“I Thought That Was Normal..." It Was Not.

Mental Health
By
Melynn Hagan
Jul 8, 2022
5 min

If I had a dollar for every time I’ve said “I thought that was normal”, well….I’d have a lot of dollars.

If you’ve ever wanted to get inside the head of someone with an anxiety disorder, here’s your chance.

Let’s face it. Society makes it hard for anyone experiencing an anxiety disorder to speak up. On the other hand, the tips you find online are generally the same. A little generic without a lot of real insight.

It’s time that ended. Pull up your chair and let me tell you my story.

Over six years, I was diagnosed with General Anxiety Disorder (GAD) and Clinical Depression. The process of being diagnosed dragged on longer than necessary because I didn’t know that things should (or could!) be different. I lived with my symptoms longer than I should’ve. I thought things were normal that, in hindsight, very clearly weren’t:

  • jumpiness like my nerves plugged into a high voltage electric socket.
  • physical pain in my stomach like a blender cranked up to full speed.
  • everlasting terror like a backpack of bricks strapped to my shoulders.
  • racing thoughts like a swarm of angry bees unleashed in my mind.  
  • deep sadness like a void had sucked away the possibility of any happy emotion.

And through it all, I didn’t know it wasn’t normal to feel this EVERY moment, EVERY day.

I didn’t say anything but, in an attempt to cope, I retreated.

Shrunk.

Collapsed inward to dull my emotional pain.

In the process, I began losing myself. I stopped smiling. Laughing. Engaging. Feeling.

It all began to slip away until only the barest whisper of my former self remained. When I finally found my psychiatrist, I was given the words to express what I was feeling and realize it was all very NOT normal.

I know that’s a hard story, but what does it mean for your kid?

Think about it. Outwardly, my symptoms showed up as becoming withdrawn, moody, and quiet. How would you describe those symptoms if you noticed them in your kid? We’re guessing you’d call it normal pre-teen/teen behavior, right? We all remember those years in our lives a little more vividly than we’d like; puberty is rarely kind to anyone.

Therein lies the catch.

You don’t want to rush your kid to the doctor with fears of an anxiety disorder when it’s the normal ups and downs of being a teenager. You don’t want to delay detection and treatment if it is mental illness. So what do you do?

Is my kid being a normal teenager or are these signs of mental illness?

Your first step: Ask deeper questions.

Let’s make a pact to throw “are you ok?” out the window right now.

That question has become such a part of our social script that it’s essentially useless. How many times have you ever said “yes” in response to it even when you were dying inside? Your kid feels the same way.

It’s not that it’s a bad question. It just doesn’t go deep enough.

So, let’s swap it for asking your kid these (just not all at once)…

  • What emotion do you feel most of the day?
  • Do you ever have pain in your stomach? How often?
  • How easy is it for you to lay down and rest?
  • What are you looking forward to in the next couple of weeks?
  • What made you laugh recently?

These questions are just a starting point, a way to gauge if your kid is feeling sad, hopeless, or anxious throughout the day. I encourage you to come up with your own, tailoring them specifically for your kid.

Once you’ve started to ask them questions, what’s next?

Your Second Step: Listen. Like Really Listen.

Let’s be real, connecting with your kid isn’t simple like a checklist of questions. It helps you get started but engaging in the conversation will build trust between you two. Remember the last time you felt ignored after sharing something hard? It stung, right? Don’t do that to your kid.

Instead…

  • Set the tone with your tone of voice. Speak to your kid in a calm and gentle way, assuring them with more than words that they are safe to talk about hard things with you.
  • Ask thoughtful follow-up questions as necessary. It’s all about striking the right balance between an interrogation and a casual, one-off conversation because last thing you want your kid to feel is overpowered or dismissed.
  • Repeat their words back to them. Avoid the pitfall of missed communication (especially if they’ve shared something surprising) by simply stating their words again and confirming that you understood them correctly.
  • Finish off the conversation with words of support, no matter how well YOU feel it went. Remember. We just agreed it stings leaving a discussion feeling ignored or misunderstood. Don’t discourage your kid by ending on a tone of frustration or panic because they WILL pick up on this and they will NOT want to have a hard conversation again.

Alright, now you’ve chatted with your kid and you’ve encouraged real conversations with them. What next?

Your Last Step: Take notes.

Time to whip out a blank journal and get to work. Let’s be honest, unless you have a perfect memory, time makes everything fuzzy. Are those groceries in the fridge two weeks old or three? We have no idea. Do you really want to risk that when having a hard conversation with your kid? Probably not.

