Viewing category ‘stress’

The Same But Different

with Susan Wagner

Susan Wagner is a freelance writer and editor, an avid runner and a mom of two boys. She's tentatively navigating the teen years with her oldest son, who has ADHD and an anxiety disorder (because puberty isn't hard enough already). [Insert blog name here] chronicles her efforts to balance science homework, basketball practice and panic attacks without completely losing her mind. Follow Susan on Twitter and Instagram (@workingcloset) and at her personal blog, The Working Closet

The New Mom Motto: What’s the Worst That Can Happen?

Categories: children, parenting, special needs kid, stress

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I have a new mantra these days: What’s the worst thing that can happen? I ask myself this all the time, in moments where I am getting overwhelmed and stressed out, and I use it with both of my kids. And no matter what the situation, the answer is rarely anything of real consequence.

What do I mean by that? Here’s an example: Henry loses things, all the time. Most frequently, he loses his schoolwork. Assignments disappear into his backpack or his binder or his cubby and show up on the weekly grade report as zeros. Until recently, he would completely fall apart when this happened because those missing vocabulary cards meant that he would fail English which meant that he would fail seventh grade which meant that his life was ruined and why couldn’t I just leave him alone?!?

That was always fun.

And then one day he was frantically searching through his things for a paper he had lost and starting to flip out and Wade said to him, “If you don’t find it, what’t the worst thing that will happen?” Henry started to yell about failing out of school and Wade said, “What is your grade right now? What will a zero do that that grade, mathematically?” And Henry stopped yelling and did the math and said, “Huh, so if I get a zero on this I’ll still have a B in the class.”

“Right,” Wade said. “That’s the worst possible thing that could happen. Your grade will go from an A to a B.”

That moment changed our whole family.

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How My Aspie Kid Made Me an Introvert

Categories: special needs kid, stress, therapy

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It’s Saturday afternoon; Charlie is at a friend’s house. He’s been there all day, playing football and basketball in the driveway with his friend and two other boys from their baseball team. But now it’s almost dinner time and we’re trying to sort out our plans for the evening. I text the friend’s mother and suggest that we come get Charlie. She texts back: Can he spend the night?

Sure! I say. We’ll bring him some clothes.

And then she says, We’re grilling steaks. Why don’t you all come eat with us?

Honestly, I would have loved nothing more. This family always makes everyone feel welcome and loved, and it’s always fun — for Charlie and for us — to hang out at their house.

But going to dinner there would have meant taking Henry to a house that was already full of kids, and it would have been overwhelming. For him and for us.

So we said thanks, but no thanks. We already have plans. Next time!

My husband and I used to be social people; in grad school, our weekends always included dinner with friends or a bike ride or an impromptu evening of drinking beer and watching basketball.

After Henry was born, we made friends with other couples with small children. On the weekends, we would grill while the kids played in the yard. During the week, while the dads were at work, the moms would organize play dates, which were less for the kids and more for us — it was a precious couple of hours of talking to someone who was potty trained and spoke in complete sentences. Those play dates got me through the toddler years, truly.
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Goodbye Life List, Hello To-Do List

Categories: mom guilt, parenting, stress

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iStock_000019124471SmallA couple of years ago, I went to a retreat in Palm Springs. We were asked to create a life list and to come for the weekend with five items from the list that we wanted to prioritize in the next year. We would each present our five items to a small group — the idea was that if you put something out there, said it in front of other people, then you would commit to doing it, and you could enlist the group to help you get it done.

I decided that my five things would be big items, because why not? Go to fashion week, run a half marathon in Paris — I don’t remember the others, but they were equally over the top. They were all things that I genuinely wanted to do, but even at the moment that I was sharing them with my group, explaining why I chose these as my five things to accomplish in the next year, they seemed unreal and unattainable.

Over two years later, I have not done a single thing on that list. (Even though I cannot remember what the other things were, I am positive that I’ve not accomplished them; I feel like I would remember if I had, right?) I would still like to go to fashion week, someday, and I still think a Paris half marathon would be super fun, but those goals don’t have anything to do with my real life and they’re not a priority right now.

Instead, I navigate my days with the help of short to-do lists, little post-it notes covered with reminders about work deadlines and housekeeping projects and dinner menus. Every morning, I sit at the table while my kids eat breakfast and write down all the things that need to get done that day; as I finish them, I cross each item off, frequently with a little flourish because look! I have accomplished something! Even if that something was just scheduling a dentist appointment or running a few miles or wiping down the bathroom counters with bleach. I’m calling that a win. Every single time.

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90 Days, No Worries; Or, Why Therapy Matters

Categories: parenting, stress, support system, therapy

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Not long ago, I wrote on my personal blog about some advice my therapist gave me: She told me to stop worrying about anything that was more than three months away. (More about that in a bit.) And a very helpful commenter said, “If you can afford a therapist for your first world problems (it’s called LIFE) then you have had a very cushy life.”

