Tuesday, November 2, 2021

Like an Iceberg

 My seven year old has been developing headaches, stomach aches, and the need to throw up nearly every time it's time to take him to school in the mornings. But otherwise, he is fine! It's been surprising to me, this aversion to school, because he has always been the most outgoing of my four children-- the one who is always eager to do social things and play with friends when my other kids are perfectly fine staying home with each other. These psychosomatic sick symptoms started last year and are, unfortunately, becoming a daily routine into his 2nd grade year. When I pick him up from school at the end of the day, however, he is happy and chatty and tells me all the fun and cool things he learned that day: "Mom, did you know that hermit crabs aren't really crabs and they borrow shells from other creatures!" or "Mom, today we made pumpkin art using glue and chalk! We have to do it at home today, too!" or "I really like my teacher, she's the best teacher I ever had." The list goes on and on. He is happy at his new school, too!

Pumpkin art by Mal!

The fact of the matter is he's a totally different child after school than before school. Here is a boy who loves to learn new things, and loves to interact with others, plus loves art and science and engineering, and the all the awesome things they do at his STEAM school, yet has the hardest time getting there in the morning! So hard! For him...and for me.

Towards the beginning of the school year I took him to our family doctor for a full check up. 100% healthy. Then I took him to the eye doctor to make sure it wasn't a vision problem. 100% healthy. He's adequately fed and hydrated and gets enough sleep, too! 100% healthy! Then I spoke to the school nurse and we came up with a plan that if he came down with "sick symptoms" he could take 1 purple tylenol, drink water, and wait 20 minutes before calling me to pick him up. This plan worked on several occassions as he felt better after taking the candy pill and then went back to class. Phew--problem averted. However, I am still having a rough time getting him out the door in the morning. (His symptoms magically went away the three weeks I was doing my student observations at his school. I think having me there was a nice morale boost), however we are back to square one.

This morning as it was time to start getting ready for school I could hear him also starting his usual complaints--I don't feel good, my head hurts, I feel like I need to throw up.... ,I was in the bathroom finishing up brushing my teeth and so started my usual responses--That's too bad. It sucks to feel sick. Maybe you'll feel better after breakfast...With absolutely no feeling or empathy in my voice I kept responding to his complaints as usual, gently prodding him up the stairs to the breakfast table. I was feeling frustrated inside and almost started blaming him again for these made up sicknesses as I have on other days when I felt frustrated, when I immediately felt the spirit tell me I need to get down on the floor with him and talk about anxiety.

Anxiety, I thought? Mal doesn't have anxiety! He's always been gregarious and outgoing and ready to jump right into things, not like my other boys who've dealt with/are still dealing with anxiety. But I went with the spirit, and this is what I told him: When your oldest brother was about your age he woke up every morning with a headache and a stomache ache. We didn't know what was wrong with him! We took him to the family doctor and we took him to the optometrist but he was completely healthy! He didn't go to school for many, many years because we felt that homeschooling was best for him, but he still woke up sick every day! I was very concerned about him when finally I realized that what he was feeling was worry. 
Often times when we are worried about things, our bodies will react with feeling sick. This is often called anxiety and it is perfectly normal, sometimes it can even help us! For instance when I'm having anxiety about getting my homework done, it motivates me to sit down and get it done! Then my anxiety is gone!
 Sometimes we can feel anxiety when we are excited about something! For instance when I was in high school I would get really bad stomach aches before I went to concerts. It was weird because I was so excited, yet I didn't feel good for the entire day until I was at the show! But sometimes we can feel anxiety when we're really worried about things and that can have a negative affect on our bodies, like maybe headaches, stomach aches, and nausea, just like your big brother used to feel.  I let hime soak that all in for a few minutes then asked,"
Do you ever worry about things? 

Yes, he said. There are lots of things I think about that I don't like. 
About school? I prodded. 
No. just stuff. he said.

Tears came to my eyes as I realized how evasive I've been towards addressing the real, underlying cause of his sicknesses. I think deep down I just wanted him to be okay and figured he would eventually be okay if we just got past this small, irritating hurdle. But the truth is, he needed me to stop and actually listen to him, to hear him, to see him, and to understand what's happening in his little 7 year old brain. I think I get so busy with addressing all the BIG kid issues with my three older boys that I want Mally to be the easy caboose. But no kids are easy--they all come with their own set of needs, even a 7 year old boy who is happy, gregarious, and full of spunk is going to need someone to help him through hard things.

I tried to prod him a little more about telling me what things he worries about, but he wouldn't say anymore. But now I jave a good jumping off point for continuing to help him feel better. Once I was able to understand what my oldest son was feeling it became much easier to address his needs and help him overcome the hard stuff.

As we were still sitting on the floor, with Mal cuddled on my lap, I told him that I worry about a lot of things, too. In fact, I used to worry so much about so many things that I, too, would make myself sick. 
But I don't have to worry as badly anymore. Now, whenever I start to feel overly worried I get down on my knees and ask my Savior Jesus Christ to help me. I will list off all the things I am worried about and ask him to please help me by taking these burdens from me--by sharing the load of my worries and alleviating the stress I feel. Almost immediately I feel his love and calm as I share with Him my most pressing needs. I know that with my Savior I can conquer any worry and overcome any doubts. I know that with my Savior I am not alone even when I feel so alone in my worries. He lifts my burdens and in return gives me love and security. 

Mal's issue with anxiety reminds me of when I first learned about the iceberg of behaviours diagram when I was working in wilderness therapy many years ago. His school sickness (or anger or sadness or acting out or whatever behaviour inserted) is only the very top of what we see. In this case all I could see was him acting sick everytime it was time to go to school. However, if we look at him as an iceberg, there is so much more underneath that we can't see, which are the causes of his behaviour. This is pretty much how all people are--like icebergs, hiding all the scary, ugly, hard things underneath the surface of what we're truly feeling. 

We stayed cuddling there for a moment until our crazy kitty, Juzo, came up and bit his face, luckily not hard! It made him laugh. 
Crazy Juzo

I'm hoping as we especially focus on our Mal to overcome his worries, we can also help him learn to share his worries with God. One thing I know for sure is that we don't have to go through this life alone. I've been in situations where I was completely alone and riddled with anxiety, yet I always had my Savior there to help me. I made it through and now I get to help my boys.

After I dropped of Mal at school I sat in the car for a second and opened up my Facebook. An old memory popped up from November 2, 2017, which I thought was perfectly fitting for my experience this morning. :

     I was having a rough day personally but then started thinking about each of my boys individually. They are so strong and confident and passionate about life. They truly are a bright light. They are such a strength to me and they teach me everyday how to be a better person and a better mother. I am grateful everyday for the direct access I have to God's power to help me raise these boys. I am often a weak person and really don't know what to do but I have the greatest help there ever was.

Reading this memory reminded me to keep praying for my boys and their needs everyday, however it also reminded me how important it is to keep journaling my thoughts. These memories, whether they be on facebook or instagram, remind me who I am and what my continuous goals are. I don't want to lose sight of that in the hustle and bustle of life.  I don't want to bury all my thoughts underneath the surface like an iceberg. I need to let my light shine like a fire (which is the opposite of iceberg if you google it.) 

So, the blogging is back!

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