Anxiety: Panic on the Side of the Highway

Monsterfoot.’

That’s what our son chose to name his panic attacks when his doctor suggested calling it something other than anxiety.  It had a silly ring to it, and we adopted the name in our home immediately.

I wanted to say ‘Let’s kick Monsterfoot’s ass,’ but figured that wouldn’t win any Mom of the Year nominations.  Instead, we said things like ‘You’re in control if Monsterfoot decides to show up, so tell it to take a hike.’  Our son drew a picture of Monsterfoot to help visualize what he was battling.

We were making progress, giving him a ‘toolbox’ of ideas to put into action when worries hit, a system I began calling getting MAD at your anxiety:

Move (a cartwheel, jumping jacks, jump rope) Moving shakes up the chemistry in your brain.

Air (Walk outside, take in fresh air, change your environment)

Drink (Grab a drink of water, or juice, which distracts your anxious thoughts)

And then, on our next family vacation, Monsterfoot tried to strike again.

We were road-tripping home from Florida, and our car’s alternator decided to shut down.  We were on the highway, a family of four with two kids sleeping in the backseat.  I woke to my husband saying ‘This isn’t good.’

We were in the middle of nowhere at 3 am.  No exit in sight, no businesses, no lights.  Stranded on the highway’s shoulder and staring at the darkness hovering over acres of grass outside my door.  

Crickets chirped as my heart began to beat fast, knowing our youngest would soon wake up and worry about his safety.  No longer lulled to sleep by the car’s engine, he woke within seconds.  I could hear his shallow breathing as he asked why we weren’t moving.

I told him, and reminded him he is safe.

But, he didn’t feel it.  Truthfully, I didn’t either.  We were in the middle of Nowhere, USA.  Too many Dateline episodes had me imagining horrible outcomes.

Our 9-year-old began repeating the phrase ‘Just stay calm, just stay calm‘ to help him get through the panic attack that was seconds from emerging.  I grabbed him and pulled him to the front, hugging him tight while I dialed the State Police and explained that we didn’t have a full-blown emergency, but we needed an officer.

They could hear our son upset and suggested an ambulance.  I knew we didn’t need one, just needed our son to feel safe.

The heartbreak of your child’s fear and being totally helpless as a parent is one of the worst emotions I’ve ever felt.  My husband had tears in his eyes, later telling me that there is no worse feeling as a father: Having a son in need, and no way to fix it.

Because Dads fix things.  But, not anxiety. 

As I braced myself for our son to have a full-blown panic attack, I spotted the officer’s lights approaching and realized our son had talked himself through the worst. His ‘just stay calm’ self-talk had worked.

He managed to cope, managed to feel crummy inside but not lose control.

The officer was amazing, and knew exactly how to reassure our son and eventually got us to safety.

Upon returning home and sharing what happened with our son’s doctor, I received the email from her below. If you’re struggling with anxiety, it’s a helpful read.

***We still have some assessing and strategizing to do, but I hope he has seen the worst of it.

Have you been going with the “MonsterFoot” label?  Let’s liken those time periods to the stomach flu.  You feel awful-  then all the way better.  Like yourself again.

Maybe important to emphasize that he was SAFE both times that he felt trapped.  His body felt trapped.  Different bodies feel different ways.  We can all help him tune into his body and separate himself from anxious thoughts.  Sometimes our feelings lie to us and things seem worse than they are.

Mom to mom-  this little guy is wound pretty tightly and he was bound to have a few instances of acute anxiety.  Nice that he feels all the way better in the presence of family members.  As he gets older, he will have to intellectualize this big world, play the odds, feel OK with uncertainty.

It is a pleasure to work with your loving family.  Keep doing what you are doing!!!***

Our son kicked Monsterfoot’s butt last April on that Florida highway, and continues to make progress. Zero panic attacks since!

My son: 1

Monsterfoot=ZERO.

Two years after this, I created a workbook for kids called ‘Raising the Blinds on Anxiety.’ It is all of the tools we learned from his therapist to give your child a step-by-step kid-friendly guide (they can name their anxiety, too!0 to managing panic attacks or anxiety.   Get it HERE.

And for a more detailed journey of my son’s anxiety from the start, including a panic attack on his school bus, read HERE.

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  1. Pingback: Anxiety Sucked the Life Out of My Son – Raising The Blinds

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