Why I Don’t Blog Anymore

Last night David asked me why I don’t blog anymore. I don’t have a great answer, but I suppose some sort of explanation might result in a blog post, so here goes.

My brain seems to have trouble staying focused long enough to string multiple paragraphs together coherently. It’s hard for me to determine the exact cause for the current state of my brain, but it has been a steady problem over the last couple years and three situational things could be the culprit: having a second child who is a lot of work, relearning life after a child’s cancer treatment, changing careers into something that requires quite a bit of creative energy.

Likely any of the above could be to blame. I’ve also had struggles with managing depression and anxiety over the last couple of years, and I was diagnosed with ADHD fairly recently. Finding the proper medication to manage these conditions has been a nightmare and I’ve mostly given up. I’ve thrown my hands up in the air and I’m just muddling through with subpar depression medication and zero ADHD medication. Which is exhausting.

Needless to say, I am thoroughly frustrated with life and the fact that I often can’t seem to get my words out (other than through a litany of complaints) doesn’t help. As David pointed out to me, though, writing is (was) my outlet and it seems to be a need for me. So even if this is a disjointed litany of complaints, it will at least be beneficial to me (hopefully).

If you’re reading this, thank you in advance for bearing with me through this.

Motherhood is Maddening

I don’t like being a mother. There, I said it. Don’t get me wrong: I love my kids. My heart bursts with love for them. I’m not sure who I would even be without them. I am grateful for their existence beyond anything.

But the role of motherhood is maddening. I am terrified of losing my kids, whether it be through cancer or some heinous crime like violence in schools or trickle down effects from an insane orange dictator. Fearing for your kids’ safety constantly is crazy-making.

Motherhood is exhausting. It is primarily up to me to monitor my kids’ food intake, to stay on top of their vaccines and appointments, to make decisions about schools and IEP goals and assessments and extra-curricular activities, to keep track of clothing they grow out of and replacements of said clothing. I know I should ask for help more often, but regarding that I point you to You Should’ve Asked.

Motherhood is staring your own failings in the face every day. Jack is struggling with depression and anxiety. Despite telling myself that he at least has a mom who gets it and can help him navigate it all, I am still constantly heartbroken over it. I am a contributing factor. I knew going into parenthood that there were risks and that mental health problems run in my family. I should be doing more to help him. He needs better therapy (Kaiser just doesn’t cut it) but I can’t seem to find the time or funds for it.

Even as I’m writing this, I’m telling myself, “You are only one person and you are doing your best. You love your kids and that’s what matters. You don’t have to be a perfect parent. Your kids will be fine regardless.” Even that adds to the crazy-making!

And let’s talk about my second-born for a moment. I struggle with him. He is highly active and into everything and doesn’t sleep. Since Dez has been born, it has become RARE for David and I to sleep in the same bed. Bedtime with Dez is long and drawn out and exhausting, often involving tears and anger and throwing things. It has gotten better, 3 and a half years in (at least he sleeps through the night most nights), but that is all relative. (Please, do not give advice on this. We have tried everything. EVERYTHING. EV.ERY.THING.)

Dez is the type of kid who will purposely do something after you told him not to. If you try to discipline him, he will laugh right in your face. He is a limit-tester and he gets away with too much because we are simply beaten down. We’ve taken him to two different events recently and each time only stayed an hour because it’s just too exhausting to manage him. Even when it goes well, we head out early because anything could happen.

Dez is also smart and sweet and funny, but damn! He is a tiny terror and has me completely relearning and questioning what it means to be a parent.

Being the Parent of a Cancer Survivor

While Jack is much easier than Dez in many respects, he clearly has his own challenges. Obviously, cancer is to blame for the biggest challenge of them all!

It’s been over 2 years since treatment ended and life has improved dramatically. Jack has had only 1 absence from school all year, a huge change from the years where he rarely made it to school a full week. He is rarely sick and when he does get a cold, he recovers more quickly than any of us. (Caveat: I still freak out inside when he does get sick or is feeling “off.” I’ll never get over the cancer diagnosis.)

