This 4th of July, while walking along the downtown sidewalk with my family, looking for the perfect spot to sit and watch the parade, a memory popped up of this same time two years ago. I was doing the same thing, walking with my children and husband down the same sidewalk at the same time, looking for the perfect spot to sit.
But this time I was walking with my arm around my then fourteen year old daughter, reassuring her that no one was looking at her, that all the people lined up on the sidewalks had absolutely no interest in who she was – that she was just another person looking for a place to sit.
My daughter was engaged in a serious struggle between fight and flight. Her urge was to flee because she felt so uncomfortable, so exposed, for no reason we could attribute her feelings to. But every time I asked her if she wanted me to take her home, she said that she wanted to stay. And she did.
I walked with my arm around her, repeating the mantra that no one was looking at her, that she didn’t stick out, that she looked like everyone else, that we were just another family in the crowd… all true things.
I knew what to say to her because I struggled with exactly the same feelings when I was her age. — and I still do. I would suddenly be struck with feelings like somehow I was different, that I did not deserve to be in the crowd, and I had to fight the urge to run home.
On one level I’m happy that I can relate so well to my daughter, that I’m able to help her like no one else can because I know the exact feelings she’s fighting against. On the other hand, I’m sad that I have passed my social anxiety on to her.
She did stay for the parade. She fought through her panic attack, and helped her little sister and brother collect candy. I was very proud of her that day, as I am every time she experiences this kind of pain and fights her way through it.