It is a tale as old as time, just when you think things are going to turn out one way, they end up being something quite different. As many of you read in my last entry, Addie had a bit of a medical issue that we thought was severe dehydration and possible heat stroke. Though none of the tests she had in the ER pointed to this, these tests also did not point to anything else either. This story doesn’t end so simply, as my last entry might seem. In fact, the facade of Addie’s, “strength, her steadiness, her determination and drive that she has developed“, to deal with stressful situations was beginning to turn on her, and attack her with equal determination in the form of severe anxiety and depression. Things were not in fact clear to us… but we would learn the root of the issue soon enough.
Let me back up and fill in some of the events leading up to what we now understand. On Sunday of her weekend away with her crew team she was benched from competition. This was no surprise as she was in the ER until after midnight. The day seemed uneventful, medically, until they were at the airport waiting for their flight. About 2 hours pre-flight she started to shake, uncontrollably, again. This time it was in both arms. We got, yet another call from Coach Mike, unsure of what they should do. “Should they stay in Sacramento and head back to the ER?” or “Should they board the plane and get back up to Seattle where we could meet her and decide on a plan then?”
We opted for Seattle and met her at the airport. She walked off the plane looking exhausted and still shaking. It was shocking. The odd movement in her body was unnatural. I was not prepared for the gut punch reaction of terror I felt. I can best describe it as what looked like a Parkinson’s tremor in both arms. We thanked Coach Mike and quickly made our way to Swedish ER, a place that holds haunting memories and much PTSD for my husband and I.
They quickly got us in a room and started loading her up on Ativan, a medication is used to treat anxiety. It is meant to act on the brain and nerves (central nervous system) to produce a calming effect. The hope was this would calm her nervous system enough so that the ER could run additional tests and imaging to rule out brain evidence of movement disorders: Parkinson’s, essential tremors, brain lesions, Huntington’s etc.
After four doses of Ativan, (enough to knock out the largest of people and remember Addie is 5’2″), the tremors subsided enough to get an image. It was about 1-AM when they took her to the imagining machine and told me to wait in the dark, deserted and yet too familiar waiting area. Kaycee had gone home by now to get sleep in case we would need to switch roles the next day. I stayed with Addie, alone with my thoughts. I was not able to talk to anyone, I was scared and I was exhausted. I knew that I needed to rest, but that was next to impossible sitting straight up, in the hard ER chair. Instead, I watched my baby girl as she slept in a very drug induced state and waited for someone to read the scans.
It was a little after 5-AM when the doc came in and said, “the scans were clear, that nothing showed up on the images, we could go home.” Relief flooded in followed by the question of , then what was going on. They sent us home with prescriptions for muscle relaxers and orders to see our regular physician: mystery UNsolved.
We made the 6 something boat home and by the time we rolled into the driveway I had been up for well over 24 hours. Addie slept most of the day away, extremely groggy and emotional from the medicine. We had to recount all the details multiple times until the meds wore off and she was clear-headed again.
It was Monday of the last week of her school, the week before finals and we were unsure what to do next. What do we do? There is no evidence of anything…do we need more tests? Is it safe for her to go back to school? Do you keep her home for a few days? Do you keep her home forever and never let go?
In the end, Addie wanted to go back. It was important to her to be ready for finals and anyway, in just 10 days she would be home for the summer. So we listened. We got her a massage, scheduled follow up appointments with her primary doc and a movement specialist, filled her prescriptions and sent her back to school a day later. She had one more episode a couple days later, in the middle of the night, but she was able to take the muscle relaxers and get her body calmed down within two restless hours. Little did we realize that pressure was still building like a volcano about to blow.
A couple weeks later, she had not experienced anymore movement episodes but she seemed to be so angry, all the time, at everything. After one angry outburst I followed her back to her room, after she had been quite rude, to say that she needed to speak nicer to me when… the volcano BLEW! Vicious, vitriolic statements of “unsupportiveness”, “dismissive behavior” and “you have no idea what’s going on”, flew at me at a rapid pace. I fired back a bit but it escalated and all I could do was back out of her room shocked and, quite frankly, pissed.
