A Child I Didn’t Recognize

Life with an anxious child is not easy. The simplest of daily tasks can be a major battle. Things you might once have thought were a breeze to get through are suddenly huge obstacles that you may often try to avoid. Now imagine daily struggles with your child that sprung out of nowhere. One day you knew exactly who that child was and the next they had morphed into someone you could barely recognize.

This was my reality. For nearly two years I watched my daughter as she changed from what was once the most talkative free-spirited child to a quiet and withdrawn teenager. In the beginning, I suspected this was typical teenage behavior. I’ve never parented a teenager and really had no idea what to expect. After all, at home she was still the same fun-loving kid she always was.

You might recall that I talked briefly about our troubles with bullies, anxiety and mental health previously, but today it’s about to get real with topics that I have never openly discussed publicly.

It all started last year, months before Rick’s Journey With Cancer, when we got a phone call from our daughter’s school advising us that something was just not right and that the teachers were noticing that Kira was just not herself.  We talked with her that night, aside from being worried about her dad being ill, nothing seemed out-of-place.

As the days continued and weeks passed, we started to notice some of the changes with Kira.  We didn’t understand what was going on with her. How could we understand? When she didn’t understand herself and could only explain it as extreme sadness.

In May of 2015, the school called to inform me that there was now a significant safety risk and it was recommended that Kira be treated at the Children’s Hospital for a mental health safety assessment.  The doctor’s further recommended an overnight visit for further assessment. That overnight assessment turned into a couple of days and then a couple of weeks. I had no idea what to expect, I was scared and felt helpless in this situation. I couldn’t wipe away her tears and her emotional scars and magically make her better.

After a couple of weeks of being hospitalized, our daughter was diagnosed with anxiety, depression and a strong indication of an eating disorder.  The doctors were confident that if we could treat the anxiety, the eating disorder and depression would soon also fade as the three disorders rely on each other for their strength. They prescribed her with Trazadone to help her sleep at night with Prozac for the anxiety/depression. The next couple of weeks were better.

Over the next several months we began to see small changes and believed that we were back on track and that with the help of medication and doctors that Kira was on the road to recovery. Within a few days, Kira slowly slipped back in to her darkest days. She was angry, screamed all day, had no interest in anything. She stopped talking to us and was more withdrawn than ever.  After researching her medications, I pleaded with doctors that while she was making progress with them, every day at home was a struggle.  I suggested changing her medications, I was over-ruled by the medical team as they urged me to give it more time.

By  February of  2016, while most of the behavioral issues had  vanished, I could still barely recognize my own daughter. Meal times and family outings had become a nightmare, she was on an emotional roller coaster and we were walking on egg shells.

My mother-in-law was extremely ill and was struggling to survive each day. We were forced to move her into hospice care knowing that time was dwindling down. We’ve always been open and honest with our children and fearing that this would be their first experience with the loss of a close family member we talked about it with them in hopes to help prepare them. Kira was not prepared. She didn’t have the emotional strength to cope and was hospitalized again for her own safety. While hospitalized, we were quickly advised that her anxiety stems from her own need to be a perfect child, never wanting to disappoint her parents or let them down. Knowing that her own father was recovering from his struggle with cancer, she often kept us in the dark about her feelings and the truth behind how deep her depression truly was. She buried her feelings so deep within herself that she didn’t know how to cope with her emotions until the day she broke. She didn’t have the energy to fight anymore and was at her lowest point. A point that I wouldn’t wish on anyone.

We are so fortunate for the medical team at the Children’s Hospital for their amazing work and support. They were incredibly helpful and listened to our concerns as parents. After a few days, the doctors advised us that they thought a change in medication could make all the difference in helping Kira. She was prescribed Zoloft for her anxiety. Within a couple of weeks, her smile was back and she was excited to get back to her life and for the first time I finally felt that she was ready to accept the changes and to move forward positively and one step at a time.

It has been several months since her last hospitalization and she has made amazing progress. Her smile that was once lost is back and more recognizable than ever.  She has learned how to cope with her emotions, knows that we are always here for her no matter what the circumstance is and has become one of the strongest people I know. I am so proud of the girl that she is and the girl that I know she can be. She recently shared a video on YouTube with the hopes of helping other teens cope with their anxiety.  Watch Kira’s video now.



11 thoughts on “A Child I Didn’t Recognize

    1. Hi Abigail, thank you for reading our story. If our struggle can help one other person make it through, that’s enough for me.

  1. This post made me cry. It is not very common to speak honestly about mental illness in children. Wonderful to hear that your daughter is slowly doing better and that you are all getting good help.

    1. Hi Paula, thank you for reading this post. I will do whatever I can to help my daughter and to spread the word and encourage others to speak up and talk about the hard topics.

  2. It takes a lot of guts for you and your daughter to share your experiences for the purpose of helping others. Anxiety and depression affects SO many and if more young people would talk to their parents about it, lives could be improved so dramatically and in some cases, saved. You must be very proud of your daughter!

    1. Mary, I’m incredibly proud of my daughter. She has come a tremendous way. I think this is a topic that needs to be talked about publicly over and over so that more people will seek help and won’t be afraid of the stigma attached to mental health. While it is a part of them it does not define who they are.

  3. Sounds a bit like my childhood but I never got the help. So glad schools do all they can to highlight it now and the topic itself is becoming less taboo. Teenage years are difficult enough besides suffering inside. I can’t imagine what it’s like to see such changes in your child and to a point, be unable to help.

    1. It’s heartbreaking to see your child suffering and so much pain. It’s not something I wish on anyone.

  4. Thank for sharing the tough and real stuff. I need to know it can get better. We’re working with a team at CHEO and experimenting with medication (which I hate) but it has to be done.

    1. I never wanted to medicate my child. It was one of the hardest decisions I’ve had to make, but it has helped tremendously and she really needs it to be able to just get through each day. I wasn’t sure I was going to share this article, it’s heartbreaking but so many children and parents are experiencing the same issues I had to share my experience.

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