Saturday, 14 October 2017

Separation Anxiety- Not just for toddlers

Separation anxiety is something i know a lot about.

But when i was researching to put this blog together i was surprised to see how most articles and personal experiences were of young children. 
I guess this is because Separation anxiety is a developmental stage in some young children.

But actually for carers and and their dependants this is a real daily struggle.

When you think about anxiety and the control it can have over your life then suffering from separation anxiety isn't really a surprising concept.

When you struggle daily with thoughts of terrible things happening, an impending doom that you cant really explain to someone else and a fear of getting in a situation where you are in danger then its obvious that you will cling to the person that makes you feel safe.

When K was at her worst i could not leave her side. Every sound, every fleeting glance form someone in the street, every hushed conversation was a threat to her safety.
I became her voice because she could not tell people what she needed.
I couldn't even leave her with my sisters who she is very close to because she felt the only person that could protect her from harm was me. 

In fairness to K i started to find that others couldn't offer her the same level of vigilance and awareness that i did. I was like a bodyguard,  constantly on the look out for possible anxiety triggers, avoiding certain situations and places, finding walking routes which minimised as much human contact as possible.

Separation Anxiety in adults

Family saw this as over indulgence when her problems began but after looking after her for me for a couple of hours began to understand why it was so important to stay nearby.
When a person suffers from anxiety the threat is in their head all the time
What i know to be a car backfiring K might perceive to be a gun shot.
What i perceive as a young man wearing a big coat because he's cold K might perceive as someone concealing a weapon with a plan to hurt her. 
What i know to be the click of the central heating K may think is someone trying to break into our house.

And what you find is that after a while this separation anxiety becomes two sided.
As her mum and her carer i know the effect having a bad experience will have on her mental health.

One time when we were grocery shopping, she asked if she could sit on the bench at the back of the checkouts while i filled the conveyor belt. Which i thought would be fine.
Off she went with her earphones safely in her ears. within my vision of course.
Within minutes she was back, hysterical and shaking because an elderly man had tapped her on the arm and said something to her.
In her mind he could have said the most sinister thing, she couldn't hear him as she always wears her earphones. He could have made the most terrible threat.
Rationally he probably made a comment on the weather or how busy the supermarket was but for her, she would spend the rest of the day feeling uneasy and unsafe.

Another time, at the same supermarket, she asked to go look at magazines while i shopped. I was so pleased, thinking this is great, she is venturing off to do things without me.

What she was actually doing was stealing painkillers and pencil sharpeners. 
She was planning her own death while i was buying cornflakes. 
I discovered this later the same day and we went off to hospital that night because for the first time in my role as her mother i felt i couldn't keep her safe. I had to say i couldn't cope.

We were admitted to the children's ward right outside the nurses station with the curtains open and for the first time in a long time i slept all night knowing someone was helping me keep her safe. 

So you see the separation anxiety becomes two way.
If I'm not with her i cant be sure that she is safe, both from her perceived threat and from herself.
I trust my sisters implicitly. They are my best friends
But when K was at her worst i could not trust them with my daughter.
And if they were honest i think they found the responsibility and level of attention needed to take her out overwhelming. I'm not angry at them for that. I get it.

When we finally got our CAMH's assessment, professionals started to become involved. 
You might think i was happy with this. And i was. but it was hard. 
All of a sudden the outreach team were coming to collect her from the house for an hourly session. 
So for a whole hour i couldn't really be sure she was was OK. Yes these people are professionals but can they really keep her safe to the level that i do.

Friends were advising me to use this hour for self-care. 
Have a bath, they said, pop to the shops, but i couldn't. 
I wanted to remain available.
So i would sit in my lounge with a cup of tea and wait for her to be returned to me.
It look a long time for me to trust someone else to keep my daughter safe. 

As K's medication started her anxiety eased and she became a bit more rational in her view of the world and its dangers.
Gradually she started to work with more professionals and she began exposure work.
Going to cafes and small shops, this is still ongoing and she stills finds this really difficult but I'm so proud of her for continuing to face her fears and do things without the safety of me being near.

For me separation anxiety is still a part of my everyday life.
K has started college now so is away from me three days a week for seven hours a day.
Yesterday she used community transport to travel to college for the first time.
And it was really tough.

Normally i would travel with her, and then come back on the bus and then back again in the afternoon but this has proved to be very tiring, stressful and expensive.
The stress of constantly waiting around and  jumping on and off public transport was starting to make college a negative thing for both of us so being collected from the door with a chaperone on board a minibus is a real blessing that i am so grateful for.

Separation anxiety  letting go

We both continue on this journey of K's recovery.
Confronting our mutual separation anxiety is an important part of this journey.

We keep in touch via text throughout the day, and although i feel anxious if i don't hear from her, i know i need to learn to let her have space to grow and slowly i am beginning to do things while she is away. 
She knows I'm never far away if she needs me and slowly i am beginning to trust other people to make sure she is safe and offer her emotional support in my absence. 

Its difficult for me to offer advice on how to cope with separation from a carers perspective as i said at the start of this blog there is very little reading material or articles on this but i find it very difficult to believe that this isn't a common issue for young people and Adults.

I have found a good book on Amazon  written by Robert Blick PHD.

five strategies for living with separation anxietyFive Strategies for Living with Adult Separation Anxiety Disorder (Rethink-Anxiety-Disorders' Anxiety Series Book 1)

This book covers separation anxiety from an adults perspective, and has some good suggestions for coping mechanisms as well as recommendations for further reading.

Unfortunately i cannot find a physical copy in the UK but it can be downloaded to an e-reader.

Parenting a child with emotional and behavioural DifficultiesParenting a Child with Emotional and Behavioural Difficulties (Parenting Matters)

Since writing this blog i have also been recommended by a subscriber to try Dan Hughes book 'Parenting a child with Emotional and Behavioural difficulties' 

I haven't read this yet myself so any feedback form readers would be great

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