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Valerie Plowman: Anxiety attacks even the optimistic among us

Valerie Plowman
Valerie Plowman

Editor's note: The Deseret News asked members of the community to share their experiences with anxiety. Read their stories here.

Life has a way of showering you with irony.

My third child has always been a glass half full kind of girl. Not just half full, but whatever fullness the glass contained was the perfect amount in her eyes. When her baby sister yanked her hair out, my then 3-year-old shrugged her shoulders and said, "Well, at least hair grows back!"

Since she was my third and I had a chance to deal with preteen and teen emotions, I often counted my blessings that my third child would be a very easy preteen and teen. She was eternally optimistic. She always found the bright side and would be a breeze to navigate through the difficulties of the teens.

Cue the irony.

Not long after my blonde-haired, blue-eyed daughter turned 9 years old, anxiety took over her life.

It took over her life.

She could hardly function. Seemingly out of nowhere, my daughter, who had always bubbled over with enthusiasm and optimism, was convinced she was going to die at any moment. The bright side no longer existed. She could not find it no matter how desperately she clawed for it.

This daughter of mine has always remembered every fact she has ever heard. Her most commonly uttered phrase is, "Did you know …" Combine that with a thirst for knowledge and a ravenous appetite for books and you end up with a child who knows a lot about a lot. Included in this knowledge base was the myriad ways people die.

She remembered every way every character in any book she has read had died. Every day brought forth a new ailment she was sure she had. Rabies (she read about it in "Old Yeller" two years previous). Appendicitis, strokes, heart attacks, malaria … any method of dying was on the table in her mind.

This fear led to physical manifestations such as panic attacks, extreme stomach pain and trouble sleeping. She feared everything. A longtime soccer player, she almost didn't play a game one day with her competitive team because she was sure her ankle guards would cut the circulation off and she would lose her feet.

After a few days, that seemed like a few years, it dawned on us that she was experiencing anxiety.

Our daughter's world was crushing her. She was having a hard time functioning. It was triggered by nothing we could identify. One day she was happy and optimistic and the next she was utterly convinced a piece of paper could kill her if angled correctly. We had to scramble to figure the anxiety thing out so we could decide how best to help her.

Fortunately, we live in a very digital world. I was able to Google and read myriad advice. I was able to crowdsource and ask my friends and acquaintances on social media for wisdom and insight. I was able to find so many helpful tidbits to apply. I had a list of books ordered from Amazon that both she and we could read. It seemed as though we could face this.

Despite life showering you with irony, there are always blessings along the way. Our daughter's well-check visit lined up perfectly with this storm. She was able to go to her doctor, whom she trusted and had seen her whole life, and get a full checkup. We filled him in on her concerns. He checked every joint in her body. He assured her that she was in perfect health.

This was a fact she clung to in the coming weeks as her fears tried to take over. She changed her reading list to only include books with happy content and no death. This is hard to come by in fiction; every good story has conflict in it, and more than you realize has a character die. It was a challenge to find books on her reading level that were death-free.

She started to keep a journal where she wrote down all of her fears. We talked through all of them. I was always honest with her. She feared she had appendicitis; I logically explained why that wasn't the case. Some fears were fears I couldn't wash away. She feared she would get cancer someday. That might happen. I never promised her she wouldn't ever get something. I was also frank about the fact that yes, some day she would die.

After a few weeks, she left the anxiety behind her and hasn't returned since. I do not assume it won't come back. As she continues to grow and her hormones continue to change, I know her anxiety might return.

In the meantime, I am learning all I can so I can do what I can to help her and turn where we need to for additional help. I am continuing to build our bond so I can be that safe place to turn when she needs help coping. I am preparing in every way I can to help her take on anxiety if it should ever rear its ugly head again.

Valerie Plowman is the mother of four children and blogs at Babywisemom.com_. She has been blogging on parenting since 2007. Valerie has a degree in technical writing and loves using those skills to help parents be the best parents they can be. Read her book, "_The Babywise Mom Nap Guide," to get help on sleep from birth through the preschool years. Follow her on\ Facebook_,_ Pinterest and Instagram_for more tips and helps._