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OVERCOMING DEBILITATING ANXIETY WITH COURAGE

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One year ago, on my daughter’s last day of 7th grade, and just days away from her thirteenth birthday, she and I were both “facedown in the arena”, our faces “marred by dust and sweat, and blood”. Through laughter and tears, heartbreak and pride, together, she and I courageously pulled ourselves off of the floor, ever slowly regaining our balance to stand tall once again.

I had read Brene Brown’s Rising Strong, years ago as it was recommended by a friend. At the time, I do not remember it impacting me in any way. I read it, returned it to the library, going on to the next book waiting for me. Jump ahead a few years and I came across the Brene Brown Netflix special. I watched it with tears streaming down my face, transfixed by her words that resonated deep inside. The next day, I once again borrowed Rising Strong from the library and re-read it cover to cover within days. This time, I felt that she was speaking to me.

Brown quotes a section of Theodore Roosevelt’s Speech, Daring Greatly, where he says, "It is not the critic that counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly;...who at best knows, in the end, the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly."

If you are, or a loved one has, battled demons or sickness, then you know all too well what it means to be facedown. It is the feeling of utter despair and hopelessness watching helplessly as someone suffers. For those suffering, it is the fear that this is as good as it gets, that smiles and laughter are a thing of the past. The world goes by right in front of you, while you are routed in the habituation of sadness, guilt, anger, and jealousy. You witness milestones in others that may never happen to you or your child.

Last year, I stood outside my daughter’s school on her last day of 7th grade (which she did not attend due to anxiety), as the then 8th graders proudly walked out of middle school while family and friends created a tunnel to send them off to high school. I cried wondering if my daughter would make it another year in order to join her classmates this year as they would once again walk out of middle school and onto high school.

Last year, as a seventh-grader, she was a shell of herself. Anxiety had ripped away her personality, confidence, and independence. She rarely attended her classes, stopped all social interaction with friends, did not leave the house unless forced and spent her days crying on the couch or lashing out in anger and frustration. She was stuck in the web of anxiety, believing there was no hope or reason to try to move through it. As a mother, I quickly spiraled down a dark path as the hopelessness rose inside me as I watched my daughter disappear. While I knew it wasn’t my fault, I felt like a failure in many different areas of life. I genuinely believed I had done all that I could for her and yet I failed as a mom.

Finding the right therapist helped both of us realize that we not only needed to get up off the floor and rise but that we could successfully manage that incredible feat. For me, I had to take a deep look at myself, the life I had envisioned, and the grief and anger I kept tucked inside. These uncomfortable feelings had to be dealt with, then set free in order to reclaim joy in my life and healthily support my children. For my daughter, she had to understand that nobody could work through the anxiety for her. She had to do it herself. Together, my daughter and I learned from our amazing therapist each week, realizing that we each controlled our future, rather than believing that our circumstances defined us. It wouldn’t be easy, but we had hope.

Over the course of her 8th-grade year, she reacclimated herself to school even with intense anxiety. She put herself into uncomfortable situations knowing that her future success depended on the internal motivation she drew strength from every day. The need to succeed in school, reconnect with friends and believe in herself once again, drove her to push through each and every difficult feeling or thought. This is what true courage looks like.

When you fall face down on the arena floor, you have two choices: stay down or get up. Staying down is easy. You wallow in self-pity, blame others, and make the sad assumption that this is as good as it gets. It is a terrible place to be but the thought of getting up is just too much to bear. Yet, getting up is what my daughter and I chose.

No matter how you end up face down, whether through failure, injury, sickness, or grief, getting up requires the vulnerability to admit you need help. My daughter and I had support during those long days, helping to ease the burden as we rose from the ground. It wasn’t always pretty, but we continued putting one foot in front of the other, even when we slid backward every now and then. Those closest to us were there to catch us when we needed it most.

My daughter, as a thirteen-year-old, pulled herself up off of that floor, shattered and broken, experiencing fear and pain that no child should ever feel. Today, one day shy of her fourteenth birthday, she courageously stands tall and proud. There is no doubt that her twelfth year was the worst year of her life, and more discouraging and hopeless than many will ever experience. Last year, as a thirteen-year-old, she worked harder and had more successes than most can imagine.

Each day that she pushed through, and slowly rose up, the fog of debilitating anxiety, habitual avoidance and fear, and broken confidence, cleared, leaving space for rays of light to shine down. She never quit, always pushing forward. Her smile, laughter, academic successes, busy social life, and excitement for the future are proof that we can all rise again. The path isn’t easy but when life knocks you down, you can get up. Just look at this girl if you need proof!

Because of my daughter’s strengths, I too have risen to the challenge of pulling myself up and seeing life for what it is…one adventure after another. I do not know what tomorrow may bring but I am ready. There is no guarantee that my daughter or I will not fall facedown again, but if either of us does, we will rise.

On the eve of my daughter’s fourteenth birthday, I wish her a lifetime of happiness with these words: Hold strong to your courage, knowing that you are capable of greatness. Life will throw confetti at you, but it may also throw rocks. No matter what…you will always rise to the occasion, growing from your experiences. You are an inspiration to everybody and truly a ray of hope for anyone battling anxiety. You are uniquely you with your contagious laugh, spontaneous ideas, beautiful eyes, compassionate heart, and wicked sense of humor. Stay true to you with all your strengths and weaknesses, always loving yourself. Baby girl, I love you will all of my heart and am incredibly proud of you. I am a stronger, happier person of you! Here is to year 14…make it the best yet!

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