Thursday, May 23, 2013


Four days ago she looked up at me with those big brown eyes, so much like my own, and said, "there's something wrong with my brain, Momma".

I leaned down, pressed my forehead against hers, and closed my eyes.  "There is nothing wrong with your brain, sweetheart. It's your anxiety talking to you. I know just how you feel."

A sob hitched in her chest and a tear rolled down her cheek. She was slumped on the front porch, hair falling around her face. She's been through a lot in the past few weeks, poor kid. My heart breaks for her, even as my own anxiety ratchets up in my chest.

"Will it ever go away?" she asked, quietly.

I hesitated. I have struggled with anxiety since I was about her age - 10 years old.  I'm almost 44, and it's still a monkey on my back.  What to say?  That this may be a lifelong struggle? That there are so many tools at her disposal, but that her brain is hardwired this way?  That it's not her fault? 

In the end, I opted for the simple truth.  "It will get so much better. I promise."

She worries about just about everything, from missing the bus to something falling out of the sky and squashing her flat.

She wants to be perfect, obsessing about homework and grades, twisting herself up into a tizzy over the simplest of things.

It's hard for me to know what to do; it's so close to me.   I self-medicated with alcohol because of anxiety for so many years.  My gut grows cold at the thought of my daughter slipping into the same fate.

It's hard to know where the line is, between truthfulness and reassurance.  I aim for the "not asked, not answered" philosophy, attempting not to give her more than she can absorb.

But she's an old soul, this kid, and she can absorb a lot.

A few weeks ago she fractured her foot, requiring crutches and a boot.  A few days later she had a suspicious mole removed, with the scary diagnosis of "moderate to severe indication of melanoma".  Over the past two years she weathered the sudden death of my father and my own battle with cancer.

She's too old for platitudes now. I can't simply tell her everything will be okay, because she knows I can't guaranty that.  My Mom Superpowers dim as she grows older, my very-much-human skin showing through that shiny veneer of All-Knowingness.

A few days ago the stitches were removed and the "all clear" was given on the suspicious cells.  It was almost melanoma; we caught it in time.  The boot came off yesterday.  Her smile is coming with more frequency, and I realize how much I've missed it.

This morning there were no tears.  She spun happily in the driveway, waiting for the bus, prattling on about a video they are shooting at school... a "Harlem Shake" spin-off.  She gets to wear an Afro wig.  She finds this infinitely hysterical.

Glimpses of the little girl that still resides in her shine through, and I'm grateful.

Almost melanoma. Almost a young woman. Almost.

But not quite.


  1. Sometimes, that's exactly where the blessing lives: in the "almost."

  2. It WILL get better. My oldest was just like Greta is now. Always was. She had enough to deal with, with her basilar artery migraines (pain was in the stomach, plus nausea, vertigo, hemiplegic blindness, for days and days), misdiagnosed from age four to fourteen as anything from chronic gastritis to "all in your head." She was convinced that she would die by age 25 due to the risk of stroke from her particular type of migraine.

    But every other pain she had, every lump she found (she had the occasional cyst) - was a catastrophe. She "awfulized" everything, checking out the symptoms in a pediatric diseases book or online. Woke us up at 3 in the morning, "Mom. Check this lump. Is it cancer?"

    It was never cancer. Never. We told her, "Honey, you are FINE. You are going to be FINE."

    It was like talking to a wall. She continued to obsess about everything. Every noise, everything out of the ordinary. She was still afraid to cross the street at the age of 18. Moving vehicles made her very uncomfortable and nervous.

    And then - then two things happened within a few months of each other. First, she developed a toothache in a front incisor and had to have a root canal for that. At the same appointment she learned that her wisdom teeth had to come out and they referred her to a dental surgeon. A few weeks later, she went under a general anesthetic to have the wisdom teeth out.

    Over the next few months, and a diagnosis of temporo-mandibular joint dysfunction because of the two dental procedures, she underwent a dramatic paradigm shift in her thinking. She realized that she suffered from hypochondria and that in order to get better, she had to do certain things and to stop doing others.

    She stopped looking things up online, hard as that was. If she needed health information, she asked us to look it up. And although she continued to ask if this was normal and that was normal, she began telling herself that she was going to be okay. That she was perfectly fine. In the mirror. In bed. At her computer.

    It took about a year. One day, she just looked at me and said, "Mom, I want to go to college." Just like that. She was planning past 25. She was beginning to live again.

    She did go to college, winning the highest award in her program of study. Today, she is such a valued employee that her employer will go to any length to keep her in spite of a knee injury she had last fall (and surgery for it in early April, which will keep her off work until at least July). Best of all, she is far less obsessed with what might happen, and learning to live and to be happy in the moment.

    All that to say this. It WILL get better. It WILL.

    1. Thank you, my friend. Your insights and graceful wisdom always help me, so very much.


  3. I know giving advice is horrible, but just throwing a book recommendation out there for anyone who suffers from anxiety. The "Mindfulness and Acceptance Workbook for Anxiety" pretty much saved my life. It focuses on accepting the thoughts and physical sensations of anxiety for what they are, and moving your hands and feet towards a life filled with what you value. My anxiety tends to focus on imagined screw ups at work and money stuff.

    Looking back on my childhood I can see now that I had this anxiety as a kid, and how much I let it hold me back. I never ever shared it with my parents though. Now, as an adult, I still have the thoughts and physical sensations but am getting better at making room for them and still doing what I want and need to do.

    1. Advice isn't horrible at all! Thank you for the book suggestion - I will definitely get it! And thank you for sharing your experiences with me, too. It gives us all hope.


  4. Ellie, this is such a heart-achingly beautiful post. I feel your fear and your pain over your beautiful Greta. As I told you recently, she sounds very similar to my Ben. His beautiful heart was seemingly born on the outside of his body. He often says things like, "What's WRONG with me?"

    We have a special call to care for these tender souls. I was one of them myself and used to tell my father I thought I was insane when I was a young child. He brushed it off and told me not to say such things. And why wouldn't he? He didn't understand and he just wanted me to be okay.

    Today, we have the amazing ability to empathize with our tender ones, to hug them tight and smile into their eyes, and tell them that we get it. I tell my son, so much of the time, stories about how I felt when I was his age and how I learned to deal with those feelings and how I learned to think a different way. I go into as much detail, although keeping it very simple in accordance with his comprehension at his age, about my thought processes and how I learned to handle my feelings.

    What I don't tell him is that I learned a lot of this as an adult because there was no one to help me with these feelings as a child. I just reassure him that he is not alone. He can come to me with anything and I will listen and stroke his hair and hold him for as long as he wants and we can dive down to the deep, dark depths of his fears TOGETHER. I see a tiny shift already in his level of security.

    I hope it helps for me to share my experience with my own tender boy. I know I keep using the word "tender", but it's just the best one to describe my boy.

    You are an EXTRAORDINARY mother and Greta is in your care for that reason. I have all the faith in the world that you are caring for her in all the ways she needs you to do so. And your higher powers are caring for you both. You two have everything you need today. Sending love, hugs, and deep, deep peace to you both today. xo

    1. Hello my friend -

      I have carried what you shared with me at the Boston meetup, and it helps me all the time. Thank you for sharing your experience with me. I treasure our friendship, so much.


  5. I too have a girl who worries about's just her nature. At least now I am present to listen and support her through and help her find coping strategies that will take her through life. We are learning together me and my girl as we grow and evolve. Me on my sober journey and privileged to be watching her life unfold.
    I am so pleased that you had the positive news you deserve about the melanoma.
    You are such an inspiration. Thank you

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