Had I not supported her? Was I the uncaring dismissive parent she was accusing me of? Did I really have no idea what was going on? Well, of the last question I had the answer: I truly did not know at all what was going on. I walked outside where Delaney and Kaycee were, and replayed the scene to them. Equally shocked we had no answers.
Over the week to come I felt broken. I was so thrown off by her behavior and accusations that I tried to recount all the times I may have been insensitive, unkind, dismissive, uncaring… I thought I had been doing well or as well as I could as a parent navigating our last four years. I tried to be there for my kids the best I could while dealing with my husband’s cancer diagnosis, treatments, surgeries, infections, etc. All the while continuing to at least try to maintain some level of regular life while dealing with the loss of our “old” normal and the acceptance our “new” normal (still working on this by the way).
Let me tell you this was a heartbreaking week of an unparalleled guilt-shame spiral. Plus, I kinda hate to admit it now, but I was really pissed at the hurtful-hateful things she had said because in all the racking of my brain I really thought I had managed to continue to be supportive, kind, thoughtful and honest. Things were not adding up. The noxious things she spewed at me were not in fact the truth of our history but instead a cry for help.
Later in the week, after Kaycee and I talked several times about how to approach her, he went to her to have a necessary conversation about what was really going on. During a task, in the backyard, in the middle of pulling weeds she broke down. She revealed she had been depressed and anxious much of last year. Her freshman living situation was not great. She felt extremely isolated and her anxiety left her feeling sad and thinking dark thoughts. She did not mean any of what she said but she also didn’t understand why she was so angry all the time.
Her cry for help was heard and more importantly understood It was time to step back in as parents to our child. She was vulnerable and honest and we understood the seriousness of her truth. We made a plan to step in and support her: we needed to get her back to a healthy place.
The pressure on our teens/young adults today is incredible. The constant chatter of social media provides a perfectly awful narrative of unrealistic expectations. It demands participation in vapid comparisons of this or that, nothing of real importance. In fact, I feel that social media does a better job of separating us, dividing us than it does connecting us. Adding insult to this pressure is the expectation of college and all the duress that goes with it. Then, the unfortunate reality of the financial obligation to finish and under-graduate degree is a staggering. All these demands, plus a million other things, seem to be stifling teens/ young adults creative spirit, confidence and self-worth.
Once we had a plan Addie got to work on the action. She worked really hard this summer getting healthy. She and I realized the volcanic explosion was not made of real lava but it was a necessary explosion to take notice of. I am happy to say that I now see for what it was: a serious cry for help. Sometimes saying the meanest things to the person who will love you always and will forgive always, especially when the honest truth is revealed, is the only way to start to get what you need. Addie now has an emotional support bunny, Nimbus, that she took back to school. Yes, she went back to school! This was her goal. Nimbus keeps her company in her room plus, she has five other suite-mates. Most importantly a room to herself and no snoring roommate to keep her up all night. And I can’t remember the last time she was so happy.
Going forward we still have a lot of work to do. As individuals and as a family we are working on recovering from our past and leaning into a healthier future. It will not be easy for any of us: facing emotions… real emotions… the deep and honest truths, that hide in the dark corners, never is. Each one of us, in this family, has work to do. We are all working on our commitment to be healthier, mentally, emotionally and physically. It has its ups and downs, moments of clarity and times of opaque uncertainty. It is a work in progress… but it is progress.
The tremors, the uncontrollable shaking has not resurfaced. The pressure of the volcano blew and with it the release of the anxiety manifesting physically for Addie has not returned. She is happy, happier than I remember her being in a long time. And life continues… So, love the ones you live with, the ones you love, the ones you fight with and the ones hiding their pain. And listen for the words unsaid… for they are often the greatest call for help.
There are lyrics in the song, A Safe Place To Land, by my favorite singer/songwriter Sara Bareilles, that I feel have meaning beyond measure:
Be the hand of a hopeful stranger
A little scared but you’re strong enough
Oh, be the light in the dark of this danger
‘Til the sun comes up
My hope it to try to be a little more vulnerable, a little stronger, a lot healthier and open to climbing out of the darkness, together.
National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) Helpline: