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A mother's journey dealing with a child suffering panic attacks

This page added 2 September 2011.

By Georgette.

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My eldest daughter Rhiannon always had a spark about her that made me envious, people were drawn to her, her smile was contagious. She had an essence for life that was inspiring. We had just had the most amazing start to the year as her father and I married after thirteen years together, we were all on top of the world. Rhiannon gave a speech in front of eighty people expressing her love to us both, we were so proud. So why two months later did it all come crashing down around us?

It started off as small spurts, little things that no one else would have picked up on, but as a mother I knew something was not right with my little girl.  She was ten and struggling at school and letting little things get to her. She was stressed getting up in the morning to go to school and that was a sign that something was wrong as Rhiannon loved school and hated the thought of not going. In the six years of her education, she had only ever missed a handful of days and when she did, she was usually very ill. Day by day she began to deteriorate and as a mother I knew I needed to be strong to get her through this, but on the inside I was screaming for someone to give me back my daughter.

Doctors after doctors, tests after tests, no one could tell me what was wrong with my angel. As I held her in my arms while she cried, screaming that she wanted to hurt herself or someone else for all the pain to stop, I knew a piece of Rhiannon had died and it was going to be my job to find a new piece for her to develop. I told her to start writing down and explaining her feelings. Her first piece of work explained more than I could have ever imagined. Reading your daughter’s pain and how trapped she feels you begin to wonder where you went wrong as a parent.

Sadly no one was taking this seriously and her school was only treating this as if I was a crazy mother and my daughter was trying to get attention. She started seeing the school psychologist which was helping, and I began to see Rhiannon’s new path. She started talking about wanting to help other kids that may feel the same way as she does and arranged a group for kids just like her to be heard and for someone to just listen. I was so proud, but deep down I could see Rhiannon was still struggling.  She had always been a highly anxious child, stressing about the little things; however I was clueless to the depths of her discomfort. She began to panic at the smallest things, to the point where she would almost faint.

I must admit, as a control freak myself, I was struggling with her. I just wanted her to get back on track and live a happy normal carefree life. Everything became an issue - cutting her hair, going up and down stairs, escalators and elevators, and even eating meat became problematic as she was fearful of choking. I knew she was struggling but I did my best to make everything ok, but I was only making matters worse. The sad point is that I too suffer from panic and fear, so how could I of all people not understand? Because I believe I have mine under control. Mine is all hidden where no one can see, then escapes at night in my sleep where I have nocturnal panic attacks.  

It wasn’t until I started student placement at ADAVIC, and I started reading books on anxiety, that it hit me smack in the face. Rhiannon was caught in her own nightmare where everyone could see her anxiety on display.  I asked Rhiannon to share her feelings in writing an article, so I could understand how she was feeling around her panic and fear. It was right in front of me the whole time that she was suffering from a panic attack disorder and I got so caught up with trying to fix her that I did not stop to see her discomfort. Whilst Rhiannon and I share a beautiful relationship, I was trying to control her disorder rather than helping her live with it.

I am slowly adjusting to having a daughter who suffers from a panic attack disorder, giving her the time she needs when she faces her fears.  My husband, on the other hand, does not understand as he has never suffered anything like this and acts as cool as a cucumber, and does not have the tolerance with her. However, we are taking it day by day and learning to work with her instead of against her. When  an attack comes on we help her, talk her through it, and we learn more and more everyday from her. Although I lost a piece of my daughter, I have gained a new piece, a strong inspiring piece that will not only teach me but will help and teach many more in the future.  If Rhiannon has taught her father and I anything, it is that living with panic attack disorder should not be a life sentence, it will take time, patience and support but as a family we will learn to live with it, not against it…

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