Thursday, April 9, 2015

34: My Book! When a Child's Anxiety Takes Over: A Mother's Struggle to Save her Child from Emetophobia

My book is now available through Amazon in paperback and kindle. You can also find it for the nook from Barnes and Noble.

An email I received from a therapist who specializes in emetophobia:

 "O.M.G. What a great book! I finished work at 5 pm and it's now 8pm - I read the whole thing in one sitting! 
I will say more about it next week when I have some time but right now I just want to say a huge THANK YOU for writing it. I will do what I can to get it recognized. This book will give lots of parents hope that listening to therapists and following their instructions really does pay off. Exposure therapy seems outrageous but it sure does work, and it is proven again and again in scientific studies to be safe and valid. 
I'd love to meet you and your daughter one day, on Skype at least! And find out Dr. G's real name and speak with her as well."

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

32: A Bittersweet Goodbye to Dr. G


A little over a month ago Dr. G and I decided we would check in after our summer vacation to make sure my daughter is still doing well. If all is well, it will be time to say goodbye. I agree that I think we are now ready although I choke back a lump in my throat at the mention of having to say goodbye to her. 
      In the meantime, we spend a really wonderful month in Utila, Honduras. This is our island destination and our home away from home for the past 7 years. If you have read through this blog, you will remember that it had become a very difficult place to go with her for a few years. With boats, food that needs to be chosen more carefully, fruits and veggies that need to be washed with the utmost care and lots of other things that can terrify an emetophobic. 
    This time was wonderful. We had a great time visiting with our friends that live there and we met some new amazing people. We went on our little boat often, went horseback riding through the jungle and the beach, snorkeling, dock jumping, and found new creative ways to fight the boredom that creeps in when you are on an island that is only 3 by 7 miles. 
     During an unforgettable dinner one night at Chez Lola, I had an experience I think I have never had before. The incredible feeling of living in the moment. While sitting next to the love of my life, and sharing dinner with amazing friends both new and old from around the world. It hit me. We had all talked about our lives and shared stories and history. I shared our story with our new friend, who ironically is a psychologist at a university.    

Conversations went on and I was quietly taking it all in. I was thinking of our past couple of years and thankful for how we have come out on the other side after all that we went through. It was then that our friend John started quietly talking in my ear and saying just what I was thinking - How lucky are we to be sitting here at this young French couple's home/restaurant in a secluded boat access only section of a tiny island off the coast of Honduras surrounded by amazing people. Tears of joy and beauty and accomplishment started to trickle down my cheeks and I could not stop them. I felt alive and at peace. Suddenly, in that moment, all was right and beautiful.
      A few days after we came back home to Miami we had our appointment to see Dr. G. We talked about our trip and how she did really well. We show off her hands which are looking better from not washing them too much. Dr. G asks us if we are ready to say good bye and my daughter and I say we think it is time. She tells us how we have been her most successful clients and that she will never forget us. She tells her how proud of her she is for all of her hard work. She also thanks me for putting my trust in her and not giving up. Then Dr. G says let's go have an ice cream party! So we meet her across the street and have ice cream for lunch. 
     When it is time to say goodbye, we exchange hugs in the parking lot. I am choking back tears. I let Dr. G know how grateful I am for her help and for the fact that she has saved my child and our family. I give her such a tight hug and I wish I would never have to let go. I don't know if you have ever had to say goodbye to someone who has saved your child's life, but it is not an easy task. 
     I get in the car and we are both tearing up. I give her a big hug and she sobs in my arms. I let her know that I am so proud of her. We talk about how hard it is to say goodbye to someone that has had such an impact on your life. I feel like maybe she didn't let Dr. G really know how she felt about her so I ask her if she wants to write her a letter and we can give it to her. She agrees and writes a beautiful letter with photos when we get home.
     I call Dr. G the next day and let her know that she wants to give her the letter. Dr. G tells us that the director of the clinic would like both of us to do a post interview with another clinician so that they can see on paper how she has improved. It is a mini interview much like the 4 hour evaluation we did the first time we went to the clinic back in October. She makes sure they can arrange it when she is there so that we can see her afterwards and give her the letter.
     The next week we head back to the clinic for the post therapy interview. My daughter goes in first and I get a big packet of questionnaires to fill out just like back in October. Then we switch and it is my turn to go in while she fills out papers in the waiting room. As the clinician is asking me all of the same questions on rating her anxiety and depression and suicidal thoughts, I am trying hard not to cry. I am remembering my answers back in October during the first evaluation. I am just so overwhelmed with gratitude and amazement at how different my answers are this time. I don't show my emotions and I manage to get through the interview without any tears, until Dr. G comes in at the end. 
     Now we really have to say goodbye. All over again. Dr. G meets with her first and she reads the letter and they talk. When they call me back in we talk about how hard it is to say goodbye. I tearfully tell her that I cannot even imagine where we would be without her help. 
     We hug again, I cry some more, and we leave the clinic. The clinic and the psychologist that have saved my beautiful child and my family. As hard as it is to leave, I hope we will never need their help again. A bittersweet goodbye.

