Michael’s feelings of anxiety and fear grew so intensely that he began to refuse to go to school, often faking illnesses
Michael was an 11 year old boy filled with happiness, surrounded by a loving family, enjoying his time spent playing basketball with friends and on the weekends with his all-star team. Beneath Michael’s joyful and giving nature, as perceived by everyone he interacted with, was a scared young man, constantly being tortured by feelings of anxiety. These feelings of anxiety were not connected to or related to anything in particular. One of the many things that caused feelings of fear and anxiousness to build in Michael was going to school each day and having to interact with a female teacher he viewed as strict, unkind, and, in a sense, a dictator. Not only was this teacher a source of fear and anxiety for Michael, but his French teacher also instilled anxiety in him. This teacher was in fact a very nice person, but because of Michael’s view of his other teacher, he began to view this French teacher and several future teachers in a similar way. Michael’s feelings of anxiety and fear grew so intensely that he began to refuse to go to school, often faking illnesses, often placing a thermometer on a light build a half an hour before school and claiming to have a fever and even crunching cereal and crackers into the toilet in an attempt to convince his mother he was ill and had vomited.
Michael loved his mother, father, and sister very much and began to feel guilty in regards to his actions stemming from his fears and anxieties and how it was affecting their lives, particularly his mother’s. As Michael was experiencing these feelings, he was unaware that his mother and father’s relationship was slowly coming to an end. As an 11 year old boy experiencing such terrible anxiety, he was not able to pick up on any signs of a potential separation and/or divorce of his parents. His mother and father rarely spoke to one another during this time and often spent their evenings watching television on different floors of the house. Despite their marital problems and his mother’s feelings of stress from her work as an advertising sales agent for a local newspaper, she attempted to do all she could to make Michael feel better and get him back to being the old ‘happy’ Michael. His mother literally did all that she could to help Michael feel better and began to become very concerned when an attendance counsellor from the school board physically came to her home to talk to Michael. As a result, Michael’s mother spoke with the attendance counsellor, the school principal, and his teachers about his feelings and why he had been refusing to go to school. Michael’s mother also made him several appointments with a child counsellor, enrolled him for a short amount of time at a private school, and even took him to a naturopathic doctor. Michael eventually began to feel better and not feel as much anxiety as he did before towards authority figures such as teachers and ultimately returned to his original school and completed the school year in the class in which he feared the teacher. Sadly, this did not signal the end of Michael’s generalized anxiety as the feelings he once experienced reemerged as a 14 year old adolescent.
The game that brought him joy and that he viewed as an ‘escape’ from uncomfortable feelings of anxiety was now becoming a new source of anxiety.
As the years passed, Michael’s love for the game of basketball grew more and more. As he was raised in a lower-middle class neighborhood, many of his friends were from ‘broken’ homes with absent fathers, parents who were drug users, and suspected abusers. Many of his friends began to drink alcohol and smoke marijuana at the age of 12 and often offered these substances to Michael at the local park where he could be found practicing basketball on a nightly basis. Michael was too focused on his goal of making his high school basketball team to even consider drinking alcohol or doing drugs at that time. When November of his grade 9 year of high school emerged, Michael began tryouts for the basketball team. He had always had cheerful, supportive, and motivational coaches growing up and expected his high school basketball coach to hold the same characteristics. Michael was wrong. Both his ‘midget’ (grade 9) and ‘junior’ (grade 10) basketball coaches often yelled at him and other players, pointing out more of his mistakes than his attributes on the court, and often using degrading and foul language when scorning him and other players for ‘not listening’ or making mistakes on the court. Once again, Michael’s feelings of extreme anxiety began to build within him. The game that brought him joy and that he viewed as an ‘escape’ from uncomfortable feelings of anxiety was now becoming a new source of anxiety. Not only did Michael begin to once again feel unpleasant anxiety symptoms, he began to feel depressed. He feared going to basketball practice after school each day and eventually stopped going. He thought it was simply easier to ‘give up’ the game he loved than to have to deal with the anxiety and depression brought about by his coach. Michael’s coach eventually came to his English class and asked to speak with him. In a condescending and sarcastic tone, his coach told him that he would not ‘yell or bark and him anymore.’ Well this did not make Michael feel much better or respect his coach, he at least got the feeling that his coach believed he was talented and needed him on the team.
Michael was hopeful that his ‘junior’ basketball coach in grade 10 would be different, but he was wrong. He had never had a coach who yelled at such a high volume and treated his players with such disrespect. Michael’s coach often singled him out in practice and used him as an example for ‘mistakes’ that the team was making. Michael’s ‘breaking point’ came about half way through the season in practice. His team was running a passing drill they had run several times before. After Michael passed the ball to his teammate and ran to the back of the line of other teammates, someone threw a ball at his back very hard, caused him to scream in pain. His coach did not shown concern, but instead scorned Michael for being ‘soft’ and told him to hurry up and get back to the drill. Michael absolutely hated his coach and feared facing him each day. While Michael’s feelings of fear and anxiety were once again fully active, he had yet to experience the worst anxiety he had ever felt.
He made the decision to see his physician regarding pharmaceutical treatment for his anxiety and depression.
As is common practice in Ontario, when an adolescent hits the age of 16, he or she is expected to begin driving school with the goal of obtaining their ‘full’ license. With Michael’s anxiety symptoms rearing their head once again coupled with his feelings of depression (i.e. no longer finding pleasure in once enjoyed activities like basketball and wanting to be ‘left alone’ most of the day), he began to feel anxiety towards something else that was not a coach or teacher, but the act of driving a car. Yet again, it was the support of his mother that eventually got Michael behind the wheel of a car at the age of 17. It was the second time Michael had ever driven a car that he and his mother were involved in an accident. Michael and his mother were literally a minute from their home when they were struck by a car speeding 20 kilometers an hour over the speed limit which failed to stop at the four-way stop Michael and his mother were passing through. Because anxiety had played a role in many of the lives of family members on his mothers’ side of the family, including his mother, his mother experienced PTSD symptoms following the accident. Michael did not see the car speeding towards him and was not very ‘shook up’ following the accident because he was aware that it was ‘not his fault’ and knew that accidents are rare occurrences. What made Michael more fearful, anxious, and apprehensive regarding getting back behind the wheel of a car was not the experience itself, but his mothers’ behaviour and feelings following the accident. Michael’s ‘rock,’ the one he looked to for reassurance, support, and guidance was now showing weakness in his eyes and began to remind him of his own feelings of anxiety. Michael felt that he needed help and was desperate, wanting to live a life like his peers. He made the decision to see his physician regarding pharmaceutical treatment for his anxiety and depression. Michael began to take a small dose of the SSRI Paxil and began to notice his feelings of anxiety subsiding and the occurrence of panic attacks decreasing. Though he did feel better, Michael still did not feel happy, still feared authority figures such as teachers and coaches, and still experienced some panic attacks. He made the choice to seek out a male therapist as a last ditch effort to ‘feel better.’ This was the best decision Michael had ever made. After several months in therapy with a middle-aged male therapist of whom he could relate to and trust, Michael was able to conquer much of his anxieties and felt a sense of hope for the future. Michael is now finishing his master’s degree in counselling with the goal of helping others overcome the feelings he had once experienced himself.
- written by Michael