• Melissa Volker

HIDDEN - why I wrote about anxiety

"HIDDEN: an impossible story" is a short, YA magical realism novel about a fifteen-year-old boy and his struggle with anxiety.

There's a revamped cover on the way which caused me to reflect on the book as a whole, which led me to thinking that I am overdue for sharing why I wrote it.

The short answer is: our son has anxiety, and has been dealing with it since he was five. Yes. FIVE. (And yes, kids can have anxiety simply by virtue of the fact that it is not caused by the external world, it is the way their brain is wired from birth. External events can trigger it, but its origin is physiological).

The longer answer is twofold. I wrote the book to illustrate to those who have never struggled with anxiety just what it can feel like, the panic it can trigger, the way that it tricks your brain into believing things that aren't true, and how much imagination plays a part. I also wrote it for the kids and teens who do struggle with anxiety because they can often feel invisible -- as their struggle is invisible. Even a panic attack doesn't have to look the way you'd assume, but rather, can manifest in sudden intense quietness and withdrawal. Outside they appear calm and collected, while inside it's taking all their strength not to blow part in a catastrophic storm. It's terrifying. It's isolating. I wanted them to know they are seen. That someone gets it and knows just how real it is.

I can tell you from experience how heartbreaking it is to watch a young child become overwhelmed and paralyzed by anxiety, wanting to be part of things, to join friends, but helpless before the monsters that ride his shoulders. Emotions that are huge and torrential, a world that moves fast, the frenzy around them a cascade of sensory input that cannot be processed fast enough -- it leaves them in either a frozen stupor or a complete and utter meltdown, their systems so overloaded they cannot even hear you trying to calm them down.

I learned early on that sometimes words will fail and what they need is to simply feel your arms around them, holding them -- quite literally -- together in one piece.

For us, some has calmed with age, although we have also worked diligently to learn tools, recognize both triggers and warning signs, and to give him the permission to remove himself from any situation that is growing volatile without need of apology or explanation.

But the "worry monsters" never go away. They need regular "re-taming" as their wildness and strength can easily return. It is a constant process to remember techniques, learn new ones, and recognize when it's happening. As the teen years come, it can get more complicated still, with so much more added to the mix. I often have to remind myself that what looks like a mood, or bad temper, is the anxiety shoving through and my saying, "you need to take a breath. take it easy" only makes it worse. If he could take a breath and take it easy, he wouldn't have anxiety.

So I wrote HIDDEN. To illuminate, to acknowledge, to offer a springboard for discussion, and most of all, to let kids know that someone sees them and their struggle.

I see them.

Like Charlie says, "Sometimes you need to be invisible. But sometimes -- it's better to be seen."

(a few helpful links have been added to the books page on my website. Hopefully others will find them as useful as we do).

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