So yes, I have placed that label on my daughter. She has anxiety. She is different. She worries about things that most kids don't even think about; she worries about things that many adults don't even think about! She feels things deeper than the average kid. She is always on the verge of panic, not because she wants to be, but because her body is always in "fight or flight" mode. A minor change to the normal routine of her day can cause a full-fledged meltdown, and that meltdown may look very different than you might think. For her, she can be frozen in place, unable to move, to speak, barely able to breathe. Definitely unable to verbally express the fear she feels inside, the thoughts that are racing through her mind, the panic of her heart beating too fast as the adrenaline courses through her and causes her to think she's in danger. Danger of what, you may be asking. Sometimes there's an obvious answer to that; if a dog is nearby, or she's about to be called on in front of everyone but isn't prepared, or there's a teacher she's never met before in the classroom. But quite often, the danger she feels she's facing isn't tangible. It's not a real thing she sees in front of her. It's not easily identified or explained. She doesn't know why she's worried, she just is.
This is her reality. This has become our family's reality, that we need to stop and take the impact to Gracie into consideration before proceeding with anything new, that we need to be careful not to spring things on her without preparation, that we can't force her to do anything, that we need to consider the circumstances when she acts out or freezes in panic. Anxiety for her can come at any time, over any thing, and often over no specific thing. She can feel angry and out of control or she can feel sad and desperate.
She's not alone in her battle, and I realize that she's also not alone in her disorder. Many children are dealing with mental imbalances, and many parents are trying to cope with that underlying fear that we've done something wrong. That we've somehow made our child this way, or that we somehow should be able to stop them from being this way. As I've navigated my way through parenthood over this past decade of life, I have met so many children and so many parents, and I have found that once I open up and start talking honestly and transparently about my child's struggles, I'm not alone in this journey. So many other children are struggling, and just as many other parents are thinking their kid isn't quite 'normal' but it must somehow be their fault, so they don't really talk about it. There is fear of putting a label on the behavior, because that somehow makes it more real; like once you say "my child has anxiety", you've just locked them into that box for the rest of their life. The thing is, it isn't a choice. No abnormality or disorder, be it mental or physical, temporary or long-term, is a choice. No parent chooses "different" for their child, but once "different" has been identified, it's up to us to make it "normal" for them. To learn about it and help them cope with it. To help change society's views of "normal" and "regular" and "typical" and realize that each person has their own normal; their own regular, their own typical. To teach acceptance of the variety of normals in the world, instead of fear over those who appear to be different.
So yes, I have labeled my daughter. And in doing so, I have empowered her. I have given her an explanation for why she feels the way she does. I have given her the peace of mind that she IS normal, because anxiety is her normal. I have advocated for certain accommodations for her at school, so that she can be as comfortable as possible in the classroom and able to learn and grow academically. I have spoken up for her to other students and parents, when she's unable to speak for herself. I have taught her to accept her anxiety, and to cope with it and do her best to not let it control her. And I will continue to empower her; to be her voice when she cannot speak, to hold her hand when she's in a panic, and to dry her tears when they fall for no reason. I will not be ashamed to share her label with others when they ask what's wrong with her, or why is she acting like that. I will continue to accept her normal, and help her to understand it. I will encourage other parents facing similar situations to be honest about their struggles, to realize they haven't done anything wrong, they aren't at fault, and their child isn't different, but has their own unique normal. I encourage other adults to not be so quick to judge each other, especially in parenting, but to support each other. To offer acceptance and a listening ear, rather than judgement and unwarranted advice. To be kind to all, and to remember that we don't know the silent battles others are facing. That's okay though! We aren't called to understand, only to accept and support.