• Dana L. Butler

Some Stuff I Haven’t Told You {in which I get real and update you on our boy}

Isaac’s anxiety is more pronounced these days.

It’s not quite as intense as it was a year ago, but it’s leaning somewhat in that direction lately.

Did I ever tell you guys what last summer was like for us? Bless my boy’s heart — he was literally paralyzed with fear. It was gut-wrenching to watch.

No, not “gut-wrenching.” I think I actually lack the words to even start to convey how painful, how traumatic it was to watch my son suffer. I don’t know if I’ve ever felt so helpless.

We couldn’t go to Target because he was terrified he’d get lost or kidnapped, experiences he’s never even remotely come close to having.

We couldn’t go to the park because he was afraid he’d get “beaten up” by bigger kids. (Or, at other times, because he lacked the social intuition to be reasonably respectful to other kids on the playground.)

At school, he opted to stay in the 3-year-old classroom most days rather than going on field trips with his pre-K class, because riding in the van with his classmates was too scary.

He spiraled and spiraled in random, nonsensical fears: fear that the umbilical cord had hurt him while he was in my belly; fear around not having been able to see when he was in my belly; fear that he would someday be crucified or thrown into a fiery furnace.

(By the way, teaching our son about the Bible has become nearly impossible because EVERY story, every intense thing in scripture, is personalized and causes trauma, up to and including sometimes a full hour of processing in order to talk him through whatever the fear is on any given day. It is heartbreaking to me not to be able to read his very age-appropriate children’s Bibles with him).

Anyway. Last summer.

We were a minimum of 20 minutes late to nearly everything, depending on how long it took us on any given day to coax him out of his bunk bed, out the door, into his car seat.

I tried everything I could think of. I validated his emotions. I helped him talk through his fears. We tried to come up with creative solutions together, ideas that would help him feel safer. We prayed. We prayed with him and without him. We prayed SO much. We asked Jesus to bring peace to his heart.

We had him psychologically evaluated. We began therapy.

And finally, our last option: meds.

Have I told you Isaac’s on medication for his anxiety? I don’t think I have, mostly because I believe Isaac’s story is his to tell, and right now, while he’s young, I want to carefully steward and protect that story.

I continually seek balance in this arena, however, because if our journey with Isaac can in some way be helpful or healing to a handful of people, I want it to be.

Also, to be completely honest, placing a child on medication for mental health purposes can draw so, so much criticism, and truthfully, I haven’t wanted to field it. But here I am, saying it out loud: our son’s on an anti-anxiety med.

Whew. Breathe.

So– the last almost-year has been better. The medication has made a world of difference, though we’ve had to tweak the dosage every now and again. We have an excellent therapist who we all adore, and consistent care from the psychiatrist who oversees his medication.

We’ve been mostly able to go to Target, to the park, to church, etc, without major anxiety meltdowns.

This morning, though? I had to full-on bribe Isaac to get him out of the apartment and into the car so we could go grab some groceries at Target. Ugh.

These types of scenarios have been a little more common lately. And a little more intense. Nowhere near as extreme as last summer, like I said.

But it’s enough to make me really, really aware of my need to walk closely in step with Jesus, to trust Him with my son, with my own heart, with our family.

****

We spent the day together yesterday, all 4 of us. We busted it out the door at 7:30 in the morning — boo-yah! — to put in another hour and a half or so of (very amateur) landscaping work at our townhouse.

Did you know we own a townhouse? It’s about 15 minutes from our apartment, here in Littleton. We’ve had a tenant in it for over 8 years, and his lease was up at the beginning of June, so we’ve been in the process of having some major remodeling done over there for the last month.

It’s almost ready to go on the market. Our goal is to sell quickly (which shouldn’t be a problem because the market is crazy-hot in the Denver area) and buy a house here. Stat. Preferably before the end of July.

Yikes. The heat is on. Mega time-crunch.

Anyway. So we landscaped yesterday. And in between chasing bunnies and butterflies, Isaac helped me spread gravel. {And nearly crushed all my baby plants, too, but that’s beside the point.}

We came home from landscaping, fired up the grill because July 4th, and spent time with Stan’s parents.

We swam in the pool, and y’all, my boy is SWIMMING these days for the first time ever. Like, going under water, holding his breath, and swimming.

It is nothing short of amazing, given the fact that up till now, anxiety has always overpowered his desire to try. He’s almost 6 now, and I feared I’d never see the day.

Grateful ain’t the word. Stan and I couldn’t be prouder, and neither could he.

****

We ended our 4th of July evening at a huge park nearby, ate burgers on a blanket in the grass, and snacked on M&M’s and gummy worms to our hearts’ content.

While we waited for fireworks to start, Isaac and I left Stan and Maia on the picnic blanket for a while and walked a solid 10 minutes down to the playground, his hand in mine the entire time.

I found myself keenly aware of how his hands are getting bigger, but how comfortably they still fit inside my own. Aware of his soft skin against my dryer, more calloused fingers. Grateful for the fact that he’s still not embarrassed to hold my hand in front of his peers.

Too busy most of the time, yes, but not embarrassed.

I treasured the moment. Don’t think I’ll ever forget that feeling, those little-boy fingers.

The fireworks began at precisely 9:33 PM, and we sat on our blanket and took it all in together, the four of us. Maia leaning back against her Daddy, Isaac leaning back against me. I couldn’t have loved it more.

We sat in traffic a while after the fireworks were over, and finally made it home around 10:45 PM with two falling-over-exhausted children. But I’ve gotta say — for 2 kids whose bedtime is generally 7pm, they sure did well last night. They were {mostly} peaceful and patient while we awaited the fireworks display, and then were cooperative as we brushed candy remnants out of their teeth and helped them into their pj’s.

****

A handful of times lately, I’ve noticed something in Isaac that’s shaken me: a kind of distance. Or… something.

 There’ve been times I’ve tried to talk with him about heart-related stuff and he’s avoided the conversation. Not because he was busy or distracted (which is typical), but because he genuinely didn’t want to talk about it with me.

Truth, y’all: I’m really afraid sometimes. Concerned about the possibility that, due to his anxiety and his utter brain-in-clouds-ness, I’ll be more and more frequently impatient with him, and that my impatience will drive a wedge between his heart and mine.

It’s the thing I talk with God about when I sneak in and check on the kids before I go to sleep at night:

Oh God, please don’t let him withdraw into himself. Give me grace to remain a safe place for his heart, and give me the wisdom to draw him out. Even through these years that are so hard, these days that can be SO beyond frustrating. In your kindness, please preserve and deepen my relationship with our boy. His sense of connectedness with me.

****

When we tucked the kids in at 11 last night, I kissed my already zonked out Maia-bean, then stood up to quickly connect with my boy in the top bunk.

I brushed Isaac’s hair from his forehead, gave him at least 4 kisses, and found myself saying, “Thanks for hanging out with me tonight, buddy. I like you SO much.”

I really meant it. Like, so, SO deeply meant it.

And I think he knew it.

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