was a pretty simple matter of shifting his work hours around a schedule conflict. Which he did, not too much later.

Absolutely no big.

… Just so you know, if you need me, I’ll be crawling out of this rabbit hole I recently dug.


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  1. Hey Beth –

    I for one loved this post. I have no children who do this to me but my little sister has totally pulled that with me multiple times. Where a \”panic attack\” usually means she just wants to leave school earlier – but of course (being a stress case myself) I always go down a run through of possibilities and prepare a pep talk just in case.

  2. My daughter is a junior in college and stressed all the time. She can come up with a list of the things that are stressing her out faster than I can talk her down.

    I was trained (oh so many years ago) as a clinical psychologist, so I can give her techniques to help lower her anxiety. But she isn\’t really willing to see anyone (or practice what I teach her) or seek meds.

    So I worry.

  3. There is an actual health disorder for this called Pyroluria. You have to have a urine and a blood test to see you pyrolle counts and your b6 and zinc levels as well and copper levels and out bound cooper levels.

    1. Yikes! Yet another tunnel to follow in my rabbit hole. Although, in this case, I\’m pretty sure we\’re just talking about normal adolescent jitters.

  4. I think we are the same person. That is all.
    Actually no, that is not all! Why can\’t kids put one dish into the dishwasher? Just one freakin\’ dish? It\’s not like
    they even have to pull out a grimy old rag and wet it, and put soap on it, ,and scub, and dry. They just have to rinse
    and plop into an appliance that does aaaaalllll the work!
    Ok, now that is all.

  5. Oh, I can totally relate to this! I worry about my kids so much and am always hounding them about the million things they should/could/shouldn\’t be doing! I\’ve been trying to remind myself to CHILL OUT! It seems like every mom I know worries about their kids though…I guess it just goes with the job. Ha ha.

  6. My kids are significantly younger than yours but I keep a booked schedule. I also do the \”dang it this is inconvenient\” thing when I have to pick my kiddos up from daycare early due to a stomach bug or coughing fit or…. Two year old temper tantrum….

    Don\’t beat yourself up. It happens to the best of us.