“Oh he’ll grow out of it.”
In seven years, I’ve heard that more than I can count. But in seven years, there have been moments when I’ve thought “Nope. This isn’t a grow-out-of situation.” That thought is shortly followed by a story about how their child used to be afraid of some inane thing and how they were able to tell their child to just buck up and get over it. Good for them. That’s not how it works here.
Liam was officially diagnosed with an anxiety disorder last year and now I understand why fear and anxiety have been a far more constant presence in our lives than the lives of our friends. It certainly doesn’t mean that I’ve got everything under control, but I can see his reasoning behind our chaos much more clearly now.
For instance, we started Liam in swim lessons when he was two. He just started swimming this summer. In the space between then, he’s screamed and cried, clung to the wall, the instructor and myself. This year, he’s been doing private lessons and group lessons. In the last week, he’s had two panic attacks related to the pool. We keep working at it and have spent a great deal of time making goals and talking about how we are going to accomplish them.
Today, at the end of swim lessons, the lifeguards told the kids they were able to jump off the diving board. Every child except Liam jumped. At the end of his private lesson, his teacher again told him he was ready to jump. He walked over and I ruined it. I realized what was happening, wanted to catch it on camera and spooked him. He tried twice over the course of the next hour. Half of that time I spent treading water in the 12-foot deep end trying to provide the security he needed.
After supper we returned to the pool, this time with Liam saying he was ready to jump. Ready to jump for him meant an additional 15 minutes of him standing on the edge of the diving board shaking and trying to work up the nerve to jump while we filmed. And cheered. And encouraged.
He did it. It took years of encouragement… this is not hyperbole, we’ve been working to get him to jump for years. A little girl did not get to jump because he took so long and her mom wanted to leave. The pool’s diving coach got into the water and waited for him for almost ten minutes.
When you have a child with an anxiety disorder, every little challenge that is met graciously by a stranger is a beautiful moment. I’ve had many moments of frustration and embarrassment, but tonight, I watched two lifeguards show my son love. He looks so normal that people see his fearful expressions as him being spoiled or whiny. They don’t hear his whispered fears in between the sobs. They don’t realize how wiped out he is from the effort to even try. He can’t see his hands shaking in fear.
Today, Liam jumped off the diving board. I asked him if he wanted to do it again. He said no. And it’s ok. When he’s ready to, it won’t be his first time. He’s already done for the first time. Sometimes, the first time is the hardest. And I have it on video for him to relive whenever he wants.