My daughter was invited to a birthday for a friend of hers from our play group and she was excited. For days, she kept asking me when we could go to the party. The day came and, when we arrived, she noticed what a large crowd of people there were. She is a lot like I am and does not do well with too many pairs of eyes on her. She buried her face into my hip and would not let go of my legs.
We have been dealing with speech issues related to a condition called ‘Childhood Apraxia of Speech’ and it has been difficult for my daughter to express herself in social situations. It has contributed to her anxiety, because she is fully aware of how much trouble she has had expressing herself. I wanted her to just be a kid and have fun without all of the anxiousness, so my heart was aching for a way to help her enjoy the birthday party she had been so excited about.
I took her hand and walked her through introducing herself to the other children and allowing the other kids to introduce themselves to her. I held her hand while orienting her to her surroundings and, ever so slowly, she began to pull away from me. It did not take long for her to forget I was even there and my heart was so delighted at the sound of her happy squeals. She was having a blast and connecting with other kids!
Since she was safe, it was my turn to orient myself and walk through introductions with other adults. Anyone who knows me could probably tell you that I am quite a Nervous Nellie. I am truly of the anxious sort and it has disturbed my heart to see my daughter dealing with anxiety in any form. I have had to go hide and breathe into the proverbial brown paper bag all too often and that is not the state of mind I want for my children.
I have lived with chronic post-traumatic stress disorder for some time and it has affected most aspects of daily life. Just the simplest of triggers creates a domino effect that is quick and uncontrollable. The spine tingles, the heart pounds, the head floats and spins, breathing gets labored, the body trembles, and confusion sets in. There are times when it can become nearly impossible to stay oriented. Triggers can strike anywhere, anytime; weddings, funerals, crowds, walking through a parking lot, getting into the car at night, hearing certain music, people of resemblance, large family gatherings, dining out, watching movies, names, dates, places, or even certain objects. There was a time I would find myself driving, completely disoriented, and listening to myself scream.
I have had to rely on compassionate physicians, therapists, counselors, my husband, and some serious pleas to God in an attempt to cope. Coping is possible but, it doesn’t mean it is any easier to live with that kind of insanity. Postpartum depression can, and usually does, complicate post-traumatic stress quite severely. I’ve had to run and escape at the worst of times just to find a place to hide and breathe until it was over. I have even feigned illness as a means to bow out because it was too overwhelming to even try to pretend I was okay. There were days when I would have the car keys in my hands and be unable to move past the front door without some serious pep-talking involved. There were days when the pep-talks did not work. Shame hovers like a suffocating, dark cloud in the presence of such a disorder; shame over the causes and shame that you feel so set apart from everyone you love. You walk around longing to connect, yet you feel too distant to reach the connection. It is heartbreaking, embarrassing, and humiliating for anyone to have to live that way.
There were a lot of people at the birthday party and the only person I knew was the mom from play group. I did not want fear and anxiety to ruin my daughter’s opportunity to connect with other kids. I prayed hard on the inside. I had to imagine, in my mind’s eye, what it would look like to bury my face into the hip of my Father and cling to His legs. I focused on what it would look like if Jesus took my hand and walked with me through introductions.
I put on my brave face and started smiling, shaking hands, and getting oriented to my surroundings. A peace swept over my daughter and I both. My little girl kept waving to me with a giant grin on her face as if to say, “Look, mommy! I am doing it!”
We both had fun. We both had so much fun socializing with our peer groups, we laughed and giggled all the way home together when the party was over. It reminded me of that commercial with the pig and the pinwheel; the pig that cried “wheeeeeee” all the way home. We were just like that pig with our pinwheels and I loved it.
My daughter connected with other children, I connected with a new group of adults, and then my daughter and I connected with each other. We have both been getting braver in social settings and at making new connections. A sense of contentment and calm has been filling our home in abundance. We have been experiencing a lot of laughter and silliness together as a family of four.
Having children was the driving force for me to confront the insidious nature of trauma and it was driven by a fierce protective instinct. I was determined that my baggage and junk did not get dumped on my babies. Sometimes, as a mother, I am in awe at all I am learning from my children.
If you suffer from severe anxiety or post-traumatic stress, bury your face into your Father’s hip, cling to His legs, and allow Him to orient you to your surroundings. Breathe Him in and breathe Him in deeply. If you have to do this all day, every day then just keep pushing. I have been there and it is not easy. But, He will teach you how to let go as you begin to experience His profound grace toward the crushed in spirit (Psalm 34:18).
You will eventually be able to start freely laughing and squealing again, too. And, it will be such a delicious gift to the soul when you do.
Thank You for teaching me how to cast my anxieties onto You and let go of the cares of this world. I pray that Your Spirit will bless those who struggle with anxiety and post-traumatic stress. Set them free from the burden of it and allow them to squeal with delight. Shelter them and heal them from the triggers and the memories. Allow compassion to fill the hearts of those around them.
I praise You for the sound of my daughter’s voice and I praise You for all of the laughter that has been filling our home. Thank You for that gift to my heart.
So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.
This post appears in the book: Shattered in Him © 2016 JD Mays