But the fallout is rough. Mental health issues, learning disabilities, and a general feeling of being different from others around him. He is having quite the existential crisis and asking questions about the meaning of life much too early.

The needle phobia, on which we spent thousands of dollars on a therapist who specializes in exposure therapy for phobias, never fully went away and only got stronger after we quit therapy (partially due to finances but also due to having made significant progress).

We finally tried medication to try to address the needle phobia and steadily increasing anxiety, but that was disastrous. I knew that Jack had odd reactions to medications when he was on treatment, but those odd reactions have continued. One med meant to help with anxiety and ADHD instead made Jack extremely anxious and suicidal, and another had him falling asleep and nearly fainting at school.

We decided to that perhaps we would wait until he is older to try any other medications…

And finally, after over 6 months of torturous failed attempts to get a blood draw that left us all dejected, Jack’s oncologist said we could stop trying. That doesn’t eliminate the problem (he will need a blood draw at SOME point), but at least we’ve gotten a reprieve.

Now that we aren’t managing cancer treatment, we are managing school. In many a childhood cancer survivor’s case, that means things like special education through an IEP. Due to the timing of Jack’s cancer, we have no idea if he would have had these issues if it was not for the cancer. I try not to dwell on that thought much, but it creeps in from time to time.

We recently went through a triennial evaluation at Jack’s school where Jack was evaluated to determine whether services were still needed for him. This is routine for all IEP students, but it is still nerve-wracking for parents. It was suggested by the school psychologist that services may be reduced or taken away because Jack was doing so well (nevermind that he was failing at the beginning of the school year and the IEP is what keeps him afloat), so that was a big stressor. Finally the school psychologist changed her tune when she heard from Jack’s math teacher and his special ed teacher that he often gets overwhelmed in class and hides under his desk. In the end, we were able to keep all the resource hours in Jack’s IEP and the team added a weekly check-in with the school psychologist.

Based upon the fact that my child is getting overwhelmed and his response is to hide under a desk, combined with the atypical results in the educational assessments (along with the odd reactions to medications and a few other niggling things), I finally crawled out of my place under a rock and decided to get Jack assessed for Autism Spectrum Disorder. I have no idea what the results of this assessment will look like. I go back and forth on whether this is a giant waste of time, but in the end it’s good to at least rule it out, I guess? At least we’ll know whether Jack is just unique or if he has more significant neurological differences that aren’t explained by what we know so far.

Hence, Why I Don’t Blog Anymore

Between the overwhelming number of things to manage in life, the sensitivity of the topics I am addressing, and the sheer fatigue to overcome…is it any wonder I don’t blog anymore? It all comes out as emotional vomit.

I want to write, though. I am going to try, but I will make no promises. There’s a lot of living to be done.

New Year, Old Depression

I’m not a big crier. I don’t cry during movies or weddings. I didn’t cry when either of my boys were born. I cry when people I care about die, and I cry when I’m in a deep, overwhelming episode of depression.

The day after Christmas was such an occasion. It had been building up, as it often does for me in December, and I grew more anxious as the holiday neared. It was an odd-numbered year, which meant Jack would be with his dad for the holiday; usually I have no trouble with this arrangement, but this year was different for some unidentifiable reason. I felt desperate to keep my family close to me this year. I wanted so badly to have a real Christmas dinner with loads of my loved ones around, but had no ability to make it happen.

We celebrated Christmas with Jack and Dez on the morning of the 23rd before Jack headed to his dad’s. We made plans to brunch with friends on Christmas day, and that was lovely, but my mood continued to sink.

The day after Christmas, I lost my composure completely. I struggled to get out of bed and by late morning I was a teary mess with a giant weight on my chest. I decided it was prudent to head to the psychiatric clinic at Kaiser.

I knew it could take a while, so David stayed home with Dez and I drove to Oakland. I checked in, filled out an intake form, and then sat down to wait. Or rather, I felt so despondent and terrible at that point that I laid down on the waiting room couch and cried steadily while I waited.

