Teen angst: a great phrase that uses onomatopoeia. As much as I like how it sounds, I hate the reality. With all those raging hormones, every teenager is bound to “lose it” at one time or another.
Add anxiety to that mix, and it's a whole different beast. Sometimes it manifests in a meltdown of epic proportions, sometimes it's silent, hidden demons. Teens learn to put a smile on their faces, to grin and bear it.
"How are you?" we ask.
“Fine,” they say with knots in their stomachs because, really, no one wants to talk about the tough stuff.
Hell, I don’t want to talk about the tough stuff! Anxiety is tough. It's heartbreaking watching your child struggle with it.
To be clear, anxiety is not just feeling nervous before you take a test, talk on the phone, or go into a party by yourself. It’s constantly having excessive worry or fear strong enough to interfere with your daily life. It’s when you freak out over the length of time it takes someone to reply to your text, nervously going over all you might have done or said wrong. It’s checking and rechecking your work, whether or not the door is locked, or if your bed is clean. It’s wanting to go to a party and have fun but knowing your anxiety won’t let you, so you stay home.
It's gut-wrenching seeing them grow up when they'd rather not, battle depression, or feel anxious because so much is hanging over their heads. It's painful to watch as they literally climb in bed, fully clothed, and pull the blankets over their heads as their way to cope. They would rather not do homework for hours, they'd rather not tackle the college application process, and they'd rather not face what's coming. They'd rather not "adult."
As a mom, I'd rather not face that angst or my teen when she's feeling the angst, but that's not an option, obviously. Yesterday, everything was going along fine as it usually does – until it doesn't. Being asked (or told) by her dad to swap out the laundry and start another load was kind of a bummer, but add in walking the dog and suddenly Kylie careened off an edge that I was unaware she was standing on.
To her credit, she did the laundry and took Brodie out. In fact, she even brought him home and took herself for a walk. That was a sensible choice, a good option for calming the beast. I was proud of her for trying that. Seeing her use different coping skills is heartening, especially when it works.
However, it didn't work. The door slammed and feet stomped. There was some muttering. Clearly she was back and had brought the beast with her. My instinct was to immediately bring her a snack. She hadn't had much to eat after the morning stack of pancakes. So down I go to the laundry room where she is grudgingly folding towels. I offer her Manchego cheese on bread with a drop of honey. She takes one look and says, "There's rind. I'm not eating it."
Okay. Right. Deep breath (me not her).
Not to be defeated, I go back up for beef jerky. She can't refuse that (nor can our dog, by the way). Upon my return, Kylie was sitting on the floor leaning against the washing machine. She was gritting her teeth, clenching her jaw, and cracking her knuckles, but didn't even realize it. Without a word, I plunked myself down next to her and silently held out the jerky. She took it, ate it, and grabbed another piece from my hand. I tasted success.
When I asked her if something had happened or if she was just in a bad mood, she declared life sucks. That's kind of true for a teen, so I didn't argue. I just asked whether it was life in general or school, homework, parents, college. Pretty much, yes. She was spinning her ring on her finger and I grabbed her hand. She held on, clinging as though I was the lifeline, the bridge between reality and that cacophony sounding in her head.
So we sat there on the floor, heads together; there wasn't much I could do, so I let her vent. I started to disagree with the whole, "It's not my job to get the dog out," but managed to stop myself mid-sentence and went back to being quiet. It was a good decision. She railed on for a minute, about the dog, doing laundry, and folding towels, and then rolled her eyes about homework and college.
"I don't want to go to college. I don't want to grow up." She looked sad, dejected, and tired. And she was, she said. Tired of adulting. I get that – I was tired of it too right then.
It's hard to hear your child say they don't like life, that they don't want to grow up, and they are just over it all. It's harder still – at least for me – to listen and not utter a word or try to convince her otherwise. But that's what works for her. Sometimes that's all it takes to chase the angst away.
We invited it in, but didn't let it to stay for dinner so to speak. When our dinner was ready, I helped her up, turned her around three times – it's our little thing we do to shake off the bad and call forth a new attitude – and held her hand as we went up to eat. We'd tamed the beast for the moment.
When dinner was over, we all curled up on the couch and started reading "Watership Down," because sometimes it's okay to not adult. Sometimes it's okay to be taken care of. Sometimes, if you snuggle the teen, you can smother the angst. At least for a day.
It takes a village!
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