Anxiety and its Aftermath
If you had told me that depression could become so severe that a person would stop sleeping, I would have laughed. If you would have told me that anxiety could fill the body of the sufferer with fear and dread, I probably would have thought you ignorant. After all, we all have anxiety at times and get depressed now and then. Most of my life, I thought little about anxiety. If I did, it was to think of it as nervousness or a fear of something unknown. I never thought it could be crippling emotionally or otherwise. I think most people feel that way about it, unless they have had the misfortune to get to know it intimately. I was definitely someone who did not ever want to get up and speak in front of a group. If I saw boys that I liked in school, I looked down and avoided their gazes. I worried a lot and bit my nails. But other than butterflies in my stomach, meh – no big deal.
Panic disorder was something I heard about. I didn’t think much about it, just as I didn’t think much about schizophrenia or bipolar disorder. As a special education teacher, I have taught students with these disorders, but looked at their behavior as a symptom of their illness. I have since learned that panic disorder can be debilitating, with symptoms that mirror a heart attack, or a churning in the chest that makes it hard to breathe, or nausea that makes eating unpleasant. They come on suddenly, without warning, which leads many people to avoid the circumstances that might have caused them. A friend was going to the airport for spring break the year after 9/11 and her son, who was a teen, had a meltdown at the airport and could not get on the plane. Another friend talked about being unable to go to noisy environments (overexcitabilities, anyone?) and I had an aunt who told me she could not go out in the heat because she couldn’t breathe. One friend dreamed of being in an earthquake and was sure she’d wake up with her head at the foot of the bed, but it was just an attack while she slept. These attacks woke her up and made it impossible to sleep more than a few hours.
Gifted children often have existential dilemmas that other children are not aware of. Such things as starving children, homelessness, disease, and natural disasters are very real to them. It doesn’t take much for them to be able to picture the suffering of the world. Parents need to address these anxieties when they come up and take actions designed to calm their nerves. My favorite people are the social workers who know just what to do and say in such situations. By all means, if you or your child is having panic attacks, seek professional help from a social worker, psychologist, or doctor. This tends to run in families and can be devastating to the individual experiencing the symptoms. Drinking chamomile tea or listening to relaxation tapes is not enough.
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