Monday, May 6, 2013

A New Passion and Continued Success

   It has been a while since I have written. I thought I wouldn't write anything else, but I am wanting to share my daughter's success and the fact that she is still doing really well. 
   As you can see from the photos, she has a new passion. I had bought a discounted package of riding lessons for her back in December thinking it would be really good for her eventually. Not at the time, since germs and dirty animals that could spread germs would not have been an option...
   The week before I bought it, my friend had told me about Equine Therapy and it sounded pretty interesting. So when this deal popped up in my email, for a riding center that actually has equine therapy for people with disabilities, I jumped right on it. Not really for the therapy, but for the knowledge that she loves animals and especially horses. I have read about horses helping people with emotional and physical disabilities. The relationship between human and horse can be really healing. 
   She has been riding once a week now for a couple of months. She is in love. She also made the decision to quit ballet. I knew it was not her passion even though she was a beautiful dancer. I was a bit sad, since ballet has always been my life and she has danced since she was in my tummy. But, I am happy that she has found something that SHE loves.
   Another great achievement of hers is that she was inducted into the National Junior Honor Society last week. We attended a lovely night at her school where about 20 other students were inducted as well. I am so proud of her. 
   Her health has also continued to improve. She has gained 13 pounds since January! That is amazing to me that she was so unhealthily skinny. I remember seeing every bone in her body. Even putting on these 13 pounds makes her still under the 50% mark for her age!
   We are down to just once a month at the clinic with Dr. G and will probably being saying goodbye to her soon. It will be a hard goodbye for me. This woman has saved my child and ultimately our whole family and I feel a great attachment and gratitude towards her. She has seen my daughter and myself at our worst and has really been the one to turn our lives around.
   The psychiatrist will also be going down to half of her usual dosage of sertraline in the next few months or so. The plan is to have her fully off of her medicine by November which will be a year from when she started. This makes me a bit nervous for fear of any signs of her phobia or OCD coming back. Dr. G has told us in the past that there is a 50/50 chance of it coming back someday. However, we know that help is right around the corner if we ever need it again.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

29: Privacy or Not

   I woke up this morning to a pretty rude comment from some anonymous person who clearly should not even have an interest in my blog. I freaked out a little and thought about making my blog private. I quickly went ahead and tried to figure out how to either password protect it or make it private with only invited users. I am not very computer savvy and I wound up sending a bunch of emails to my friends/invitees while clicking on various options. Sorry friends...
   While driving my son to school I thought more about this decision to make it private. I do not want to. I have had a number of comments via email and my blog from other emetophobic people who have thanked me for sharing our story. It makes me feel good that I can reach out to and relate to other people who may be in a similar situation. 
   That is one of the main reasons I even started this blog. I actually got the idea from other blogs that I came across that are written by teenagers and adults who are emetophobics. There are so many people that have this phobia that reach out to share their stories and who are looking for advice.
   So, public it will remain for now. With a few setting changes. And, comments will be moderated by me before they are posted. If you do not have something helpful or mindful to share, then move along. This is a true story of a family who was able to save their child from a crippling phobia. A story I would like to share with anyone interested.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

