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I don’t remember a time before anxiety. In first grade, I faked sick more than once to avoid a noisy lunchroom. I preferred the dimly-lit nurse’s office. There, I daydreamed about crawling into bed and watching cartoons alone. 
 
At age 12, I developed Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (though I didn’t know to call it that at the time). I attended a Christian school and became terrified I might die unforgiven of sin. I mentally repeated the salvation prayer hundreds of times a day. 
 
In high school, I sometimes went entire class periods without talking, worried I might say the wrong thing. I felt nervous in groups. I avoided parties. 
 
As a college freshman, I experienced my first anxiety-triggered major depressive episode. I sobbed and stared into space for 72 hours. My parents were scared to call it mental illness. So, they didn’t. They said not to share to much information about my issues. 
 
For nearly four years after, I managed debilitating anxiety attacks without therapy or medication. I read books and articles to do self healing. I prayed. I survived but I suffered. My anxiety impacted my physical health. I endured daily vommitting, blurred vision and dizziness. 
 
At 22, I finally told a doctor how bad it was and began treatment for generalized anxiety disorder, a common diagnosis among American women.
 
I am telling you this because when I sought help and started medication, I got better. I came out of my shell and developed into the person I always wanted to be, a participant in life rather than a skiddish observer. I am telling you this because I needed help years before I found the courage to ask for it. 
 
No question, my parents wanted the best for me. They didn’t mean to dismiss my early symptoms. They feared the stigma of mental illness when, as a young adult, I became unwell. But that fear kept me from being okay. It kept me from a carefree childhood, from dating, from going away to college. 
 
So parents, if your child shows signs of depression or anxiety, do not just let it go. Do not ask them to snap out of it. There is a difference between shyness and social anxiety, a difference between quirky phobias and irrational obsessive fears. 
 
If your child worries a lot (about peer interactions, death and dying, anything really) talk to them. And talk to their pediatrician about it. Understand mental illness isn’t a phase, a spiritual crisis or a character flaw.
 
If your child’s worry interferes with their progress, if it steals their joy, please offer them the best help possible. Acknowledge what they are experiencing and deal with it. Be brave. 

Sarah Whitman

Sarah Whitman is a writer and mother living in Tampa, Fl. As the religion columnist for the Tampa Bay Times, she covers a broad range of faith and spiritual-related topics. She also contributes parenting columns. She recently started a poetry page on Facebook and welcomes mothers to submit their writings to the site. Visit Mama Dickinson at www.facebook.com/mamadickinson. Visit 1mamadickinson on Instagram.

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