Our daughter's anxiety disorder went undiagnosed for years. Here's what I wish we'd known.

We knew something wasn't right with our daughter. We just didn't know what was wrong.

As a parent, it can be hard to determine when a child's behaviors fall into "weird but normal" and when something is truly "off." Kids go through phases. They struggle as they figure out their changing minds and emotions. They get nervous or needy for a spell, and then they're okay.

But sometimes they're not okay. Sometimes a phase lasts too long to be a phase, and you have to dig to discover what's really going on.


Our oldest daughter had always had some intermittent nervousness, but nothing extraordinary. As she entered the teen years, she seemed to be more anxious more often, but we figured it was a teen thing. It wasn't until she started withdrawing more and more and avoiding everyday things that we recognized something truly was off.

Long story short, our daughter was suffering from an anxiety disorder called emetophobia—a clinical fear of vomiting. It had evolved to the point where she avoided anything that might possibly make her nauseous, including food and people. We watched our vibrant, fun-loving daughter become a hermit, but since she couldn't verbalize anything having to do with throwing up, it took a long time to figure out what was wrong.

Thankfully, we were able to get her the help she needed once we knew what we were dealing with. But it was a long, hard road and there are many things I wish we had known far earlier in our journey.

Anxiety isn't just one thing, and specific anxiety disorders need to be treated in specific ways.

We had some inkling that our daughter was struggling with anxiety, and we had taken her to a couple of therapists to get help. But they treated her for generalized anxiety, when what she really needed was help with a specific phobia that we didn't know she had.

I wish I had known that anxiety is a category, not a specific disorder. Saying someone has an anxiety disorder is like saying someone has cancer. It tells you what kind of illness they have, but the reality differs greatly depending on what specific manifestation you have. A blood cancer is different from a tumor, which is different from a sarcoma. They're all cancer, but treatments are specific for each kind.

Similarly, there are multiple anxiety disorders from phobias to OCD to panic disorder to PTSD, and symptoms can overlap. It's not always easy to pinpoint the nature of a person's anxiety, but it helps immensely to get the appropriate therapy.

Finding the right therapist and the right therapy is key, and it may take shopping around.

We took our daughter to several therapists with limited success, largely because we didn't understand the exact nature of her anxiety. We had to dig and research a lot ourselves, and it took many discussions with our daughter about what she was experiencing before we discovered that the fear of vomiting was her main issue. When we asked her therapist at the time if he had experience treating emetophobia, she said he had never even heard of it.

I had to call about a dozen different therapists before I found one who said she could help our daughter, but it was totally worth it. Within a few months of therapy, we watched our daughter emerge from her hermit hole and become a happy, functioning human again. It felt like a miracle, but it was really just a matter of figuring out what we were dealing with and finding someone who knew how to help.

I wish we had started earlier. I wish we had known that it might take time to find the right therapist, and to not waste time and money with a therapist who isn't really helping.

Anxiety doesn't get fixed or cured; it gets managed.

Despite feeling like a miracle "cure" in some ways, our daughter's therapy is really just a system of management. Anxiety is a product of an overfunctioning amygdala—the fight or flight center of the brain. Why some people are prone to anxiety is a mystery, but it's not something that gets cured forever.

Most of our daughter's therapy was learning how to manage her thoughts and her brain's responses to certain stimuli. She does that through various thinking exercises and behavioral changes, and since her anxiety disorder is a phobia, through controlled exposure to what scares her as well.

Some anxiety disorders lend themselves well to medication; our daughter's did not. But medication is also a management tool, not a cure. Anxiety takes a combination of approaches to manage, and it's helpful to know from the get go that consistent, ongoing maintenance is required.

Some elements of therapy are totally counterintuitive and force you to go against your parenting instincts.

Some of the things we did in response to our daughter's anxiety—thinking that we were helping her—were actually making things worse.

When I feel nervous about something myself, my first response is to use logic and reason to calm myself down. That works for me because I don't have an anxiety disorder. But an overactive amygdala doesn't respond to logic. Telling my daughter that the statistic probability of a stale chip making her puke was tiny didn't help her anxiety. It didn't even make a dent.

Part of our daughter's cognitive behavioral therapy was her telling her amygdala, which constantly says, "This might make you throw up!" that it might actually be right. The amygdala wants to be heard, or it keeps raising a fuss. She had to learn to say, "Maybe I will get sick, maybe I won't—let's just wait and see what happens." It seemed completely counterintuitive, but it worked wonders.

I wish we had known that too much reassurance on our part was reinforcing her anxiety. We had to refuse to respond when she'd ask us if we thought she was going to vomit. We had to help her stop avoiding the people, places, and things that made her anxious.

We had to let her feel terrified, which was rough.

As a parent, it's your job to keep your child safe and secure. Anxiety tells them that they're not safe even when there's no real danger, and indulging that voice only makes anxiety stronger. So you have to go against your protective instincts. You have to walk your child toward the mirage of fire in their head, even when they're screaming that they're going to get burned. It's brutal, but they have to see that it's just a mirage.

I wish we had known how hard it was going to be, but also what a relief we would feel when therapy started working.

Parenting a child through a mental health crisis is one of the most difficult things I've ever done. So many parents are walking similar paths, feeling helpless and frustrated and unsure of what to do, and not sure who to talk to.

My daughter invited me to share her story in the hopes that others can benefit from our experiences. The more we talk openly about mental health struggles, the more we can help one another through it.

I wish we had known that sooner, too.

Family

There are reasonable arguments to be had on all sides of America's debates about guns.

Then there are NRA lobbyists.