28: Moving On

   We went to MA for the holiday weekend to stay with my parents. This is the trip we had canceled back in November when there was no chance my child was going to get on an airplane full of people coughing and sneezing. 
   We stayed with my parents and had a wonderful time. We took a few hours out of our visit with my family so that she could have a dose of her two best friends. It killed me that we were not able to visit more people, but this was for her. They are her very best friends, that are twins, whom she grew up with. We got a bit sad driving by our old house, but were quickly snapped out of it when we arrived at their house. She had an amazing time with them. It was wonderful for me also to be able to catch up with their Mom and my very good friend
   If what I read about severe anxiety stunting your growth is true...this photo of the three of them is proof! She is also the tiniest of all of her friends here in Miami as well.
   Anyway, while we were at their house, my older sister, whom we had spent the entire previous day with, sent me a text. She was throwing up and had been up all night in the bathroom with what she thought was a stomach bug. What is with all this vomit?! I can't believe how much vomit we have seen and people we know who have been throwing up within the past few months. It is really incredible. 
   Well, more exposure therapy for my daughter. I tell her while she is playing with her friends and she is not too concerned. She asks me why she is sick and that's about it. On the way back to my parent's she decides to text her aunt and see how she is and ask her all about it. They have an amusing time texting each other and she wants to know what the vomit looks like and everything about it. She has fun reading the texts to me and I am amazed, yet again, at her response and her coping skills. 
   We get back to Miami and head to the clinic on Tuesday. For the first time, there is no work with vomit. Dr. G says she will bring it in occasionally, but weekly work with vomit is done. My daughter tells her about our trip and how my sister was sick. She also tells her how she went to bed one night without having to shower first. Another big step reached! It has been two years since she has been able to go to bed without showering first! Still working on the over hand washing though...
   Dr. G talks to us about what she will be working on with her for the next weeks of therapy. Since all of the coping skills she has learned during the intensive treatment were based on vomit and germs, Dr. G now wants her to learn how to put her "detective thinking" and coping skills towards everything in life. Relationships with friends and family, school, different stress situations and basically just life in general.
   I think this is an amazing plan. My husband and I have always been dealing with something with her. Over the years it has been major separation anxiety, trouble with friends, anxiety about moving, anxiety about allergies, anxiety about something - all the time. 
   We have said on many occasions, "When she is cured of her vomit phobia, what will be next?" That, unfortunately, is how we have been thinking of her for quite a while. And now, she will hopefully be able to learn how to deal with any situation that may arise, with a different approach other than anxiety and fear. And we, learning so much as parents over the past few months, will also have better skills to help her.
   As I end this post, I think maybe it will be the last one for awhile. Life is back to normal. My daughter has been cured of her emetophobia, and it is time to move on. I am a bit choked up now and feel a lump in my throat. Like I am saying goodbye to an old friend. I guess this blog has been my friend for a while now. My chance to tell my story without having to speak. Remember, I am not much of a talker. I never have been.
   So, goodbye for now. My beautiful, magical, mysterious daughter has been cured of her emetophobia. And life goes on...

Thursday, January 17, 2013

27: EKG Check Up & Report Card Day

   Today I brought my daughter back to my doctor so they could repeat the EKG that came out abnormal back in November (post #9 in the blog). Back then, she was in the first week of exposure therapy and in a very bad place. They had to draw blood that day, and when she was in a complete panic, the doctor did an EKG that showed an enlarged left ventricle.
   It is amazing how stress can affect your entire body. The doctor had explained to me that it was from the constant stress. She took me aside that day and told me that her phobia needed to be solved asap.
   I am happy to report that today's EKG is normal. Yay! Now I get to cancel the pediatric cardiology appointment we had scheduled for next week. I am so tired of going to doctors. Except for Dr. G. She is my life saver! I also checked in about her ideal weight. I had called last week and the secretary called me back with an answer of 80 lbs. I was kind of shocked since she is only 60 lbs. So, I checked again today with the doctor. After seeing my daughter and myself and realizing my husband and I are not very big people, she said another 10 lbs on her would be sufficient. That is a lot more manageable than trying to put on 20 lbs! 
   Today was also report card day. Can you believe that after all that she has been through over the past few months she made the honor roll?! I am so proud. A girl in crisis, who misses three weeks of school, can just jump right in and get right back on track. She was also very excited to learn from her English teacher today that she has been invited into Honors English for 7th grade. So proud!
   Tomorrow we are heading to MA for a quick weekend trip to see my family. This is the trip we were supposed to take over the Thanksgiving break, but had to cancel in order to get help for her. I am really looking forward to spending some time with my family. Although, I am not looking forward to the 15 degree temperature that will greet us tomorrow night. I wish we had longer so I could visit all of our friends as well. But, that will have to wait until our next trip back. Vacations for the rest of this school year will not be involving any missed school days. We have had enough missed school to last a long while...

