It started the first day of school.
Within the first hour, there was a text begging me to come get her; she was light headed, her stomach hurt, she was going to puke, she might even die. She had no friends in her first block class, and I thought she was simply overreacting to this fact. I encouraged her to take deep breaths, assured her she was not going to throw up, or die, and I left her at school. The texts came for about an hour until my phone quieted, and I was relieved believing she had settled, a little rocky, into the new school year. When I picked her up after school she said her day was okay, but she didn’t like any of her classes, and she was still not feeling well. She refused to eat any dinner that night.
The next morning she was up and ready for school before I was awake, but her stomach was still upset, and though she got into the car without incident, she didn’t want to get out when we arrived at school. I told her I thought she was hungry because she was not eating properly, and she told me she had no appetite, that her stomach was just upset, and she said I was mean when I told her she had to go to school. She began texting me about an hour later. I thought she was nervous about her schedule and told her to go to the nurse if she was really in pain. She went to the nurse who also thought she was experiencing some nerves, and possible hunger, and gave her a Boost shake before sending her back to class.
When she refused dinner again that night (she did have ice-cream after school) I worried she may be beginning an eating disorder (because, of course, it would be a full blown eating disorder after two days of not wanting to eat, of course, I would go there), but I let go of that worry quickly, as soon as I remembered that genuine eating disorders are generally much more secretive with the symptoms hidden. My child was simply refusing to eat because she said her stomach was hurting and her appetite was gone; it was troublesome, but not dire.
The third day of school text was that she was in the nurse’s office and she was dying. I called her pediatrician and made an appointment for that morning. When I arrived at the high school to pick her up for the appointment, the nurse called me into her office, and told me the school psychologist had been down to talk with Hayden, and that he felt she was having panic attacks.
By the time we got to the pediatric office, Hayden, being away from school, was much better. She explained to the doctor what had been going on, and how she has been feeling, and, while the doctor didn’t completely discount the anxiety part, she did a physical exam and discovered a sinus infection. This was a relief because it seemed to explain Hayden’s two major symptoms: lightheaded and, with congestion running down the back of her throat, stomach upset. We spoke at great length about Hayden’s schedule at school and whether or not it was truly necessary for her to be taking on such a heavy load, she gave us a Z-pack for the sinus infection, and when we left the office Hayden agreed to return to school to finish out the school day.
I called her guidance counselor and changed her schedule around so that she is no longer taking two challenging math courses. Dropping the one math caused her entire schedule to shift slightly, and she ended up in different Spanish and English classes which she was actually happy about because she gained a friend in the new Spanish and an English teacher she likes better than the one she had originally. Steve and I lay in bed that night and hoped and prayed this would alleviate her stress level.
Though certainly not 100% herself, she was much better over the long holiday weekend. Then came Tuesday, and lather, rinse and repeat. I started looking for a therapist for her with referrals from the pediatricians office, a couple of friends, and my own therapist.
Wednesday was so bad I had to pick her up from school and take her to the Emergency Room. The doc there did a complete exam including blood work and x-rays, and, when nothing showed up, asked me if I wanted a psych consult. I told him I did. The woman they sent down from the Psychiatric floor was fan-fucking-tastic! She spoke with Hayden (and me) for over an hour and a half, explained adrenaline, and panic, and brain chemistry, and stress to Hayden, patiently answered our questions, and concluded for us what I had already come to know: my baby has an anxiety disorder.
In retrospect, always in retrospect, I should have already been aware of this; there have certainly been signs throughout the years: the time she kicked a nurse attempting to take blood from her when she was five, the fact that she can’t go to the dentist without laughing gas, her periodic neat-freak outbursts…
It took me three days of frustration and tears to find someone to see her. Everyone I called was either booked, with or without waiting lists, on vacation, leaving for vacation, or simply did not return my phone calls. Meanwhile, Hayden was missing classes even when she was at school because she was spending so much time in the nurse’s office. Friday I found someone willing to see her on Monday. Thursday and Friday were a little better days for her. She says knowing what the problem is helps. She is ready, and surprisingly willing, to go on Monday.
I feel like we are living in a nightmarish bubble bouncing off the rest of life. I am so incredibly sad for Hayden, that she has to experience this anxiety, these frightening attacks; that her life and her school year are being disrupted. I’m so proud of her for the way she is handling it all, she’s talking to us instead of clamming up, she’s willing to do what it takes to make it better, to feel better and to do well in school. I’m sad for Anna who is having a fantastic start to middle school, but is worried about her sister even though we are trying to keep it all separated. I’m worried about Steve who is worried about everything. And, every day seems to slide into the next.
We are in for a bumpy ride.