At some point a therapist came out to let me know that I could be waiting there another two hours. Then he looked at my intake paperwork and said he’d see what he could do. Not long after that, another therapist pulled me in to her office to ask me some questions and assess my mental state. I told her about my medication struggles and after I listed off the 5 antidepressants I’ve tried in my life, she replied, “So pretty much all of them.” (Uh, no…) I told her I was thinking I needed a new psychiatrist due to the fact that my psychiatrist didn’t seem to understand my issues (every appointment involves him listing off medications I can try without any recommendation as to a course of action), but I was told that Kaiser has a process for changing psychiatrists and given a phone number to handle that later. She then sent me back to the waiting room until a psychiatrist could meet with me.

There was some confusion about the availability of a psychiatrist and at one point I was told to leave and come back in 2 hours. As I was walking to my car, the therapist came to find me and tell me she was going to try to do one more thing, so I should come back and wait some more. I sat down and cried some more until she came out to tell me that she’d squeezed me in to see my regular psychiatrist.

This wasn’t what I’d hoped for, but I was desperate, so I took the appointment. It went much as all of my appointments with him have; I ended up leaving with the same medication prescription, but at an increased dosage, and a new prescription for ADHD-related issues.

Which brings me to today. The increased medication dosage helped somewhat; I am able to get out of bed and I’m not crying randomly. But things are still not great—I’m struggling with a short fuse, nightmares, and feeling antisocial. And the ADHD medication only served to make me jittery and tense, so I’m feeling rather overwhelmed.

I still need to go through whatever process Kaiser has in place to change psychiatrists, too. I keep forgetting, but with good reason: my back decided to start going into spasms on New Years day, then David went out of town for work for 5 days, and then Jack had his own mental health crisis!

I have all the fun.

So that is what the new year has been like for me. I sure hope it gets better.

Drowning in December: A Depression Story

December feels like drowning. The chill in the air sucks at me, the gloom from a hidden sun suffocates me, and the weight of a million responsibilities pulls me down. I am sinking beneath it all.

I have been fighting this relapse of depression, anxiety, and PTSD symptoms for about a year as of this month. I’ve gotten to a functional place; I can work and take care of my kids reasonably well. Almost reasonably well. These are the things I’ve prioritized over everything else in my life out of necessity.

I look around at my house and see clutter; we are STILL cleaning up from Thanksgiving, in fact. I look at my backyard with the broken fence and my patio dotted with random pieces of rotting furniture. It’s all a reminder that I’m not keeping up with the day-to-day and it’s been building up and is even less manageable than it used to be. It’s a visual representation of the garbage in my brain that I can’t seem to clear out.

In the middle of my own struggles, Jack has mental health challenges, as well. The fallout from cancer is seemingly neverending. His last successful blood draw was over 6 months ago; he is long overdue. We have (and by that I really mean David has) made four attempts in the last month to get the draw at the lab, but Jack’s fear and panic have won out each time. He has had anxiety and depression, too. And so we are heading back to therapy this week, and adding a psychiatrist to the mix.

He’s 11. This is too much for an 11-year-old. Hell, I’m almost 37 and it’s too much for me.

As for me, there is nothing to be done but to keep putting one foot in front of the other, keep trying whatever medication cocktail my psychiatrist suggests, and keep focusing on the fact that I’m still IN IT but that I will float back to the top eventually.

Try not to sink. Try to swim. The surface is there; you just have to the find it.

You’ve Gotta Go There to Come Back

Last week I went to the Type A conference in Alexandria, Virginia. It was my first time away from my whole family for longer than a night in over 3 years! I was so excited to get some time to myself, see friends and family (my sister lives in Maryland), and sleep in a comfy hotel bed without a toddler threatening to wake me in the wee hours of the morning. Like all things worth doing, it wasn’t easy to accomplish, though!

A little over 24 hours before I was due to head out, Dez came down with a fever. I packed my suitcase while his temperature surged to 105. I worried, as I always do now when fevers strike (thanks, cancer!). Naturally, I had trouble settling down to sleep that night. And then Dave woke me up around 3am because he could feel Dez’s heart pounding in his chest and the dose of Motrin we’d given him that evening hadn’t done anything to budge the fever. I called the Kaiser advice nurse, a thing that is old hat now after all the health worries we went through with Jack, but nerve-wracking nonetheless.

sick toddler laying on a couch

I was given the usual precautions: keep him hydrated, remove extraneous clothing, try Tylenol, and take him to the ER in if his temp goes over 106. We gave Dez some Tylenol and all went back to sleep (“He’ll be fine. He’ll be fine. He’ll be fine.” repeating in my head).

I had a nightmare about missing my flight, so naturally I woke up feeling even more frantic! I made it to the airport just fine, though.

Dez was miserable while I was gone. David took him to the doctor after 72 hours of fever, whereupon he was diagnosed with an infected tonsil thanks to a random virus. There was nothing to do but let it run its course.

While that was going on, David was also working with Jack to get him caught up on math and science homework. The middle school workload is turning out to be difficult to keep up with, and we got a (surprise!) progress report recently showing that Jack’s grades were looking grim. I made a deal with him before I left that if he got caught up while I was away, he could order two books from the book fair at school (side note: Jack is super easy to bribe! It takes so little!). He had to stay up late a couple of nights and got help and coaching from David, but he did it. His grades have improved drastically already.

I had so much guilt while I was away, but I swallowed it. That’s what we have to do as moms, right? We have to step away for a bit of personal renewal and trust that our families will manage without us. And mine totally did! David took charge with doctor appointments and nursing Dez back to health and helping Jack get caught up on his homework and ensuring that his teacher recorded the late assignments. I got home and everyone was healthy and the house was even clean! Everyone had missed me, but they managed quite well without me. That felt good.

The conference itself wasn’t great, but I am glad I went even if just to let my family show me how strong and capable they are. It was worth it just for that.

Desmond is 3 Years Old!

Are you as surprised as I am that Desmond is turning 3? It is true that time goes even faster the second time around. I only vaguely remember that first year before the constant running around and chitchat…

Dez is still a very active child. He loves to jump on the bed and off the arm of the couch (over and over). He uses a stepstool to get up into everything. He’ll rummage in my purse and dump his blocks all over the living room floor while spinning in a circle. He loves to chase his big brother and play “swords” with pool noodles.

He does have a lot more chill moments these days, though. He will sit and entertain himself with videos on YouTube Kids or by playing with his cars or legos. It’s pretty fun to watch him with his cars. He makes the cars talk to each other; typically this involves the cars crashing together, then one asking the other, “Are you okay?” “I’m okay,” the car replies before the cycle starts again.

toddler talking to a line of cars

He loves to line up his cars and talk to them.

Cars are definitely the number one toy obsession. Every day Dez takes 4 of them to daycare. His favorite is Lightening McQueen. The other three vary. For a while he would walk into daycare and hand McQueen to one of his friends, “Here you go, Zoey.” It was his morning ritual. One morning he looked at Zoey and said, “Oh, so cute, Zoey!” He’s going to be a charmer, this one.

Amelia, the daughter of our friends Rebecca and Tim, is Dez’s best friend. We have no family in town, so it is especially awesome that Dez and Mimi get along so well! When Rebecca and Tim come over to hang out, the kids run around with each other and jump on the bed together. This past Easter they hunted eggs together in the front yard. Every morning Dez says, “I wanna see Mimi!” And off to daycare he goes to see her.

two toddlers searching for easter eggs

Dez and Mimi hunting eggs at Easter.

Dez is quite good at making it known what he wants, whether with words or a tantrum. His speech has gotten a lot better and he talks a ton! His favorite thing lately is to ask, “What’s that sound?” He will ask it over and over and over and over. And over. To get out of answering a billion times, I try to turn it around with a “What do you think it is?” Sometimes that works, and sometimes he just goes back to “What’s that sound, Mama?” Usually the sound is a car driving down the street–his favorite sound.

(Funny story! We were driving to daycare one morning and a commercial came on with Gilbert Godfried doing the voiceover. “What’s that sound?” Dez wondered. After a pause, he answered his own question with “Monsterrr.” Ha!)

Dez can also count to 10 and knows his colors. He knows his letters, too, although I haven’t heard him sing the alphabet song.

toddler singing

We recently took Dez to an outdoor concert…where he tried to sing loudly over the band.

In addition to talking, Dez loves to sing. He loves to sing LOUDLY. His favorite tune is “Finger Family” (ugh! Thanks, YouTube!), followed by “Johnny Johnny” or whatever it’s called. Dez will lay down at night and croon loudly and off key, “Daddy finger, daddy finger, where are YOOOOOUUUUUU?” It would be hilarious if we weren’t trying to get some sleep!

Speaking of sleep…it’s still not great. Most nights he doesn’t go to sleep until 10 or 10:30, and it requires one of us (usually Dave) lying down with him. If Dave escapes during the night to go back to our bed, Dez will be up at some point in the night to drag me into his room. Then he’s up bright and early at 6:30 most days (although a cold has had him sleeping until almost 8am on some mornings lately AND he slept through the night two nights in a row! It was bliss!).

Dez is very affectionate, which helps balance out the toddler difficulties. Every morning he bursts out of his room to find me and give me a hug. Is there anything sweeter than a toddler wrapping his hands around you and laying his head on your shoulder? He still has that smooth baby skin and squishy cheeks and I just want to eat him. I try to hold onto those moments because in a flash he is off and getting into things.

brothers holding hands

Dez is very affectionate AND loves his big brother.

Lastly, food. He is a little piggy! He pretty much eats his weight in watermelon every week. He likes fruits, veggies, toast, rice, eggs, Annie’s yogurt (and ONLY Annie’s yogurt!), and usually wants a bite of whatever it is we are eating. He’s started eating chicken nuggets (nuggets shaped like letters were the gateway; now he’ll eat dino shapes, too). He is also addicted to fruit snacks (“snack snacks”) and is quite the candy fiend. I should have never let him have candy! It’s so much harder to avoid this stuff with an older kid around… He still doesn’t drink milk or juice, though. He’s not big into cheese, either. Weird kid.

All in all, Dez is a fun, energetic, silly, and lovely boy. I’m very much enjoying watching him grow up!

toddler in a hat

Happy birthday, little buddy!

Searching for the Perfect Antidepressant

Searching for the perfect antidepressant can be such a difficult process. Prozac was my companion for a good 8 years. During that time, I was always aware of and worried about the arrival of the day when I would have to switch. Prozac was never 100% effective (it didn’t do much for my anxiety), but it worked well enough that I was able to manage mild depression and anxiety on my own with self-care while I was on it.

Almost two years ago (November 2015), I started noticing some issues popping up. I wrote a note on my phone to make sure I kept track in case I needed to go back to my psychiatrist. My notes read:

  • Scatterbrained, difficulty focusing in conversations
  • Disproportional anger
  • Increased headaches/migraines, back & neck pain
  • Stress dreams almost every night
  • Decreased interest in doing things I normally enjoy

sleeping woman in bed

It then took me a year of feeling this way before I finally did anything about it. The big reason for my delay was fear. I knew Prozac wasn’t the best medication for me, but it felt good enough when I thought of what I would need to go through to find a new medication. Changing antidepressants is, frankly, horrible. The mood swings are intense, and the withdrawals can be debilitating.

But my mental health problems started impacting my relationships and my work. Good enough was no longer cutting it.

I reached out to my friend Chelley and asked her to do me a favor. I asked her to bug the heck out of me until I made an appointment. And she did that for me, sending me a few messages over the course of a week or two, and then I finally went in to see my (new) psychiatrist in November.

To my surprise, my psychiatrist suggested I stick with Prozac. He gave me something called Seroquel to help with anxiety on an as-needed basis. Unfortunately, it put me to sleep when I took even a quarter of a pill. That was not going to help me in the middle of a work day!

It took me until March to go back and see the psychiatrist again. He then suggested I try Wellbutrin with the Prozac. So I started with a low dose of Wellbutrin a couple of days later. At first, I felt pretty good and could deal with the mild side effects (thinking they would dissipate). I was able to concentrate better at work and I wasn’t dreading every single task at home. I was optimistic that this medication would work out.

BUT–of course there is a but–a few days in I started feeling physically unwell after increasing the dose to what was supposed to be a therapeutic level. I got a headache on the right side of my head and around my eye and it wouldn’t respond to pain reliever. Around 3pm each day I started getting nauseated and exhaustion would hit. I thought I was just adjusting to a new medication, but about a week in, I ended up in bed, completely laid out with nausea, headache, exhaustion, sweating and shivering. Plus, it felt like my brain was literally burning.

It was Serotonin Syndrome.

So I went back to the psychiatrist again and we decided to stop the Prozac and Wellbutrin and try something else. Thus began the withdrawal journey!

I won’t bore you with those details, but it wasn’t pleasant. I got off the Prozac and transitioned onto Lexapro in mid-April. I started off small (my psychiatrist is cautious after the burning brain incident), and then increased the dosage when it didn’t seem to be working all that well.

Three and a half months later, it’s still not working well. Sometimes I’m okay and feel like myself, and sometimes I am bawling for no reason or hiding in my bedroom with paralyzing anxiety. My hair is also falling out. (Note: My psychiatrist says, “Hair loss is not a common side effect from Lexapro, so I’m not sure what’s causing this.” My internet search suggests differently, but whatevs. I’ll see if it goes away after I stop the Lexapro.)

I feel bad for those around me. I snap at or start arguments with my husband. I am spacey with my kids. I make stupid mistakes at work. I complain almost constantly on Twitter. And I feel horrible about all of it.

I have an appointment this week to go back in to see my psychiatrist and hear what he suggests trying next. I just want to feel okay again. Why is it so hard?

Feeling Stuck with Parenting Challenges

As amazing as Jack is, parenting him comes with a lot of challenges. The challenges always surprise us because he is a perfectionist and a people pleaser. He is sensitive and doesn’t want to upset his parents and he’s very cautious. He’s the kid most parents want their kid to hang out with because he’s level headed and avoidant of trouble.

And yet, we have challenges. They are complicated and frustrating. We are definitely parenting a highly sensitive person, both in terms of emotional sensitivity and sensory issues. And we feel stuck.

tween boy in glasses and a hat

Jack looking entirely too grown up.

Food Challenges

On the positive side, Jack loves veggies and fruit. He could easily go vegetarian. He will probably never be overweight. The thing is, fruits and vegetables don’t have many calories!

We struggle to get him to eat protein. He doesn’t like scrambled or fried eggs. He only likes breaded chicken (and is picky about certain types, at that). He doesn’t eat beef or pork. He ate peanut butter for a time, but that time recently came to an end. I have no idea what he’s going to eat for lunch once he goes back to school.

He is not the type of person that you can just say “you must eat this; there are no other options.” He will just not eat. (To be honest, he gets this from me. I did grow out of this somewhat.)

Sleep Challenges

For the most part, Jack is an amazing sleeper. Once he is asleep, he is pretty much OUT. He’s nearly impossible to rouse. And for most of his 11 years, it has not been tough to get him to sleep.

Cancer treatment definitely affected his sleep, though. During treatment he had night terrors and nosebleeds that woke him up. He started having trouble relaxing at bedtime, as well, possibly due to unconscious fears of things being done to him while he was sleeping (which, fair!). Over the years he has acquired more and more stuffed animals that live in his bed. Every night before bed, he piles the stuffed animals up on top of himself, and then a heavy blanket goes over that. (He cannot sleep without the heavy blanket.) He needs a nightlight to sleep, and a fan going. We also still read to him every night.

All of that would be fine if we could just get him to relax and go to sleep without calling us in because he’s scared. He worries about someone breaking in. He can’t get worrisome images out of his head. He sometimes feels like something is in the room with him.

It’s pretty easy to see WHY he has these fears. But dealing with them is the tricky part. We’ve tried numerous things in therapy and his latest therapist seems to have run out of ideas. Everything the therapist suggests works for a night or two and then stops working.

School Challenges

Where do I even begin? The only good here is that Jack is smart and, with the exception of math, is meeting grade level standards. We have an IEP in place to help him with math, and he has made progress, but his progress is slow. Every year he falls further behind grade level.

Give Jack three math problems and it will take him an hour AND require assistance, even if it’s something like double digit multiplication. It’s partly due to learning disabilities (dyscalculia, slow processing, and ADHD), and partly due to his lack of interest. He doesn’t like it and it’s not easy, and so he doesn’t even want to try.

It’s not just math, though. He doesn’t like school at all anymore. He says it’s boring and he “has no friends” because no one wants to play his games at recess and homework is pointless. He absolutely DOES have friends and there are lots of kids who would play his games if he asked. But he is rigid and pessimistic when it comes to school and so he creates a self-fulfilling prophecy every day.

Jack starts middle school in three weeks and I’m terrified.

Feeling Stuck

Take any one of these challenges and it’s frustrating, but all of them together feel like entirely too much. It feels like we have tried just about everything and each time it’s 1 step forward, 2 steps back. We feel stuck and helpless.

Will Jack grow out of it? Are we not parenting him effectively? How much influence do we even have over him? So many questions, so few answers.

Helpful Books for Anxious Kids

Coming out on the other side of a life-threatening medical diagnosis and the ensuing treatment takes a lot of ingenuity and resources. We’ve run the gamete looking for ways to help Jack deal with anxiety and depression during and after his bout with cancer, including various types of therapy and a whole lot of books.

While there is no substitute for a good therapist (particularly if you are a worried parent who is also trying to deal), books are enormously helpful on a day-to-day basis. For the other parents out there dealing with anxious kids, I thought I would share some of the books that our family found helpful. Please note that the below photos contain Amazon affiliate links.

Story Books for Kids with Medical Challenges

Little Tree

Age Range: 4-8

Franklin Goes to the Hospital

Age Range: 3-8


Story Books to Help Children Deal with Emotions

Is a Worry Worrying You?

Age Range: 4-8

When I Feel… Series

Age Range: 4-8


Workbooks for Kids with Anxiety or Medical Challenges

My Feeling Better Workbook

Age Range: 6-12

What To Do When You Worry Too Much

Age Range: 7-12

Digging Deep Journal

Age Range: 12+ (Artistic kids and mature kids as young as 8-9 could do great with this, in my opinion)

Do you have recommendations to add? I would love to hear about more, particularly any books specifically for tweens and teens!


These books are helpful for anxious kids between the ages of 4-12 who are dealing with big emotions and medical-related anxiety.

Doors

It happens at bedtime. Wild-eyed and almost vibrating with anxious energy, Jack zooms through the house. He sweeps down the hall and into his bedroom, from which I hear frantic murmurs. Moments later he zooms out again and I catch him up in my arms to steady him. I feel his heart beating rapidly in his chest.

I ask him what’s wrong.

“I don’t know. I don’t feel right. Do you ever feel like you’re stuck in a dream? Do you ever look in the mirror and feel like it’s not you looking back?”

Yes, I say. Many times.

He doesn’t really hear me. He disengages from my arms and zooms around the room again, first toward the kitchen, next toward the door. “Doors,” he mutters and reaches for the knob. I say no and he turns on his heel and makes a beeline for his bedroom again.

I follow. He sits in his desk chair and taps his fingers on the desk. His brown eyes fill with tears and dart around the room.

“My brain doesn’t feel right. I think I’m broken.”

