Dealing with Closure-Related Stress

First Person Account of How Local Resources Addressed Stress
Posted on 04/23/2020
This is the image for the news article titled First Person Account of How Local Resources Addressed Stress(Written by a single mother of two. No names were used to protect privacy.) 

Four weeks into the school system shutdown due to the coronavirus pandemic was about how long it took for my 13-year-old daughter to experience what I would describe as hitting her mental break.

She was one of the students who, well into her final year of 8th grade (the last year she would walk the halls of the middle school), did not applaud when told school would be suspended temporarily. She wasn't excited to hear that announcement. It was quite the opposite.

She is one of those students who is very driven and highly motivated. While I might be biased in describing my teenager as gifted, academically she has maintained "A" averages throughout her school years. She enjoyed being in the classroom. She excels academically and had even talked about trying out the ACT test this summer "just to see what it is like to take that test" in preparation for continuing education beyond high school (which she hadn't even began yet).

As an extrovert, she enjoys social settings with her friends. She is an avid volunteer at the library in the neighboring county and is a part of many school organizations. She is also a band member for two bands. Her plate has always been full, but she thrived on that lifestyle.

Now that I've painted the picture of my overachieving, enthusiastic, compassionate child, fast forward to four weeks after the announcement schools will be closed indefinitely. She spent four days sick to her stomach. The first couple of days, we thought she must have some sort of stomach bug. She would wake up in the middle of the night and run to hug the toilet. In the mornings, she would get sick again, complaining of an aching stomach. She stopped eating as it hurt when she did and she couldn't keep anything down.

Finally, about the fourth day into the "stomach bug," she had a day of random crying. Tears would flow down her cheeks and, being mom, I wanted to know what was wrong. She couldn't tell me why she was crying as she didn't understand why the tears were flowing.

I suspected what my daughter "had" was no stomach bug. Her mind and thoughts were linked to her tears and aching stomach. I reached out to a friend of mine who was a part of the local school system's administration seeking a local resource for youth mental health services.
My friend immediately responded with the telephone number to the Youth Villages crisis line.
That's where our journey began. I dialed the number, not knowing what to expect. I spoke to a dispatcher who took my name, number and information. Apparently my daughter was not the only child experiencing a mental breakdown of sorts. Within a few minutes, she called me back and we started the process of getting a counselor involved.

After downloading an app that was similar to a FaceTime program, but enabled multiple people to link into a video chat, myself and my child were soon virtually interacting with a Youth Villages counselor.
As my daughter began "spilling her guts" to this counselor, she expressed her concern for other family members potentially getting sick; her late nights on her phone trying to connect with friends; her anxiety over not being in school; and her fears that “everything was not going to be ok.”

I questioned to myself why she hadn't shared any of this with me. Although our lives can be pretty hectic at times, we had the type of relationship where she could come to me and talk about potential problems, and we'd work through them and move on in life.

This time she hadn't come to me. She hadn't gone to anyone about these concerns, fears or anxieties. She was trying to save the world in her mind while drowning in her own grief over uncertainty of the future.

For everything negative my daughter shared, the counselor offered a positive perspective about the circumstance. A few times, another counselor joined in on the video chat. Eventually, about an hour later, I had my chance to talk with the counselor.

I told the counselor I wanted to come up with ways to calm my daughter’s mind, to try and quiet her brain. The counselor advised that "quieting her mind" wasn't necessarily something that needed to be done. It was quite the opposite for my daughter. She needed mental challenges. For someone who had more than her fair share of activities to keep her incredibly busy, my daughter had lost some of what she thought her purpose had been as a teenager. She didn't have enough to keep her mind or her body active. She was drowning in boredom and grieving the loss of what she thought was normal.

After talking with the counselor, we realized she wasn't suicidal. She didn't want to die. She wanted everything to be "ok" again. Youth Villages recommended reaching out to her pediatrician and the counselor gave us her direct contact information.

After a visit with her pediatrician the following day, the circumstances didn't prompt medication. It did prompt us to retrain our brains to seek out the silver linings through all of the negativity.

She still tackles all of the suggested engagement activities recommended by her teachers. She stays on top of laundry in our house these days. She spends less time on her phone and more time in the yard. She connects with her friends through the different virtual apps available. She and her friends are working on a peer group that will focus on equality for all. They are now looking to apply for a non-profit status for their proposed organization.

Most importantly, she is embracing our family's search for a new type of "normalcy" and looking ahead to a future she now believes is "going to be ok."

That was a very dark day for the two of us. But ... even given the circumstances of families under quarantine and children disconnected physically from the outside world, we were able to get connected to help through just one phone call.

We aren't even close to finding that new normal, yet; but thanks to the support system that is in place through our school system, Youth Villages and the medical field, we are rediscovering that our uniqueness, especially my teenager's uniqueness, is our normal.