Anxious parenting: Parenting with ACEs

When my daughter was younger I was anxious. I didn’t have full-blown anxiety attacks, as some do. I had an almost constant anxiety motoring within me that would ebb and flow.

Sometimes, it lasted days. Other times, weeks. It always returned. When it did, it was hard to read, concentrate or focus. It was hard to eat or sleep or work.

It was hard to parent.

Sometimes it came with dread because I’d feel dreadful about being so anxious.

How I felt in my body scared me. I wanted to be someone else. Someone who felt different.

Anxious time moved slowly. An hour felt like a month and a day felt like a year. Watching the clock, I’d try to will it to pass. It was the opposite of being present. I was trying to be absent. Absent of anxiety that was consuming. Anxiety felt like a way of being, not a feeling or symptom.

Getting through the day was my biggest goal, the high bar I hoped to reach. At those times it took all I had to rise to that challenge. To do that, while not falling flat on my face, as well as in my role as a mother, felt nearly impossible.

Bad. All of it felt bad. But being unable to enjoy or attend to my daughter the way she deserved was the worst part.

She was too young to complain. But she felt it.

I knew that. I always knew that.

She would get clingy. She would move in closer as though she could  keep the balloon of me from floating out of her reach. Did I feel like an out-of-reach object of security, like a binky dropped from a high chair or a blanket from the bed? It must have scared her to see the shaky shadow version of me. It was scary to me.

It was as if I was disappearing and being crowded out by anxiety that was sucking up all of the space and air. It felt as if my anxiety was contagious, as if I was a flu that shouldn’t be nearby anyone or anything. Just being me, while anxious, felt like awful, terrible, no-good mothering.

There was no denying she noticed either. As she aged, she’d  say, “I feel like we were together but not together” or “I need more Mama time.”

C. White, Trigger Points Anthology, edited by D. White & J. Brandt

Part of me was  proud of her ability to know and express her feelings and needs.

Part of me was frustrated.  Her words felt like an insult, a demand and an accusation.

“I’m doing the best I can,” I wanted to scream.

“Do you know how much worse I had it at your age?” I’d think.

Self-hatred, guilt, and shame piled one upon another like pasta, cheese and sauce in a baking pan. They blended, baked and melted in the oven of me, only the dish cooked up was barely edible.

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How facing ACEs makes us happier, healthier and more hopeful

Ahappy

Won’t it depress people?

Isn’t it triggering?

Aren’t the topics troubling?

Won’t it make people sad or upset?

Fear is what I often fight when talking about ACEs — adverse childhood experiences. It’s not my fear though. It’s the fear others have about all things ACEs. Adversity. Abuse. Addiction. Abandonment. Neglect. Dsyfunction.

I don’t think this fear actually belongs to those of us who have lived with ACEs, who have lived through ACEs, who live with the aftermath of ACEs as adults.

When I found out about ACEs I was overwhelmed with joy. I felt radical relief. What I experienced was a profound sense of validation. It was epic.

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Putting resilience and resilience surveys under the microscope

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“Resilience is a message of hope,” says Debbie Alleyne, a child welfare specialist at the Center for Resilient Children at Devereux Advanced Behavioral Health, located in Villanova, PA.“It is important for everyone to know that no matter their experience, there is always hope for a positive outcome. Risk does not define destiny.”

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The single best medical appointment of my life was when a nurse practitioner asked about my adverse childhood experiences (ACEs)

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Heidi Aylward spent much of 2015 going to doctor’s appointments for back and joint pain, dizziness, swelling of the legs and feet, high blood pressure, elevated platelets, heart palpitations and extreme fatigue.

2016 isn’t looking much better. She’s worn a heart monitor, had a bone marrow biopsy and continues to have blood work. She holds down a job as a full-time project manager, tends to her daughters, home and pets.

But she feels like her body is falling apart.

“I’m not going to make it to 60,” she said, “Why do I even contribute to my retirement savings account?”

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Paying attention as the most exhausting part of parenting with ACEs

Kai in china

I used to sneak away for a hot bath as often as possible when my daughter was in the need-me-every-minute years. I’d soak long past when the water went cold and I felt guilty at times but sometimes I needed to be alone.

To read poetry.

To have some physical space.

To exhale.

I didn’t always know where or how to pamper or provide self-care to myself. There were few adults I trusted to help me. I believed in attachment-style parenting and wanted to be there all of the time for my daughter. And that even made me feel guilty when I craved alone time. Like any alone time I took meant not being present for my daughter.

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Poet/psychiatrist Dr. Diane Kaufman helps birds fly

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“I used to know how to fly,” says Bird, the main character in Bird That Wants to Fly, a children’s book written by child psychiatrist and artist, Dr. Diane Kaufman.

Bird walks wearily through her “sad and dreary” world of “blizzards and freezing rain and children with rocks and men with shot guns.” This trauma-sensitive tale tackles topics such as depression, violence and bullying in simple language. It offers a child-friendly take on post-traumatic stress that is both realistic and optimistic.

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Johnna Janis makes documentary “Invisible Scars” to heal her and others’ childhood trauma

Invisible Scars“It’s about so much more than childhood sexual abuse,” says Johnna Janis about her feature documentary, Invisible Scars, a remarkable film about her own sexual abuse and her journey of recovery.

Janis produced and directed the film with long-time friend, Sergio Myers, an award-winning filmmaker and owner of 7Ponies Productions. Together, they took on topics many would consider too triggering or taboo to address and did so without sensationalizing sexual abuse or trivializing trauma. The result is a personal, powerful and informative movie.

Invisible Scars, which has been a six-year labor of love, will have a red-carpet premiere March 29 at the Harmony Gold Theater in Los Angeles, CA. It received an Award of Merit at IndieFest 2015.

What started in 2010 as a “small little project” about one woman’s healing journey “expanded” when Janis learned about the CDC-Kaiser Permanente Adverse Childhood Experiences Study (ACE Study).

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