At 13, my daughter is a warrior. She battles anxiety like a soldier at war, never knowing when it will rear its ugly head. Her senses stay heightened at all times, just waiting to engage when her heart races, palms turn sweaty and her mind tries to find a way to escape the anxiety.
When I was 13, the biggest mental battle I can remember was deciding which scrunchie to wear (on my wrist) to school each day. I walked into school excited to learn and gossip with my friends. Taking tests and completing homework was done quickly with confidence. Outside of school, I watched “Saved By The Bell” and shopped at Limited Too. I never worried about the million “what-ifs” that enter my daughter’s mind each day. I cannot begin to imagine what it must be like to be in the throes of middle school while struggling with daily debilitating anxiety.
Yet, she walks through the hallways of middle school with her head held high, secretly watching for students who may be sick, dangers that could be lurking and the constant fear that she will not know the information asked by the teacher. She has learned — through intense therapy and time — to stay in class in spite of the terrible mental games racing through her mind, to participate in the joys of the middle school cafeteria and to meet friends on the weekend.
It hasn’t always been this successful. Her current success is a culmination of years of therapy, practice, backward slides, near hopelessness, maturity and love. For years she went to school crying, scared and lonely. She seldom attended class, too scared to be around others, embarrassed by her reactions to anxiety.
Here is the thing…she went. How many adults can say that on their worst, most painfully anxious day, they still showed up to work? Now imagine doing that for hundreds of days. My daughter shows up, each and everyday. It may not be pretty, but she is there. As a warrior, she carries these five personality traits with her in order to battle the anxiety that, while currently subdued, is always lurking.
“Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the judgment that something else is more important than fear.” — Ambrose Redmoon
Sadly, my daughter is scared everyday. Some days more than others. While full of fear, she shows up, knowing she must never let fear run her life. She goes to school, scared. She hangs out with friends, scared. She travels with us, scared. My daughter, the warrior, courageously refuses to let life slip by without enjoying it.
“When we feel love and kindness toward others, kindness not only makes others feel loved and cared for, but it helps us also develop inner happiness and peace.” — Dalai Lama
Throughout her 13 years, my daughter has always shown kindness, complimenting strangers, helping anyone in need and supporting organizations that needed our help. Last year, during the hardest year of her life, she stuck up for a fellow student being picked on by others. This sweet boy struggled socially and she was there to defend him during class. I cried when I heard, as I knew that morning as she entered school, she had to have support to separate from me and spent time crying before heading to class. Even on her worst days, she is a warrior spreading kindness, healing a small part of herself in the process.
“It does not matter how slowly you go so long as you do not stop.” — Confucius
As a young child, before anxiety grabbed hold, my daughter could set her mind to something and succeed quickly. She learned to tie her shoes at 4, in one evening. Similarly, she was determined to do a cartwheel, practicing at every opportunity, often trying rotations when most would be walking. This same persistence is why she is successful today, in spite of her intense anxiety. While progress was much slower while battling anxiety, then it was for tying shoes, she never quit. Even during the toughest, more heartbreaking moments, she knew that life goes on in spite of anxiety. As a family we refused to let anxiety be the winner. Although at moments it held firm and came in a very close second, it never broke her. Warriors persist through the toughest battles, inspiring all those in their presence.
“Hope is being able to see that there is light despite all of the darkness.” — Desmond Tutu
Hope is truly what saved us all during my daughter’s darkest months. Daily my daughter was reminded that terrible moments do not define life. She posted uplifting reminders and quotes throughout the house. She created mantras to repeat to herself in times of needs. She visualized a life with less anxiety, full of joy. As a warrior, she chose to have hope and move through the excruciating pain of battling anxiety, knowing that tomorrow is a new day.
5. Sense of humor.
“Through humor, you can soften some of the worst blows that life delivers. And once you find laughter, no matter how painful your situation may be, you will survive.” — Unknown
Thankfully, my daughter has an incredible sense of humor. Often the hilarity of her personality was masked by the beast of anxiety. Days in which I saw her personality shine, were moments I will savor forever. She has the uncanny ability to find the humor in some of the horrible reactions caused by anxiety. Her ability to laugh at herself frees pockets of space for more joy and happiness. My warrior daughter harnesses the power of humor to see the light in near utter darkness. As she has waded through anxiety these past two years and come out brightly, her sense of humor is in full view once again.
These past few months have allowed us to begin talking about anxiety in the past tense, and see the beast that she fought and won in the rearview mirror. There is no guarantee that tomorrow will not be riddled with anxiety, but I know that regardless of what challenges she faces from this point forward, she has proven to be a warrior and can fight whatever comes her way.
My biggest dream is that she never forget the courage, perseverance and hope that guided her though moments that many of will never even experience. Kindness and humor will always be a part of the light she shares with the world, as she uses her strength to make everyone work just a little harder to battle demons, achieve dreams and to enjoy life.
Follow this journey on Goodbye Anxiety, Hello Joy.