Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Helpless to Help

What is it like to be a terrified little boy? What is it like to be scared to your very core, but not know why? What is it like to feel a sense of impending dread, but have no clue when or where the unavoidable terrible event will occur? What is it like to be safe and sound in your warm home—surrounded by people who love you—and still feel ill at ease? I am afraid I do not know what this feels like. My oldest son, however, does.

Lucas' anxiety reared its ugly head again last night. It began shortly after I tucked him into bed. I was sitting in the living room watching Gone With the Wind (I am determined to finish the entire four hours of that movie, even if I have to do it in tiny ten-minute increments). Lucas came out of his bedroom, looking visibly upset, and told me that he was nervous. When I asked him what he was nervous about, he responded that he did not know. I sent him back to bed, assuming he was simply trying to stay up past his bedtime. When he came out several more times, obviously shaken, I let him stay in the living room with me for a while. He could not tell me exactly what was wrong, but he was in tears. From what I could gather, I suspect he was having trouble calming his brain enough to go to sleep. As the minutes ticked by, he began to worry that he would never fall asleep. This worry then morphed into an allover sense of impending dread, as he fixated on his inability to sleep. Eventually, he was in tears.

When I finished my evening chores and headed upstairs to bed, I took Lucas with me. Initially, I tucked him into the oversized chair in our bedroom that often serves as a de facto bed for our kids. Lucas, however, could not settle down. Several times, he got up and ran to the bathroom, convinced that he was going to throw up. He complained that his stomach hurt. He began to fixate on his sister, who was also having difficulty sleeping due to taking a unplanned nap that afternoon. Sophie was tucked into her sleeping bag on my bedroom floor, happily chatting and acting silly. Lucas began asking when Sophie was going to fall asleep. When is she going to sleep, mom? What if she never goes to sleep? What if she is up all night? His worry then turned to angry outbursts. Why did she have to follow me up here? I just wanted to get away from her and she always follows me! I wish I never had a sister! Why do I have to have a sister? When Sophie finally did drift off to sleep, Lucas didn't believe it. He had to get out of bed and touch her to make certain she was asleep before he would—finally—let it go.

I eventually let Lucas climb up into bed with me. I snuggled him and shushed him and told him everything was okay. We talked about how he was safe and nothing bad was looming around the corner. He cried because he was scared. Then he cried because he didn't know why he was scared. Then he cried some more because—despite my best efforts to calm him—I couldn’t understand his fear. Eventually, Ruanita came home from work to find Lucas and I still wide awake in our bed. She tucked him back into the chair, talked to him calmly, and tried her best to waylay his fears. He did eventually drift off to sleep—the expression on his angelic features far from peaceful.

As I write this, I am worried about my son. Lucas comes by his anxiety naturally. He comes from a long line of worriers. I can't even begin to count how many times I have sat in that very same bedroom and reassured Ruanita—telling her that everything is okay and there is no reason to worry. She struggles with anxiety, as does her mother and her mother before her. I look at Ruanita and Lucas and I want nothing more than to wrap my arms around them and protect them from everything in this world that would ever cause them concern. I can look into their eyes and see the exact moment the worry starts to take over. I want to shoo it away. I want to stop it in its tracks. I want to prevent it from causing a single iota of emotional pain for the two people I love more than anything in this world. Unfortunately, I am incapable of doing that.

It is an unnerving feeling to be helpless to prevent pain for the people you love—particularly your child. I don't know how to help Lucas. All I can do, when the anxiety takes hold of him, is reassure him that all is well. Nothing bad is going to happen. And that I love him and will always protect him.

Beyond that, I simply don't know what to do.


Anonymous said...

I was anxious as a kid and I played a game with my mom called what is the worse that can happen. We actually went through scenarios and when I realized I could handle the worse the anxiety went away. Have you tried taking Lucas to a therapist to help with tools for anxiety. It might be worth a try. After I grew up I started taking anti depressants and for the last 20 years I can't engender much anxiety at all and no sense of hopelessness (which was my issue). There are so many tools that maybe it is time for someone else to help him. So sad for such a little guy to worry. Your story breaks my heart.

Jessica said...

Wow, that sounds rough. As I read your story, I was thinking about maybe researching relaxation techniques? I am a slight worrier and often have trouble falling asleep. Poor Lucas sounds like me times 100. It would be heartbreaking to have to see that and feel so helpless. Hang in there!

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