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

26: Touching Vomit

     Today was our weekly appointment with Dr. G and the day my daughter knew that she was going to be asked to touch the vomit. I was petty sure of it, too, since we discussed it last week. 
     She called us all in again like last week. I set up my son to quietly play on the couch while she and I sat with Dr. G at the table. Dr. G tells her to search for the vomit, which is hidden again in the room. She finds it and brings it to the table. 
     As Dr. G takes the lid off, she looks at my daughter and says "I thought of you on Sunday." She and I wondered why for a moment. Then she said to her "what do you think would make me think of you?" Of course, she replies "vomit?" 
     Yup. Dr. G was throwing up on Sunday. She then asks her if the vomit in the container is hers. She confirms it is not, but tells us she thought about saving some for her. She asks her why she was throwing up and if anyone else in her family was sick. Dr. G reminds her that is not a question she is going to answer.
     We then talk about the homework tasks that she accomplished this week. The biggest being our trip to Denny's. Dr. G is thrilled to hear about our successful trip and also the fact that she is not washing her hands before dinner if we are using utensils to eat. 
     We talk about the goals we still need to work on. Eating more and possibly seeking out a nutritionist to help her gain weight, and washing hand less - and less vigorously - each time. She washes her hands like a surgeon. And, the sink is filled with bubbles so much that they sometimes ooze out of that extra little drain hole in the sink.
     We also have a long conversation about the medication. During the last visit I had asked if she thinks she needs to remain on her medication for much longer. After consulting with the director of the clinic, she explains to me that they would really advise me to keep her on the medicine for at least 6 months from now. 

     Dr. G agrees that she is doing really well and has done so much hard work. But, the medicine may have taken the edge off of her anxiety just enough for her to have been able to get through the therapy. She explains in detail to us how exactly the medication helps produce extra levels of serotonin, which her brain may have been lacking. 
     I listen attentively since I am not a fan of medicine. She explains well that some people need insulin to regulate their blood sugar, some people need glasses to see and some people need an SSRI medicine to regulate their serotonin. It is not a big dose and the only side effects in her seem to be heightened happiness and overly good moods. I guess I should not be too concerned. 

     She also explains that she is in a very vulnerable place right now. Apparently, there is a 50/50 chance of things reoccurring in kids like this. This is why we are still going to come on a weekly basis and why we should not be messing with the medicine dosage if things are good. She may have some rough times ahead with school and peers and puberty and all of the other pressures of a 12 year old girl. If medicine can lessen the anxiety and make it all a little smoother, then so be it. 
     She asks me my thoughts and I agree. I am terrified of ever having to go through this ordeal ever again. I am sure there will be things that come up in the near future. But, I hope that things can never get that bad again. 
     Then, the moment we have all been waiting for arrives. It is time to touch the vomit. Today's vomit is a lovely shade of yellow. She is a bit nervous and definitely disgusted. It takes her a while and we all wait. Dr. G is coaching her about recognizing her thoughts and she is helping her to use her detective thinking. 
     Then, she puts that skinny little red over washed finger right into the cap, pulls it out quickly, and says "I did it." Dr. G tells her to do it again since she was writing some notes and conveniently missed it. She does it again and is told to keep it there for a bit. I am amazed! While her finger is touching the vomit, they are talking about how she is squashing and conquering Voldemort (this is what they named her fear a while back). I can see a sense of accomplishment through the disgust in her face. 
     She wipes her finger on a tissue and we make next week's appointment. Her brand new iphone, that she earned today by getting good grades on all of her midterms, is on the table. She asks me to get it for her. Of course, I realize it is because she doesn't want to get vomit germs on it. I tell her she needs to carry her own phone. Dr. G catches our exchange and gives me a "good job" look.
     We get in the car and I let her clean her finger with a wipe. She showers as soon as we get home and my husband decides we should go out for dinner. We have a great time eating out and helping her set up her new phone. 
    On the way home, one of my all time favorite songs comes on. Cindy Lauper's True Colors. We pull into the driveway and the song is not over so we all sit and listen. Our daughter is playing on her phone, our son is climbing over the seats and my husband and I are taking in the song. All I am thinking is how happy I am that our family is back. Our fun, loving, little family of four is back on track.