He goes on to tell me that everything is boring. He says that fairytales are lies that are written to cope with the fact that there is no real magic in the world. He reads them and he feels hope and then reality returns: there is no magic, there are only lies. He will never have adventures. He will get up in the morning and eat his boring toast at the boring table and then go to boring school…it is all so awful.

His eyes meet mine and he pleads, “Is there something that can fix this?”

He says he worries about taking pills. He worries he is not meant to take pills, that he is meant for something that the pills will suppress.

Where did he get this idea, I wonder… How can a 10-year-old even possess this level of critical thinking?

“I don’t know how to fix this, Son, but I have ideas for what to do to help right now. You don’t have to figure it out on your own.”

First I give him headache medicine for the pounding in his head. Then we find a music station on his iPad, a soothing station of instrumental lullabies.

Draw, I tell him. Draw the monsters that are in your head right now. Draw and listen to the music and breathe while I make a cup of tea.

I come back with a steaming cup of minty tea and hold it under his nose, telling him to take a whiff. He does and then continues drawing.

He sketches twisted faces, pairs of eyes, a vortex, a banana tree. An instrumental version of “Hey Jude” plays while he draws. A calm settles over him.

“I’m feeling better,” he says. “I’m starting to forget the thoughts. I just need to draw this one last thing.”

He draws a door. “I kept seeing doors,” he explains as he puts his sketch pad aside.

We climb into his loft bed together, where he sips tea while I read to him. He is mostly back to his easy-going self by the time I tuck him in and say goodnight.

I breathe a deep sigh as I walk away from his bedroom door. I am bewildered. I don’t know what happened to my son this evening or why it happened, but we got through it together.

It is behind him, for now. It is my turn to cry.

Not Your Average Mother

I have a complicated relationship with my mother. I know that is not unusual in the least, but my mom takes quirky to a new level, and I learned so much from her. She is not your average mother, and thus, neither am I.

This Mother’s Day, I thought I would share some of what my mom taught me, whether directly or through her actions. Some of what I learned from my mom is pretty badass (in my opinion), but there are also unexpected twists…

mom and daughter

My mother and me, circa 1998.

If someone tries to abduct you, even at gunpoint, scream. It’s better to be killed on the spot than to go through what they have planned. And you don’t want to have to live with the memories of what they will do to you.

Be assertive. Something is wrong with your order? Talk to the manager. If someone is sitting in the booth you want? Ask them to move.

Learn to type. If you can type, you can get a job. And having a job is very, very important so that you never have to rely on anyone.

Don’t trust anyone with your money. Your husband might very well drain the bank account and charge up the credit cards buying a fur coat (in Sacramento!) for his mistress. It’s best to have separate bank accounts. And make sure your paycheck can cover the bills entirely because your boyfriend may up and go to prison.

Keep calm and carry on. If you find out your boyfriend has committed atrocious crimes, stay calm and don’t let him know you’re onto him. Instead go immediately to the courthouse to get a restraining order and have your 6’4″ brother deliver it. Don’t tell said boyfriend why he is being kicked out. Later, work with police to get his confession to the crime recorded over the phone.

Okay, you can break down but only in the shower when you think your kids can’t hear you.

Plan ahead. Get your will and life insurance and safety deposit boxes in order, and then tell your kids all about it, even if they are preteens. “I added you to my bank account. If I die, you need to go withdraw all the money right away because otherwise it can get caught up in legal proceedings and it will take forever to get the money and it might even disappear.”

Pay attention to your maternal instincts! When your spidey sense starts telling you something isn’t right with your kids, listen. You might just show up in the middle of your kids getting a lesson about their dad’s drug use.

I think about these lessons from time to time and the depth of experience that comes with them. My mom has survived so much in her life and I can honestly say I look up to her a lot. At the same time, I hope to never have to share most of these lessons with my own kids.

With that said, I have my own history and quirks. Time will tell what kind of lessons my children will glean from me.

What about you? What life lessons have you learned from your mother that she may not have intended to teach you?