When our youngest was in kindergarten, I went to pick him up from school and saw the teacher shaking her head at me from across the long hallway.

It wasn’t an angry shake or even a disappointed shake. It was really more of the sad, I-wish-this-world-was-less-hard kind of shake.

You see, our sweet Zeke is on the Spectrum. Most days we don’t even notice it. Zeke thinks different, responds differently, I’m convinced even tastes differently, but you never know when it’s going to kick in. Our life looks more like, “Surprise, it’s Austism Day!” than “My name is autism, I have settled her for a long winter’s nap.”

Everyone’s experience with special needs is different.

This is ours.

That day with the kindergarten teacher, I listened to her tell me a story of my son’s experience in the world that doesn’t always understand frazzled nerves and pinched sensory systems and too bright, too loud, too soft, too…everything.

As the tears rolled down my cheeks, she told me the story of a small child so overwhelmed by the swirl of life around him that he hid himself in a cubby, folded himself right up into it, because it felt safe.

Zeke’s teacher was nothing short of amazing and she expressed perfectly my sentiment –

I just wish life was a little less hard. I wouldn’t want Zeke to be any different. I just want it all to be less hard for him.

Once I stepped back from the situation, I realized there have been many a day in my own life I’ve wanted to hide in a cubby…and for all the same reasons! Too much noise makes me grind my teeth, I’m easily irritated if I’m hungry or tired, and goodness knows I have lots of opinions about colors, lights, and textures.

As a grown-up discovering how to wander through my own journey of life with anxiety, I was struck by how often our medical and scientific definitions don’t quite fit for anxiety, each missing a piece. Nothing offered as a definition ever felt full enough to me.

Today on the podcast I offer a fuller definition of anxiety. I’ve been researching and compiling this definition since graduate school, through the wisdom and research of books and academic articles, observation in my own life and therapeutic treatment for anxiety, and also my observations as a therapist. It’s not meant to be a complete definition, but an open conversation, a re-contextualizing of the pieces of our experiences with anxiety and how we understand it.

I’m hoping that this work will help us to:

– be more mindful for the sake of those around us with anxiety or sensory struggles

– help individuals understand the “why” of different components of treatment – in particular medication, therapy, and connection

– move toward better long term treatment of anxiety by encouraging expanded research concerning the definitions we utilize

– offer better spiritual care for anxiety, mental health, and working toward ending the stigma associated with both

The Truth about Mental Health….some days we all want to hid in cubbies.

Episode 43 – Defining Anxiety: A Recontextualization

*No small children were harmed in the writing of this article. Permission was granted by my son to share his story.

4 thoughts on “”

  1. Thank you, Heidi. There is much food for thought here and much I don’t understand. I look forward to seeing the Powerpoint links and book titles again as my notes are so sketchy. I so appreciate that you regularly remind us that we don’t need to “fix” people struggling with mental/emotional health. We can just sit, listen and be a friend. A church member has allowed me to contact her in her struggles. She is most comfortable communicating by text right now. I’m thankful for the opportunity of communicating the love of Jesus to her as well as my love and respect. I pray that my daughter is receiving this support as well.

    1. Paula, you are a gift to each of those women. It can be hardest to watch our children struggle. If you have specific questions, let me know. It may become clearer as you think and process the information, and just take the tidbits that are helpful for you right now. God works in His Word to point us to what we need for the moment. The powerpoint is also available on the Mental Health page near the bottom, just in case you weren’t sure where to get it. Thank you for listening!

  2. This is wonderful and so helpful! I really appreciate the framework you are setting up for understanding anxiety from a Christian worldview, which will naturally bring in other aspects of the world since, well, God created the world and everything has His imprint on it! I am curious about your comment regarding facing the situations that bring anxiety. I see that as a good thing (sort of like Temple Grandin encouraging parents of children on the Autism Spectrum to push them out of their comfort zones). But do you see room for not being a glutton for punishment, either? (context: I recently stopped homeschooling and I realized that part of the amount of stress I was feeling was made worse by the constant stimulation (noise, being “on,” etc… for many children all day, every day.) I question my decision, thinking that if maybe I stuck with it I would have gotten over it. )

    1. Yep, boundaries definitely have their place! Amen. Knowing what triggers you is important and sensory awareness goes a long way for minimizing the extras we put on/in our bod. Knowing our limits in part of the growth process of life. The embrace it or escape it is more about the actual experience of anxiety, rather than the things that cause or contribute to anxiety. The concept is for identifying our anxiety for what it is, “Oh, I’m feeling anxiety. I have that heavy feeling in my chest again.” (or the like) and just letting it set for a moment during the time and place you identify it instead of trying to get away from the feeling of anxiety. So less about running through life and never changing anything we do. The neurobiological components of anxiety won’t be effected by those changes much anyway, so escape it or embrace it is attached to the unchangeable aspects. Good point!

      On a personal note, when we homeschooled this was a major issue for me and two of my kids too- the sensory overload of the stimulation of all of us together constantly. If someone turned on a tv I flipped my lid because it was just one more noise to take in. 😉 I get it! I think it’s good to make decisions that are right for your family at that time and being aware of what you need is awesome! It makes us better moms and helps our children be more aware as well. I know that’s not the reason you stopped (or I stopped for that matter) but yay for you for seeing that tiny piece of it!

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

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