Monday, January 14, 2013

25: Denny's and Life of Pi Homework

   Guess where we went yesterday? Yes! She has completed her biggest homework task ever from Dr. G. We couldn't even say the name of this restaurant for the longest time. We brought our good friends with us to mark this amazing milestone and to make it more fun.
   As soon as they gave out the kids menus and crayons, she borrowed the red one from her brother. Apparently, the orange or the yellow that were next to her were not good enough to make a huge X over the chicken nuggets. She really needed that red crayon since that is the food she ate the night of the food poisoning.
   So, after violently Xing out the nuggets, she ordered eggs and pancakes that came with bacon and sausage. She did not touch the meat since she is super against fast food meat and the way they treat the animals. Can't argue with her about that, so I ate them :) She ate 2 out of 3 pancakes and a couple bites of eggs. I don't think the goal was to have to eat everything on her plate. I am so proud that she was able to get there and order something and cope. When we arrived, she said her anxiety was a 5. When we left it was down to a 1! 
  Before we went to Denny's, She and I had a girls only trip to the movies. This was our homework from the psychiatrist. She wanted her to see the movie Life of Pi. I have never read the book, but I have heard a bit about the story in the past. 
   After she told us to go and see it, she cringed for a moment and said to me that she may not want to see some of the scenes where the animals are killed by the tiger. She piped right up and said "that's okay, it's the circle of life." I love my kid! And yes, the Lion King was one of our favorite movies when she was little.
   I will never forget a school trip to the movies when she was in kindergarten. I accompanied her class to go see a Disney movie called Eight Below. In the movie there is a really sad scene in which a sled dog dies. Her little friend looks at her and says something like: "don't worry, he is just sleeping." My child, who was only 4, then proceeds to tell her: "Isabella, he is not sleeping, he is dead. It's the circle of life." Isabella has no idea what the heck she is talking about. She chooses to believe he is sleeping and I tell her to let Isabella think whatever she wants.
     Life of Pi is a visually stunning movie. Although, I did not realize there was so much of a religion theme about the movie. I didn't know the whole premise of the movie is how this Indian man is telling his story to a writer about how he found God. There was so much symbolism that led me to draw my own ideas. Definitely not the ideas about God and religion that I was supposed to draw upon, but I am not a church going woman and I easily find my own interpretation.
   Since we are there because of her psychiatrist, I see all sorts of symbolism that is related to her and her phobia and all that we have been through. If you have not seen the movie, it is about a teenage boy named Pi who is shipwrecked on a small boat with a very large tiger. His family was leaving India in search of a better life with their zoo animals when the ship sinks. 
   After the tiger kills some other animals that managed to get in this small boat with them, Pi is lost and helpless and struggling to figure out how to cope with his situation. Of course, I am thinking of us moving to FL and her trying to find her place. 
   The rest of the movie is about the struggle between the tiger and Pi. He has to figure out how to stay alive with this tiger who is threatening to kill him.
   He makes himself a raft that he ties to the boat where the tiger is. Pi stays on the raft and works hard to feed the tiger with fish and catch rain water for him. He struggles to keep this tiger alive. He could have let him drown at one point, but he continues to keep him alive. This is when I make my analogy. Pi, is my daughter, and the Tiger is her phobia.
   One day, they wake up to find themselves on a strange island covered in algae. It is a beautiful island where he thinks they can live. He soon discovers that they can not stay there when he sees the tiger running back to the boat. Pi realizes the island is carnivorous and it may kill them. The Tiger patiently waits in the boat for Pi to return and they head out to the sea again.
   I relate this island to her new middle school. A beautiful place she was so excited to go to back in August when we thought she was all better. A place she decided was unsafe and she found her tiger waiting for her yet again...
   They are now weak and dying from dehydration. Pi manages to train the tiger and they are now able to be on the boat together. He is now able to sit with the tiger's head on his lap. He cries and tells the tiger, that he has grown to love, that they are dying. 
   At this point of the movie there are tears streaming down my cheeks. This is the moment that really pulls it all together for me. This tiger is just like her phobia that she has worked so hard to hang onto for the past two years. She became so close to her phobia a few months ago that I didn't see how her life could get better. It was killing the girl I knew.
   The next scene of the movie is when they wash ashore on land. The tiger jumps out of the boat and starts walking towards the forest. The tiger pauses, and Pi is desperately wanting to say goodbye to him. He is expecting the tiger to turn around and look at him, at least, before he heads into the forest. But, there is no goodbye. No acknowledgment to the boy whatsoever. 
   Pi is then rescued and the story ends with him in a hospital. When no one believes his story with the animals, he changes it using people instead of animals. The audience is left hanging to figure out which story they should believe. We are supposed to relate Pi to the Tiger I think or maybe to God. I am not sure yet. I don't like it when movies leave you hanging like that....    
   Someday, I will read the book and maybe look for all the religious symbols, but for now, I am quite happy with my practical interpretation based on my own life. Goodbye Tiger. Goodbye phobia. No need for a sentimental goodbye.