|Roo at Five|
Roo was five years old when we headed to a summer family reunion. With both my boys being special needs, I didn’t let them run around on their own. Other, older, wiser family members said they would be fine playing with the other kids. I nervously let go and took a deep breath. I joined in the adult activities and started to relax. Little did I know, five years later my family would still be paying for not keeping the boys close at hand.
Oh, we had a great time at the reunion. I had thought everything had gone well. There weren’t any incidences with my kids that I had heard about, and I enjoyed seeing all the relatives. Both of my boys were diagnosed as speech-delayed around two-years-old, and they both still struggle to express themselves. Maybe that’s why I hadn’t heard about what happened at the reunion or even months later.
Roo’s sixth birthday neared. He started having anxiety attacks. I thought he was anxious about his birthday. I tried to talk to him, but the communication didn’t go well. He brought up the family reunion from a year ago, but I didn’t understand what he was going on about.
Another year passed. His seventh birthday. He hadn’t really talked about the family reunion but he brought it up as his birthday neared. Odd. He had sessions with a licensed clinical social worker. I mentioned the reunion and how he brought it up around his birthday. Why would he be upset? The therapist tried to talk to him with me out of the room. After, he agreed that Roo seemed troubled but he wasn’t clear enough to know why there was an issue.
Roo’s eighth birthday came. He had started to dig and injure the skin around his fingers until they bled. He’d dug at them so much, he deformed his nail beds. Therapy continued on a regular basis, but his anxiety continued to escalate. By now, he was seeing a speech-language pathologist in school. He had started to communicate more effectively.
My husband and I sat down with him to discuss the reunion, his feelings, and what might have happened. It wasn’t easy. Emotions were high. The events didn’t come in order. It took hours to finally piece together what had actually happened. To our dismay, we learned that the group of kids he had been playing with told him he would die on his tenth birthday because he drank bad water from the drinking fountain at the campground where the reunion was held.
Unbelievable! Could he really believe that it would take five years for him to die? My husband and I looked at each other in disbelief. We tried to explain to him that he was fine. The water he drank wouldn’t kill him five years later!
No. He was certain he would die on his tenth birthday. Time after time, we discussed the impossibility of that happening, but we couldn’t convince him otherwise. We had many sessions with his therapist and therapists to follow. Roo was convinced he would die the day of his tenth birthday.
Honestly, it was hard to understand why he would believe these young cousins and relatives who he hardly knew rather than his own parents and therapists who had had training in dealing with children who had anxiety disorder, but he did.
The demons continued. His ninth birthday came and went with much anxiety.
I still can’t wrap my mind around how he could believe something would happen five years after the fact. I later learned that situations in his mind are blown up enough to cause him post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). PTSD is a mental health condition that's triggered by a terrifying event — either experiencing it or witnessing it. Symptoms may include flashbacks, nightmares and severe anxiety, as well as uncontrollable thoughts about the event. With Roo, the actual event might not be terrifying, but in his mind, it becomes absolutely petrifying.
His ninth year was riddled with emotional issues, behavioral problems, anxiety, damaged fingers and bitten and bruised lips. The number of therapy sessions increased but did little good.
|Roo at Ten|
The night before his tenth birthday, he was inconsolable. He knew he would die. The kids had told him so…five years ago. He believed that if he stayed awake, he wouldn’t die. He forced himself to stay awake and stay up all night moving and pacing and worrying and crying.
What can a parent do but to help their child through a traumatic event like this? Yes, I was angry…angry that this incident happened, but I realized those kids had no idea what they had caused. How could I be mad at them? I was angry at Roo. How could he believe those kids and carry it with him for five years? But, that wasn’t his fault either. I was angry at the therapists. Didn’t they have some idea how to have helped him through this ordeal over the last five years? But, how often had they dealt with a situation like this? It seemed surreal that something like this could happen.
The night wore on. The sun started to rise. I had to find a paper bag for Roo to breathe into so he wouldn’t hyperventilate. There was no consoling him. He screamed he didn’t want to die, over and over again. All we could do is try to comfort him and wait for the day to be over. A day that should have been joyful but turned into an emotional nightmare.
Is he still traumatized at times? Very much so. Has he experienced PTSD over other situations? You bet. But, nothing as colossal or over such a long period of time. It’s something the whole family still feels on an exhausting level.
Cindy A. Christiansen
Sweet Romance, Humor, Suspense...and Dogs!
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