I don’t often go out at night. I used to go out more. Lately, I’m just too tired, but I left my husband in charge last night to help a friend prepare for her daughter’s birthday party. We made lots of fondant flowers and decorated cupcakes.
I came home to a quiet house. I crawled into bed and asked my husband how the night went, and he said, “Okay, but Grace was too scared to be in her bed so she fell asleep here.” I thought about that for a moment. “Too scared?” I couldn’t fall asleep until 2 AM this morning thanks to the two cups of espresso I had yesterday, but who am I to turn to down a taste test between two high-end espresso machines offered to me by two very bored retailers (Nespresso and De’Longhi)? Yeah, that actually happened to me yesterday. The Illy coffee wins for its smoothness, but those Nespresso machines are swank! I now want one. I also want a self-warming toilet seat. I’ll keep dreaming.
So, this morning, Grace was in the kitchen as I stumbled in to grab more coffee. Thank you, God, for Keurig. It’s not a Nespresso machine that froths the milk while brewing the esprsso, but it’s my Keurig. I asked her how her night went. “I was paranoid.” Hmmm. “Tell me what that means to you.” She replied, “I was afraid that someone was going to kidnap me.” I’m not a person who lacks empathy, and I have a lot of empathy with my kids. There is a time, however, when people need to use the skills they have. Sometimes they forget what they know. Sometimes they forget that they are not, in fact, drowning. I put myself through college, in part, by lifeguarding and teaching people to swim. Okay, I was forced to teach water aerobics as well, but I’m not discussing that. I did have to jump in and save a few people in the deep end from time to time, but, more often than not, I was grabbing tiny kids out of the shallow end. They got some water in their face, got scared, and forgot that they could put their feet down. They weren’t going to drown at all. They were perfectly capable of saving themselves, but little kids forget what they know when they get scared. So it is with anxiety.
Grace wasn’t experiencing true paranoia associated with schizophrenia. She was experiencing good, old-fashioned anxiety. I had to help her figure out why. So, I just told her, “You weren’t paranoid. You were anxious. Why were you anxious that you were going to be kidnapped? That’s oddly specific.” She didn’t know. “Maybe you should think about it. Who would want to kidnap you?” She didn’t know. So, I said, “Let’s really think about this. You need to engage your thinking brain. People usually kidnap people for a reason. Often for ransom. If you were President Obama’s daughter, then I could see why you might be anxious about being kidnapped. That would be legitimate, but even she would have the Secret Service protecting her at all times. We aren’t people of means. So, again, who would want to kidnap you?” She just stood there. “Well, it got dark.” I asked, “What does it being dark have to do with being kidnapped?” She just stared at me. “I don’t know.” She stood silently in the kitchen. I asked her, “Do you know why you would be anxious about such a thing? Any ideas at all?” She just said that she was afraid of it. I didn’t buy it. “Why not be anxious about something else? Why not be anxious about your foot self-combusting? ‘Oh no, my foot’s gonna start on fire! My foot’s gonna start on fire! I can’t leave the house!” She looked at me with a strange expression and said, “That’s a weird thing to be anxious about.” I smirked at her and said, “No weirder than being scared that some random person is going to break into our house and kidnap you.” She chewed her lip and said, “No, it’s not. Because I had this Internet safety class, and there was this boy who was kidnapped…”
And there it was. We both looked at each other. “Aha!” I said pointing at her. She started to cry.
“Tell me what happened to the boy.”
And Grace told me what happened to a boy who was in a chat room and met the wrong sort of person. He thought he was meeting a peer at a mall. He ended up meeting a pedophile. He was taken. Last night, for whatever reason, she didn’t remember anything else except that kids can be taken. She generalized that. She could be taken. Unleash the Kraken of anxiety!
After I heard the story, I asked her, “Did you remember last night that this boy was set up? A strange man did not creep into his house and take him? That was not a random kidnapping? This was an Internet safety class so they were going to tell you a shocking story to get your attention. They are trying to tell you and your peers that the Internet is not necessarily a safe place. You have be safe. No personal information. Ever. Never make plans to meet a stranger. Anyone can pretend to be anyone they want to be online. It’s an ideal environment for predators.” She understood this, but she didn’t like it. “I knew there were bad people in the world, but I just didn’t know that people could be that bad. I don’t like it.”
“Well, all that aside, what happened to you last night was a choice. You have a lot of skills, and you didn’t use them. An intrusive thought popped into your brain, and, rather than ask yourself why you were anxious, you embraced it. Everyone experiences intrusive thoughts, but we don’t have to welcome them into ourselves. You can use all the cognitive skills that you have, the self-regulation, and the anxiety management tools that you have to contain a thought like that. Every time you experience something like that you get to practice. And every time you practice, you grow new neural connections. At this point, lying down and taking a beating isn’t really an option anymore. Keeping your dad awake crying for a few hours, refusing to go to bed, and having a panic attack because you’re afraid of being kidnapped? That did not have to happen. It’s time to use the skills, Grace.”
An in-home skills therapist comes into our home for 2.5 hours a week and also goes to Grace’s school. Grace has a lot of resources available to her. After we talked, she went upstairs and gathered her Coping Box and her folder which is full of the self-help mini-posters that they make together. Grace admitted that she needs to organize everything so that it’s all readily available to her when she finds herself in a mood and needing help.
This morning, my husband told me that Grace’s anxiety all began with, “When will Mom be home? I want Mom to come home.” Anxiety cultivates anxiety. My husband isn’t involved in Grace’s care to the extent that I am. He can offer his presence and distract her when she’s heading for a crash. If she, however, needs cognitive help, then that’s my department. I know the difference between true paranoia and anxiety, and I can help Grace learn the difference, too. I’ve got the most practice, but even the primary caregiver needs a break.
I refuse to feel guilty about trying to have a life outside of caring for my kids. I’m a better mother when I’m a woman first.