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Day 18: Anxiety, Courage and Trying Again Tomorrow

As an adult, I decided that I had been the world's most anxious child. There were times I was so worried that I lost the ability to speak, especially to adults. I had nightmares most nights, involving a dark staircase with red velvet curtains, Miss Havisham and a screeching parrot. My 'good' dream recurred less frequently, but it involved me taking out my tongue so I had an excuse not to speak to scary people, then growing wings so I could fly away. (Therapists, you're welcome. SEN Mums, feel free to diagnose. Worthy parents, don't inflict Miss Havisham or in fact any Dickens on an anxious child.) Anyway, I now know a child even more anxious than I was. He's my son. And the other two sons come close on his heels.

The irony, of course, is that the stresses of my adult life have allowed me to let go of much of my own anxiety. I definitely have panicky periods, mostly around a child's needs not being met, but mostly I'm satisfied if I end the day knowing that my kids have had the opportunity to eat (sometimes they choose not to take advantage, but I know they'll eat another time) and that nobody is going to bed with broken bones or gaping wounds. When you've had three boys under three, you set your sights low for the rest of your life. A great day is when you don't step in or sit down on wee. A miracle would be not even smelling wee. On a rather deeper level, I've watched friends survive what can only be described as tragedies, and their experience makes me grateful for everything I have and ashamed to start slipping into a world of 'what if' when their 'what ifs' actually happened. It sometimes takes me many deep breaths, a silent scream and (outside of these 90 days) a glass or three of wine to remember that life and safety are the only things that matter, but the calm is easier to access than it used to be. I am lucky in that I was forced into a change of perspective by my circumstances, and my messed-up mind accommodated it. As a child, though, I didn't realise there was any other way to think, and wrote my parents off as flippant and wrong when they told me not to worry.

Why am I on about all this? Because just this morning, The Big Boy descended into panic over a school form which may or may not have been returned and a bag that wouldn't close. He then revealed that he is carrying all his schoolbooks and equipment at once because he has already done both the weeks of his fortnightly timetable and nobody told him explicitly on Friday that it starts again today. Further panic was occasioned by the fact that the imaginary new timetable might include Art on a Monday, unlike the real existing timetable with Art on Friday, and of course he lost his Art kit last week before he'd even brought it home to be named. And nothing I could say would reach him or even slow his breathing.

This is the bit where I need ADD-vance, and later today I'll be digging out my course notes on anxiety. When you have SEN kids, they obviously experience many of the same ups and downs or worries and fears - and yes, joys and triumphs - as other children, but the intensity can be terrifying. Mental health issues are, sadly, fairly standard among the Special Needs community, beginning at a very young age. I think we can admit that it's a rare adult who has their head completely together, and even if we did, we wouldn't necessarily know how to pass our 'togetherness' on to our SEN kids, who experience the world in their own unique ways. The fine folks at ADD-vance are trained to help us make this leap. Their 6-week course for parents surprised me by giving me clarity about many aspects of my own life, but the hard work is supporting the kids, working out which of many approaches might help a particular child at a particular time in particular circumstances. And of course, to model those approaches for them. Yes, it's much, much, much, much easier to model 'Pimms/wine/gin will help, or maybe I'll just scream'. Now that I've taken the alcohol option out, I realise that I've done a bit much screaming too.

Looking more closely, I can see where a lot of the raised voice stuff has come from. It stems from being frustrated with myself for having fallen out of more effective parenting habits. I think I occasionally rebel against the fact that my boys need conscious parenting* in order to help them to survive the outside world, because they don't just 'pick things up' in the way other kids do. It's hard work and sometimes I need a break, even if that undoes the work that has gone before. Clearly I've had my break-ette without realising it was happening, so in the rest of my 90 days dry, I want to return to lessons from ADD-vance and try to model more effectively the various approaches to anxiety, stress and life in general. This morning I didn't. The Cat and The Dog loved all the fuss about forms and bags, and took advantage to run around in pants well into the 'late-making' zone. I ended up yelling about shoes so much that my asthma kicked in and I had to have Ventolin instead of breakfast. This behaviour is not recommended by ADD-vance, or anyone else with a shred of common sense.

But you know what, it's okay. Life is life, and it's all okay. We're back to self-care and accepting that we're human and that we need to be kind to ourselves in circumstances that are not always easy. I'm a sucker for a facebook meme, and this week the kindly world of cyberspace sent me this:
Courage doesn't always roar.
Sometimes courage is the little voice 
at the end of the day saying,
'I'll try again tomorrow'.

If the Big Boy, The Cat and The Dog learn anything from me, I hope it's to accept the moments that don't go to plan and try again in the morning, feeling brave and strong with every new beginning.

*I really hate phrases like 'conscious parenting' or 'effective parenting habits', as they sound like yet another middle class 'movement' designed to make people feel rubbish if they don't buy a series of books, attend a few seminars, join multiple facebook groups and help their unprecedentedly wonderful offspring to be mindful, organic and grateful while also aspirational and open to 'success' at every opportunity. I can't think of a less cringe-inducing way to say, though, that with SEN kids you can't just wing it. They need structure and consistency and are easily confused or hurt by unpredictable behaviour at home. What I'm really aiming for with 'conscious' or 'effective' is parental non-crapness and a bit of effort. (That would never make a bestseller list, would it? Autism and Parental Non-Crapness, by The Frequently Too-Tired-to-be-Bothered Mum.)

To help The ADD-vance ADHD and Autism Trust bring a modicum of calm to the lives of other overwhelmed parents, please donate at:

If you live in Herts and would like to access support from ADD-vance, visit or call 01727 833963.


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