In order to protect the identity of the student involved, this Parent Post has been published anonymously.

As a parent of a teen with a chronic anxiety disorder, I want to share my experience with you, because anxiety is still often misunderstood, underdiagnosed and enveloped in shame – for both the children and the parents.

What is anxiety?

Anxiety is something we all experience, both as children and adults. Any event perceived as stressful, such as an impending meeting or test, an upcoming holiday, or a significant change in life will produce anxiety. This is normal anxiety, and it passes once the perception of the stress, or the event itself has occurred. When one starts to perceive everything as stressful, it can create a persistent cycle of fear that affects one’s daily life.

When my daughter began to show signs of anxiety.

My daughter was once vibrant and outgoing. There were constant playdates, regular sleepovers and many activities that she engaged in. Things began to change in Grade 7, when she went to middle school. She started avoiding the cafeteria at lunch, because it stressed her out to have to choose where to sit. She “froze” during tests, so was given an IEP to write tests in a separate classroom. She stopped going to sleepovers because she suddenly began feeling homesick, which she had never experienced before. I chalked this all up to a new school, new people, and considered it normal teenage angst and just a phase.

Then she began complaining of nausea in the mornings, which over time affected her ability to get out of bed and go to school. Visits to doctors, other health care professionals and dietary changes did not appear to make any difference, nor was a medical reason found for her nausea. She began to “need” me to be around at all times, and began seeing less of her friends. I realized that this was no longer normal teenage angst, and she began to see a therapist. She continued in therapy until the end of Grade 7, then we took a break for the summer. She seemed to start to bounce back to her old self over the break, and when school began again she no longer wanted to see the therapist. As I had seen some improvement, I didn’t push her on it.

Grade 8 seemed to be going well, but as it turns out, it was a facade.

I was unaware of how much things were spiraling out of control until it came to a crashing halt at the end of Grade 8. My daughter began to self-harm. Self-harm is a deliberate injury to one’s body, without suicidal intent. This was a crisis, and I realized we were in bad shape. We began a whirlwind of treatments with medications, a psychiatrist and therapists. Her chronic anxiety had led her into a place of depression. The summer before Grade 9 was kind of like falling down the rabbit hole headfirst, and I too began to experience extreme anxiety.

As a parent, you want to “fix” it. You want to figure out the problem, and tackle it head on.

Make it better. Make it stop.

But that is not doable with chronic anxiety. It is a slow and steady process of finding the help she needs, and supporting her every step of the way.

Anxiety has changed our lives, and has also changed the way I think about things.

It has also led me to wander into the murky waters of what I share and with whom. She has a right to her privacy, and it is not my place to share with others what she does not want to share. In certain situations, however, it is necessary. There are days when I cannot leave her alone because it is unsafe for her to be alone. When she can’t be alone, I can’t leave the house. Which means I don’t go to work. I must cancel on friends at the last minute, or skip family events. I have learned that most people are very compassionate and understanding of the situation, however, for which I am extremely grateful.

Words like “must” and “should” were very much a part of my upbringing. Get out of bed. Go to school. That is your job.

I now think differently. I see a much bigger picture.

The goal is not to get to school today, but rather to figure out how we continue within the school system, to the best of her abilities. Her high school has been extremely accommodating, helpful and understanding. With the aid of the in-school Child and Youth Worker, and Social Worker, we have been able to put some strategies into play to help my daughter this year. Together with my daughter, we discussed options like homeschooling, half-days and online courses. For a variety of reasons, we came to the conclusion that these were not the best options at this time. The key for us has been to let her build absences into her week should she choose, and this has actually led her to attend on a more consistent basis. There are many unplanned absences as well, but given that she has a Chromebook and is able to pull up her homework and lessons from home, she has been able to keep up with her studies. Education is important. It opens avenues and doors that lead to wonderful opportunities, but it is not my main focus anymore.

I have learned to listen to my child.

When she says she can’t, I believe her. I used to struggle on a daily basis with whether I should push her, or accept her words. Now I know there is not a right or a wrong answer. The most beneficial part of our journey has been our increased communication and ability to talk about things. And the more I talk to others about my experience, the more I realize that I am not alone and that my daughter isn’t either. Anxiety is not something to be ashamed of. Chronic anxiety is unfortunately becoming something of an epidemic in our society, but there are people out there with the tools, resources and compassion to help you wade through these waters. You are not alone.

–    From an anonymous parent

Supporting mental health and well-being
By Waterloo Region District School Board

We know that mental wellness is a condition for learning. There is a clear relationship between student mental health problems and academic difficulties. When we attend to student wellness in our schools, students have a greater opportunity to reach their academic and social emotional potential. We have supports in place to help you and your child.

Who can I talk to at school regarding my child’s mental health concerns?

  • You may find it helpful to speak to your child’s teacher. The school Principal or guidance department (in secondary schools) is always a good place to go for help too. They will connect you with other resources you may need.
  • Each school has access to a designated school social worker and psychologist through a referral process that happens at the school.

If you are worried about your child’s mental health or safety, or that of someone else, be sure to ask for help from a health care professional. Speak to your family doctor or consult with the following resources:

Parent Posts are written by parents, for parents in collaboration with PIC. This series features guest parent bloggers where they share resources and information with other parents. We invite you to email and let us know if there are other topics you’d like to learn more about on Parent Posts.

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