Living in a state of anxiety is baseline normal for many of us. People who suffer from anxiety do not necessarily fit the profile of a chronic worrywart. We (or, I should say, I) don’t fret about things that could potentially happen in any given situation. Being told, “relax and stop worrying about things that you can’t control,” really doesn’t help.
My anxiety is like a constant low-frequency hum of stress that whispers assorted negative and patronizing messages in my ear.
The thing about living with anxiety, for me, is that, after almost 54 years, I have gotten very good at ignoring it, or at least, camouflaging it beneath multiple layers of optimism, problem-solving, creativity, and a “can do” attitude. I am generally successful at tamping it down and shoving it deep below the surface until it pops out at the most inopportune times – most specifically in social situations.
I never recognized (labeled) my persistent unease as chronic anxiety; I always thought I was merely introverted and extremely(!) shy, until I started working with young people who were diagnosed with it.
Now, I am not only conscious of my own varying levels of internal apprehension but also the number of people, most especially kids and teens, who are coping with it. I would go so far as to call it a national epidemic of crisis proportion. Nearly every child I have met, over the last four years, has been identified as anxious. I don’t need to list the multitude of reasons they are under constant pressure; we are all very aware of the coercive system they are required to participate in, where bullying and “one size fits all” mentality reduces those who are most susceptible to statistics. Not to mention, the current news cycle they can’t avoid.
These kids have developed a myriad of behaviors or coping mechanisms, as numerous and unique as each individual, to “manage” their personal affliction. Which, many adults, unfortunately, often view as aberrant, willful performances designed to gain attention or make their lives harder.
We have all heard of (or seen) panic attacks, which are beyond scary for the individual; they, however, are just one response that immediately indicates to others that they need assistance. Some kids intentionally withdraw - go silent, while a few become more gregarious and outgoing. Many embrace the defiant persona - rebelling against any form of rules or external control. Some express themselves through art and the creative process, while others become ghosts, floating through their days, seemingly, with only enough energy to breath.
I have discovered over the last few years that presenting these kids with a comfortable, safe, honest, respectful, non-coercive environment - a community, where they have nothing to resist against, is the first step to reducing some of their stressors. Then we provide them with mentoring support to develop their own personal plan based on their interests, goals, and aspirations, which does not necessarily alleviate all their anxiety; however, it does equip them with new tools to deal with it. To be perfectly clear, this is not a “free for all”, where kids run amok; we provide an educational experience where personal responsibility and accountability are expected. We have discovered that when kids feel like they are trusted to make good decisions --- they do. I will be the first to acknowledge that self-directed, non-compulsory education is not necessarily a miracle cure for young people who suffer from high anxiety. It is, nonetheless, astounding to witness the positive transformations --- the dropping of shoulders and defenses that occur before our very eyes when “our” kids fully realize that they are an integral part of a community that they can always rely on --- one which also depends on them.
The DRC crew has decided to meet every Tuesday during the summer. They will usually plan an outside excursion to take advantage of the local swimming opportunities.
Any child who is interested in joining DRC this Fall is very welcome to visit on one of these days during the summer, to hang out and meet the crew. Simply get in touch to make arrangements with Maria.