I knew the child was already in distress, or I would not have been called to see her. I came in after she was already seated, her hands tightly clenched, her crossed feet tapping the floor rhythmically and her eyes full of fear with an employee standing next to her silent. Her anxiety was thick in the air and knew I was there to calm the storm.
“She’s always like this” the secretary snapped, “she gets herself all worked for no reason, I told her to calm down, but she won’t, always looking for attention" the secretary said.
I just looked at her and nodded, disheartened, knowing what that child must have already heard. “Thanks” I replied. Sadly, people who stifle emotions like this in others do not have the tools needed to care for people in this circumstance.
Open posture, soft smile, deep breath, eye contact. “Hi, I’m Cheryl” I started. I am not a doctor, a psychologist, a psychiatrist, or any form of authority, I am just a lady, who has been where you are in your emotions and I want to try and help you. She pulled down her sleeve so I could not see the cut marks on her arm, but I won’t forget them. And that reason the secretary told me was invalid for disruption…I am sure there’s a valid reason.
“Will I always feel like this” she started to cry as she talked. “I literally cannot take it anymore, it’s like I am actually going crazy”. “I hate this, I hate my stupid anxiety, I hate my life, I hate EVERYTHING” she yelled in full tears. “Go ahead, tell me how dumb I am for acting like this” she said, looking at me, desperate for me to save her. I let her cry; she needed the release.
I took a deep breath, “Go on, let it out” I said. “Give it to me, all of it, show me how mad you are” She looked at me kind of surprised that I would allow her to express her “bad emotions”. “Let me have it, give me all of that pain” I said. And boy did she!! I will tell you, some days, can be really overwhelming, but it’s my place to take that pain out of them thru their words, and release it from both of us and this is that day for sure!
Her crying started to calm, she was lowering her voice now, she was not crossed legged or armed, she didn’t seem so angry anymore. She took a big sigh and said the words that fill my being with hope and delight, “OMG, I actually feel calmer” she chuckled! She still had a fast speech pattern, but it wasn’t flat monotoned or disengaged, it was just a combo of extreme stress and an energy drink! Not discrediting the actual mental anguish, she goes thru, but the 24 ounces of Monster Energy drink didn’t help.
She was articulate and put together. She dressed well, she got average grades, she had a small friend group and no social media. Her diet was tragic, and she was already drinking multiple energy drinks a day because she didn’t sleep well at night. She was a child of divorce and lived at her grandmother’s because her dad moved out of state and her mother worked more than an hour away. She had her fair share of trauma and confusion in her 13 short years.
“Maybe” I said. She seemed confused. “Maybe, what?”. She asked. That day we talked a lot about meeting these feelings with a sense of transient flow that is real. Whether you are anxious, mad, sad or glad, the feeling is transient, it will not be who you are, or define your life. It will come in, you will be in it and it will leave you and you will be out of it. No matter what you are feeling you must be able to feel it, sit with it and work thru it. Whether you like it or not, it is happening, so you might as well rise to the occasion.
“Your arm?” I asked. Not to shame or bring attention to this in a good light, just to check in with her space. “I am not trying to kill myself, I swear, I do not want to die, I just want to stop feeling like this, it was stupid and I was just mad at myself” she started to ramp up again. “Pause, Breathe” I said. “I am asking you a question that you do not have to answer unless you are comfortable, if it’s triggering you, we can just be still for a bit”. “I just get so tired of feeling like this” she said and I could feel the desperation in her voice. “I understand, I do”.
You see…just because a child is in self harm mode doesn’t mean they want to die. Sometimes it does, but not always. It’s a message, a signal, a calling for help. It’s a scream from the soul saying, “I cannot handle what I am feeling, pay attention to me”. It’s a warning that needs serious attention for sure. She clearly expressed that she didn’t want to die, however, she was referred out for care. Back to my maybe. “Maybe you will feel these sensations of anxiety forever” I told her, “But if you stay in the moment, and guide yourself with the coping skills you have now, it will just be another moment that comes and goes in your life”. Today we talked a lot about managing anxiety through breath and mantras. We talked about sitting in our space and allowing our feelings to come and go. We learned real CBT tools to talk our anxious feelings out of our body and release their power. We also learned that we are worthy of love and acceptance no matter what happens in our lives.
We built a team of safe adults who could properly care for her and realize that she was not seeking attention, but connection. These skills must be practiced every day for them to work.
Thirteen is tough, and without the emotional intelligence and regulation skills you need to deal with everyday life, it can be even tougher. So, what started off as a “out of control” moment, slowly came into control, all at the release of anxious teen who didn’t know where to put her words.
At a 1 month check in, her grandmother told me she is very serious about her emotional health and has changed her diet and her daily routines to reflect positive mental health habits. Her journals are FULL and she is all about releasing her feelings so that they do not become overwhelming. She has enrolled with a therapist and continues to talk about her emotions weekly and is committed to bettering herself emotionally!
Support. Connect. Allow.