After every conversation…

  • Write down the exact question you asked and your kid’s response (verbatim if you can!). Track the follow-up questions you asked and the answers you got. This helps make every conversation meaningful because you’ll ask new questions each time you chat with your kid.
  • Score your kid’s response. It can be an emoji, an adjective, a number, or anything you want. Whatever you settle on, make it your universal system after every conversation.
  • Track the trends. They’re going to have rough weeks. But, did that just line up with a big test? Or, is your kid constantly expressing feelings of hopelessness, lack of excitement for the future, or difficulty resting?

Let this information guide you. Life will always take your kid through ups and downs; that’s not a sign of mental illness. Instead, watch for trends that are always down, indicating that your kid is always feeling hopeless, sad, anxious, or restless. These are the early markers of a potential anxiety disorder. Armed with the data you’ve collected, you can be the partner your kid needs in their mental health journey and decide together what next steps to take.

So, there it is.

Your three step process so you, as an informed parent, can truly answer the question “is this normal?”. Now, we know it’s a lot of work. Yet, we promise you, it’s worth it. Early detection and treatment of a mental illness can save years of suffering and heartache. Trust me, I wish that was my story. But, now that you know, maybe that can be your kid’s.

- Melynn

Elizabeth Smart, Elizabeth Smart Foundation
"It's encouraging to know that, as parents, you do not have to be left in the dark, you can be involved. That's quite a powerful tool."
Elizabeth Smart
Elizabeth Smart Foundation
Georgann Yaya, AZCentral
"Helping parents prepare for the gamut of situations to which social media opens the door has made [Cyber Dive] venture more valuable than the bottom line."
Georgann Yara
azcentral
Billy Harfosh, iHeartRadio
"If we're concerned about stranger danger... what about a stranger getting into your child's direct messages? It can be just as dangerous, if not more so."
Billy Harfosh
iHeartRadio
Desiree Briggs, Mama Army
"[Aqua One] was just launched and is going to change the way that our children grow up in a technology-driven world."
Desiree Briggs
Co-Founder of The Mama Army
Pinal County Sheriff Mark Lamb
"As a Lawman and a parent I love seeing solutions for protecting children from the child predators. This Aqua One phone helps parents and even addresses the mental health of the child. Well done Cyber Dive."
Sheriff Mark Lamb
Sheriff of Pinal County Arizona
Dawn Van Camp, Mama Army
"In a society that relies so much on virtual connection, it is necessary that we teach our children how to navigate and use technology responsibly."
Dawn Van Camp
Co-Founder of The Mama Army
Phoenix Dream Center CEO Brian Steele
“One of the neatest parts about the tool is that it gives insight into not only the safety of what my child is doing out there but what my child is thinking.”
Brian Steele
CEO of Phoenix Dream Center
Larissa Marulli, Moms.com
“Being informed of your child's social media habits isn't just beneficial from a safety standpoint. You'll get an inside look at what your kid is into and enjoying.”
Larissa Marulli
moms.com
Elizabeth Smart, Elizabeth Smart Foundation
"It's encouraging to know that, as parents, you do not have to be left in the dark, you can be involved. That's quite a powerful tool."
Elizabeth Smart
Elizabeth Smart Foundation
Georgann Yaya, AZCentral
"Helping parents prepare for the gamut of situations to which social media opens the door has made [Cyber Dive] venture more valuable than the bottom line."
Georgann Yara
azcentral
Billy Harfosh, iHeartRadio
"If we're concerned about stranger danger... what about a stranger getting into your child's direct messages? It can be just as dangerous, if not more so."
Billy Harfosh
iHeartRadio
Dawn Van Camp, Mama Army
"In a society that relies so much on virtual connection, it is necessary that we teach our children how to navigate and use technology responsibly."
Dawn Van Camp
Co-Founder of The Mama Army
Pinal County Sheriff Mark Lamb
"As a Lawman and a parent I love seeing solutions for protecting children from the child predators. This Aqua One phone helps parents and even addresses the mental health of the child. Well done Cyber Dive."
Sheriff Mark Lamb
Sheriff of Pinal County Arizona
Desiree Briggs, Mama Army
"[Aqua One] was just launched and is going to change the way that our children grow up in a technology-driven world."
Desire Briggs
Co-Founder of The Mama Army
Phoenix Dream Center CEO Brian Steele
“One of the neatest parts about the tool is that it gives insight into not only the safety of what my child is doing out there but what my child is thinking.”
Brian Steele
CEO of Phoenix Dream Center
Larissa Marulli, Moms.com
“Being informed of your child's social media habits isn't just beneficial from a safety standpoint. You'll get an inside look at what your kid is into and enjoying.”
Larissa Marulli
moms.com

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