Hi, I am Helen Bogun, freelance Graphic-Designer, living in Berlin/German. I am single mom of a teenage son of 15 years. For about 2 or 3 years he is suffering of anxiety disorders.
People usually don’t know what it is and how you have to deal with it.
What are anxiety disorders?
Several mental problems like panic disorders or agoraphobia or social anxiety disorders are part of anxiety disorders.
Most people don’t understand the concept, and even if I am dealing with a young man suffering of anxiety disorders, I haven’t understood it fully myself.
What does it mean for my son?
As I said it started about 3 years ago.
My son will tell everybody it was the day when I expected him to go over to the local supermarket to buy a package of milk for next days breakfast.
I remember watching out of the window, seeing him the little pathway next to the church and clinging himself at the fence of the church.
I have to confess, I was somewhat furious. He was 12 years at that time, and I had the idea that he was fully capable to walk 400 meters to fetch some milk and walk 400 meters back.
The distance is about 1/4 mile.
As a mother you always have to keep the balance between protecting and releasing.
He came home devastated and crying.
There was no real reason why!
He could only think of that the village green was to much free space for him. He could only think of the guys bullying him at school next door.
The attack passed by.
Beside the bullying at school and the strange way of teachers dealing with it – usually my son got punished when he repelled a bullying attack, and the teacher always denied that there was bullying happening at that middle-class school – beside this, nothing really happened.
He was able to go to school, which was next door.
Being grade 6th he was quite happy that elementary school was over in summer 2009.
We found a fantastic high school 3 miles away – which is a bus ride of about 30 minutes.
Teachers are clearly against bullying and they watch students carefully. Each group of 120 has 2 social workers.
The whole team is very supportive.
My son loved being there, and he still loves that school.
Minor bullying happened which has been took action against immediately.
Made me happy.
But the panic hasn’t gone away. Actually my son hasn’t told me all about it.
I realized that it was a bit more difficult for him to leave house in winter times.
So I took the task escorting him to the bus stop every morning.
When it started to be lighter in the morning – was February 2010 – I extended the distance he had to walk on his own.
Worked well for about 1 year.
Yet he was not able to do minor shopping tasks.
March 2011 our Waterloo happened.
I remember that on March 1st I have been out for the first time in 3 years – dinning with a friend in Berlin-Center.
All fine – kind of happy son when we came back home.
The weekend passed and boom…
… Monday morning and my son were not able to get up.
He told me that he is ill. So I ordered us to see the doctor later.
To understand what happened you have to know that our front door is on the back of the house. We have to go down a little path, which is bounded by the wall of my house and the hedge of a neighbor, to meet the street and pavement.
9 o’clock we went seeing the doc … or at least this was what I thought.
Leaving the house, walking down the path and my son wasn’t able to walk anymore.
He stood there, panic all over the body, breathing heavily, crying, trembling … I have never seen that in my entire life.
I tried to sooth him, kept talking to him to make him seeing the doctor.
It was not possible,
So back to the house and me seeing the doc on my own.
She told me that my son is suffering anxiety disorders.
He is afraid of being outside.
Huge spaces lead to panic attacks.
How to deal with this?
Certainly every person and every family has to find his or her own way.
Our way was first: searching the Internet.
2nd: Took my son out of school for some weeks, which is a bit difficult, since Germany has a compulsory school system – no home schooling!
But doc and me knew he was ill. And ill or sick children won’t go to school.
In this case I really valuated the supportive team of teachers and social workers at the school of my son. Even if they won’t read this: Thank you so much!
So I gathered any information about this, I bought a book dealing with this problem.
And I tried to get help via Youth Welfare Service.
Bad idea. They hadn’t talked to my son, but they knew immediately that he has to be in a hospital.
No way. I wanted to solve this matter without pumping psychotropic drugs into a young body.
So I tried to find a psychologist on my own. Which is not easy these days in Berlin. They are overrun.
But I was lucky and in between three weeks I found a fantastic Children- and Teenager-Psychotherapist. He is also very supportive and very dedicated.
It was essential for us to stabilize my son, so that he was able to be outside and see the psychologist.
I took the book: “Selbsthilfe bei Angst im Kindes- und Jugendalter…” by Sigrun Schmidt-Traub.
It follows a cognitive behavioral therapy approach.
I learned that this is not very uncommon for teenage children to fear!
The author advised to write an anxiety journal.
So my son started to record not only date and time of a panic attack but also to write down the incidence, what special feeling he had had, how fearful the feeling was on a scale between 0 and 10, and what happened right after that.
Reason was to become aware of what was happening.
He managed to differentiate between the different attacks.
I learned by watching him to differentiate between the different attacks.
That was a tiny but also a big step.
Next was to get him out of the house again.
He decided by himself that wearing a hoody protects him.
Ok. That hoody became an indicator how my son feels, and it is still the most important piece of cloth for him.
House and hoody was his safe space. I decided to extend that space.
We started to go into the garden. For a couple of days it was only possible to be in the garden for about 5 minutes. We did it again and again and again. It was important for my son to learn, that being in the garden is not dangerous.
Here the hoody becomes important. Usually the zipper was closed and the head covered with the hood. The moment he started and still starts feeling comfortable, he takes the hood of the head and unzips the hoody.
Even if the major goal was to make the garden a safe harbor too, I suggested nearly every day to walk a bit.
First it was only possible to walk from front door to garden and back and if we were lucky and it was a good day, we made the tour twice.
After some days we were able to go to the school next door.
But we started with the garden all the time!
Week 2 saw us not only in garden but also on the village green.
Some days my son was eager to walk on his own :).
Interestingly he avoided the bus stop :P.
Anyway tours became bigger. Panic was big at some days, and mild at other days. He told me he feels more secure when houses are close by.
After three weeks he was stabilized enough to go back to school and to see the therapist.
For the first couple of weeks we used a taxi to see the therapist once a week.
Later on way to the therapist via taxi, back home via bus.
Until summer holiday I had to escort my son every day to school and for half of that time I had to pick him up too. Sure not my favorite task, since we are depending on Public Transport, but I am happy that he is going to fight his demons.
He is very open about h is problem. So he decided to talk about it with his close friends. Which help me a lot, I have to admit. After summer holiday the boys started to help each other.
For a couple of weeks my part was to escort the son via bus to the interchange station. There he met his best mate!
Meanwhile my part is escorting to bus stop.
He is able to manage the way to school on his own. He is also able to come back on his own.
We see the therapist each week, which is a challenge these days … therapist and son are inside, me is walking outside :P.
What kind of tools?
- My son thinks it is helpful to breath in a certain way: deep breath, holding breath, breath out.
- Another tool he uses is to contract his muscles, especially his hands and arms.
- We are solving mathematical problems, while walking.
- Talking helps a lot.
- If he can’t bear the panic tension, he runs a bit.
- Doorways are important for him, and also grapping fences or trees. Something to bring him down to earth.
Outcome in life?
The therapist told me that this fear will accompany my son all life.
It might be a result of separation anxiety, due to separation of his parents.
By the moment he is learning the tools to deal with this fear.
He seems to be learning pretty well.
Being 15 years now he started to explore the vicinity with his friends. Sometimes they come over and then they go out to take photographs.
And sometimes he comes home from school very late: “We have been to the Mall with M . and V., mom. It was fun!”
This makes me happy.
And we managed to deal with it without pills!
Thanks a lot to Sharon Howard, for having us – my son and me – here, with this guest post
- Living With Extreme Anxiety? (cordraycounseling.wordpress.com)
- Anxiety Disorders on the Rise? (healingthymeproducts.wordpress.com)
- Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, OCD (extrabulk.wordpress.com)