TinyLetter from Robyn 10.31.20

 

TinyLetter: Halloween
Holidays are complicated, but it seems like Halloween should be one of those that are simply ‘fun’. Right? I really want to feel excited on special days for my kids, but to be honest, they usually just doesn’t work out. Anxiety is powerful and often invisible to those outside of it. If special days are not so special for your family…you are not alone.
If you do not struggle with anxiety yourself and/or do not have a child that struggles with anxiety, this might sound crazy, but let me use Halloween as an example of how ‘special’ days usually go for us.
There was basically zero build up to Halloween for our kids this year. I was actually excited because it seemed like we were walking into a calm evening. (One benefit of Covid for me is that I find the cancellation of events actually quite relieving.)
Around 4pm, the uncertainty of how our neighborhood was handling trick-or-treating seemed to have given everyone nervous energy. It was as if no one knew what to do or when to do it. There was zero transition time from our boys just hanging out to ‘WE MUST TRICK OR TREAT RIGHT NOW’.
I headed out with the three boys, but we didn’t even make it to house #2 before I saw the anxiety arrive for my 6 year old.
There wasn’t an obvious reason for him to be upset. Things seemed to be going just fine in our first 3 minutes of candy collection, but anxiety isn’t rational. Its arrival is not predictable, and by house #4, I knew this wasn’t going to work out.
He threw his bag of candy down into the grass and planted himself in someone’s yard. If you were watching, it would look like a tantrum. But for my son, what appears as anger or defiance is actually debilitating panic. When this happens, you can feel others’ eyes watching how you handle this and hear their thoughts in your head. ‘Is she going to let him act this way?’ ‘He’s just doing it for attention…’
But I know that for my son, anger is what happens when he can non longer manage or communicate how he is feeling. I have learned the hard way that in order to navigate his anxiety, I must leave behind any care about what others think I should or should not do. When he pulls away, I come closer.
I know I’m not alone with this experience, but I also know how lonely this experience is for the child and the parent. I instinctively become focused on how to help my son untangle the anxiety within him, while everyone around us is wondering what we’ll do to ‘stop his inappropriate behavior’.
As much as trick-or-treating had triggered him, it also triggered me. My own anxiety was brewing. While I’m trying to calm one, the other two boys are still full speed ahead, the youngest running in a ginormous shark costume to keep up with his 9-year-old brother. Joe was home tending a fire pit outside and a pot of chili inside, so when I called for help, he literally had to leave one fire to metaphorically put out another.
Milo and I diverted and found our own route and headed home about 4 houses later. This is pretty usual for us, **we often divide in order to survive.**
On paper, the whole event doesn’t sound so bad. But the weight and effect that anxiety can have on children and adults is deceptive. While it is relieving to have survived the experience, the anxiety has stolen all of your energy, and any energy you might have left is now completely focused on trying to convince yourself that everything is, in fact, ok.
For me, it looked like abandoning our friends outside and passing out in my kids’ room at 9:30. For my son, it meant trying to move forward, again, without shame, and have fun like the other kids around him.
To make a long story short, what I really wanted to share with you is that if, for any reason, your Halloween wasn’t perfect…or even if it wasn’t even remotely fun at all…I see you.
The memories you are creating with your kids do not have to happen on ‘special days’. In fact, for myself and my son with anxiety, our best days happen are never the ‘special days’, and that is ok.
Love,
Robyn
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