Honestly, that made me laugh. I had written, in the same post, about how I was giving up eating wheat and really missed scones, and how a pair of not-inexpensive J. Crew pants were my new favorite thing to wear. Of all the first-world issues to pick on, seeing a therapist seemed like the least frivolous of the things I was sharing with my readers.

From a material standpoint, my life is very comfortable; my husband and I both have good jobs, and we live in a nice house in a safe neighborhood. Our children are healthy and intelligent. We have wonderful family and terrific friends. We are, as my Oklahoma neighbors say, very blessed.

So yes, my life is pretty “cushy.”

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Living in a Drug-Free Zone

Categories: children, parenting, special needs kid, stress

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Male doctor holding out medicationEvery morning, Henry takes a Claritin and a multivitamin. In the evening, he takes two Benadryl and two fish oil capsules. Occasionally, if he has a headache, he takes a couple of Tylenol.

Barring an illness, that’s the extent of his medication.

You’d think a kid like Henry would be a good candidate for medication, both for his ADHD and his anxiety. Unfortunately, he’s not; he falls into a very small percentage of kids, almost all with Aspergers, who don’t respond well to the available meds. We’ve tried virtually every ADHD med on the market, both stimulants and non-stimulants. Each time, the doctor lists the side effects and reassures us that odds were we won’t see any of them. Each time, often within days, we’re calling to ask if we can stop the meds because we’re seeing all the side effects.

The first medication Henry took was Adderall, and honestly, the change was amazing. My formerly disorganized, unfocused kid could suddenly stay on task and keep track of his things. This meant that he was less frustrated, which meant that he was happier and less stressed. It was remarkable.

Until we noticed the tic.

Henry has a couple of small tics — he scrunches his face in an odd way and makes little humming noises. The tics aren’t particularly bad or noticeable, but they’re worse when he’s tired or anxious. On the Adderall, the tics, particularly the scrunchy face, became pronounced. I called my pediatrician, hoping she would say it was nothing. Instead, she said, “You need to stop the medication right now.”

So we did.

Other medications had other side effects; the most common were an inability to sleep and a kind of generalized rage. Instead of helping my son to focus, the meds made him angry and wired.

So you might expect me to say that I am 100% opposed to ADHD medication, right? Because they’re bad! And dangerous!

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Why I Drink (And Why I’m Trying to Stop)

Categories: mom guilt, parenting, stress, support system

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wine glassYesterday, when we left the house for school, it was 22 degrees with a brisk north wind. I suggested that the boys might want to wear their winter coats, which we almost never do because it’s almost never that cold here. The coat Charlie is wearing is one I bought Henry last winter — he outgrew it before we even took the tags off.

Henry’s coat, on the other hand, is brand new. I bought it a month ago and he tried it on then and said it fit. I did a little happy dance because the whole thing was so easy.

I should have known better.

Yesterday, as we were leaving the house, Henry put the coat on and announced, “This coat is too small.”

“Ok,” I said, a little skeptical, “can you wear it just for today?”

“Sure,” he said.

In the car on the way to school, he started to flip out. “It’s TOO SMALL! I can’t wear it!”

“It’s not a big deal,” I told him. “Just wear your sweatshirts today. You’re not doing to have recess if it’s this cold. You don’t really need a coat.”

“Stop talking,” Henry said. Because clearly, the talking was making it worse. For all of us.

This is a fairly typical morning at my house. Henry’s anxiety means that little things — like clothes that don’t fit exactly right or his backpack not holding everything he needs or a contact lens not going in perfectly the first time — seem overwhelming and horrible. His day, he will tell anyone within earshot, is ruined, already. And he hasn’t even gotten to school yet!

Yesterday was, on the scale of things, not a particularly bad morning. On the best days, I feel edgy and anxious; on the worst days, I wind up crying on the drive home from school. Either way, I usually text one of my other quirky mom friends with a joke about how it’s 8:00 am and I really need a drink. Already.

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The Mother Road

Categories: children, parenting, special needs kid, stress

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A good friend took her son for his first diagnostic evaluation this week. I called her in the afternoon and said, “How’d it go?”

“Oh, you know,” she said. “Fine. Other than having to spend the day telling a total stranger about all the ways my kid is broken.”

My friend had prepared for her son’s appointment by making a detailed list of everything her son is struggling with. She also compiled a history of his quirky behaviors, going back years. “Remember when he was obsessed with fans?” she asked me. I remember; that was about the time she and I met, and her son would come to my house and beg to turn on all the ceiling fans.
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How A Panic Attack Made Me A Better Mom

Categories: parenting, stress

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One morning two and a half years ago, I was sitting in the big leather chair in my office, staring at my laptop, when things suddenly went very wrong. Out of nowhere, I was nauseated and dizzy; I was struggling to breathe. My pulse was racing. My chest hurt.

I just knew I was having a heart attack.

I ended up in the ER of the local heart hospital, where a battery of tests (including an arteriogram) confirmed that I had not had a heart attack, and that my heart was in perfect condition. The cardiologist changed my blood pressure medication and said I would be fine.
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