According to the Tampa Bay Times, Florida National Rifle Association lobbyist Marion Hammer spoke to state economists last week to explain why a proposed assault weapons ban would devastate gun manufacturers in the state. The proposed amendment, which is being led by the aunt of a student killed in the Parkland school shooting, would ban the future sale of assault rifles in Florida and mandate that current owners either register their guns with the state or give them up.

The back and forth between those proposing and opposing the amendment appears to be a pretty typical gun legislation debate. Only this time, the NRA lobbyist pulled out one of the most bizarre arguments I've seen yet.

Keep Reading Show less
Democracy

Graphic helps identify what triggers you emotionally in relationships

Knowing your triggers helps you manage your emotions.

via Blessing Manifesting / Instagram

Learning your emotional triggers on your own is one thing but figuring out your triggers in a relationship adds another layer of intensity. Maybe you're afraid of being abandoned or want to feel the need to push the other person away but you don't know why.

If this sounds familiar, you're not alone. It's why artist and mental health advocate Dominee Wyrick created a graphic to help you identify what triggers you in relationships.

Keep Reading Show less
Well Being
via PixaBay

Democratic presidential candidate Andrew Yang has brought a lot of attention to the idea of implementing a universal basic income on America. His "freedom dividend" would pay every American $1,000 a month to spend as they choose.

In addition to helping Americans deal with a future in which the labor market will be upended by automation, this basic income could allow Americans to rethink what we see as work and nurture what Yang calls a "human-centered" economy.

Keep Reading Show less
Family
Capital One

Brian Olesen never imagined he would end up homeless.

The former U.S. Air Force medic had led a full and active life, complete with a long career in the medical field, a 20-year marriage, and a love of anything aquatic. But after hip surgery and chronic back pain left him disabled in 2013, he lost his ability to work. Due to changes in eligibility requirements, he couldn't qualify for federal veteran housing programs. His back issues were difficult to prove medically, so he didn't qualify for disability. Though he'd worked his whole life, having no income for five years took its toll. He got evicted from a couple of apartments and found himself living on the streets.

But in 2018, two things completely turned Olesen's life around. He was able to both qualify for disability and to move into an affordable housing community in Miami's Goulds neighborhood called Karis Village.

When people think of affordable housing, they don't usually picture a place like Karis Village. The 88-unit development is brand new, and built with an attention to design that is not always expected for developments that serve as home to people on limited incomes. The apartments have tile floors, marble countertops, and all new appliances and furniture, and the grounds are beautiful and well-kept, with a playground and common areas for residents to gather.

Brian Olesen in his kitchen at Karis VillageCapital One

Karis Village isn't just a housing development; it's a home and a community. Half of the units are set aside for veterans who have experienced homelessness, like Olesen. The other half are largely occupied by single-parent families.

"To me, this building was just a gift," says Olesen. "All of the different parties that got together to put this building together… making half the building available to veterans. We've got no place to go."

Addressing veteran homelessness was one of the goals of Karis Village, which was built through a partnership that included Carrfour Supportive Housing — a mission-driven, not-for-profit affordable housing organization in southern Florida — and Capital One's Community Finance team. More than just an affordable place to live, the community has full-time staff on hand to help coordinate services—from addiction recovery programs to transportation options to job search and placement. Also included are peer counselors who provide emotional and psychological support for residents.

Karis Village, an affordable housing community in Miami, Florida.Capital One

Carrfour President and CEO Stephanie Berman says the core function of the services team on site is to build a supportive community.

"Often when you think of folks leaving homelessness and coming into housing, you think of shelters or some kind of traditional housing," she says. "You don't really think about a community, and that's really what we build and what we operate. What we're really striving to create is community. We find that our families thrive when you create a sense of community."

The intention to create a supportive community at Karis Village was a priority from the get go. Fabian Ramirez, a Capital Officer on Capital One's Community Finance team, says the bank did a listening tour in southern Florida to explore community development and affordable housing options in the area and to hear what was most needed. After deciding to partner with Carrfour, the bank provided not only an $8 million construction loan and a $25 million low income housing tax credit (LIHTC) investment to help build Karis Village, but it also kicked in a $250,000 social purpose grant to help fund the social support services that would be put in place for residents.

"It's not just all about providing the brick and mortar," says Ramirez. "It's about being able to contribute to the sustainability of the development and of the lives of the people who move into the building."


Capital One

Olesen says he and his fellow residents benefit greatly from the network of support services offered in the building. He says a counselor comes to meet with him once a month, sometimes right in his apartment. He also gets help maintaining a connection with the Veteran Affairs office. Other services include social workers and counselors for drug addiction and alcoholism.

Olesen loves being around other veterans, and he says hearing the sound of children playing keeps the community lively. He says anywhere else he could afford to live on disability wouldn't be nearly as nice and would likely involve shared kitchens and bathrooms and neighborhoods you wouldn't want to go out in at night.

If it weren't for Karis Village, Olesen says he doesn't know where he would be today: "I had nowhere to go and this is a safe, beautiful place to spend my retirement."

"I don't think they could have done a much better job of putting this place together and supplying us with what we need," he says. "I have so much appreciation for the ability to have a place to live. And then you add to that that it's beautiful and completely furnished and you didn't need to bring anything—I don't know what more you could ask for."

Karis Village and another development for veterans built the same year enabled the neighborhood of Goulds to meet the requirements set forth by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to declare an end to veteran homelessness in the area.

Ending veteran homelessness altogether is a complex task, but communities like Karis Village show how it can be done—and done well. When government agencies, non-profit organizations, and corporate funding programs come together to solve big problems, big solutions can be built and maintained.

Future Edge
True
Capital One