As a child I as a very carefree individual. Someone that was social and loved being around others. From birth to 5 I had my best friend, Justin, by my side every day. Literally…every day. I am 17 days older than he is and our parents were great friends. We both had older sisters the same age so my mother and Justin’s mother would take turns caring for us. We were always together so I was never really concerned if my mother or father was not around. As long as I had Justin I was good to go.
At the age of 5 my parents decided it was time for the family to move. I entered the 1st grade alone…without Justin. Suddenly I began to experience intense Separation Anxiety; something that children typically experience at various points throughout infancy and toddlerhood. I never really experienced it because if I wasn’t with my parents, I was with Justin. I had no problem entering pre-school (a frequently difficult transition filled with separation anxiety) because Justin and I were together. Same happened with summer camps and kindergarten.
But now, here I was, alone. Without my security object or person, Justin. And the separation anxiety that I felt was so intense that at the beginning I couldn’t even go to a friend’s house around the corner for a play date. I cried and called my mother to come pick me up.
Things only got worse from there. I ended up spending the years of 5-14 not sleeping at friend’s homes, not going to sleep away camp and pretty much crying (at least in my younger years) when my parents went out for dinner. To say was intense and stressful for not only me but my parents was probably an understatement.
At the age of 10 I went on a trip to Israel with my grandparents and my sister. I have vivid memories of holding on my bed for dear life as my parents and grandparents attempted to pry my hands off and get me into the car so that we could go to the airport. I was hysterical…of course I went and had an amazing time. But even sitting her writing about it I get a pit in my stomach and begin to feel the way that I physiologically manifest anxiety.
Things changed when I eventually asked my mom to take me to therapy. I wanted to be able to sleep at friend’s houses. I wanted to desperately be able to go on a 6-week cross country teen tour the summer of my 15th year. So I began therapy. And my life slowly began to change.
That therapist taught me that anxiety is 1 step in the past and 1 step in the future. Rather than living in the present and moving through a situation, I was busy worrying about what had happened before and what may happen this time. I learned how to manage my anxiety. I learned what I was deeply afraid of. I learned coping strategies to help me get through the tough times. And this all began when I was a mere 15 years old.
I have continued to struggle with anxiety. I still deal with it on a daily basis, however thanks to my original therapist…who I saw on and off for probably about 10 years…I have a large toolkit that I can access. Thoughts, ideas, actions that I can take to help calm me and allow me to enjoy whatever present situation I am in.
My journey with separation anxiety was very instrumental in my becoming a therapist. I wanted to be able to help young children move through stressful, uncomfortable situations and learn to be able to deal with them. I wanted to do for others what my original therapist had done for me.
I ultimately combined my License in Marriage and Family Therapy with my License in Occupational Therapy to develop a practice that always considers a child’s mental health and social emotional well-being. I stress looking at the whole child. While as an OT I am always looking at motor skills and play skills, I am also looking at how a difficulty in one of these areas is impacting a child’s emotional health. Toddlers and young children experience anxiety too…I am a perfect example of that 🙂