I don’t write a whole lot about Caitlyn and Emily here; this blog is about our family, but it’s mostly centered on our life as an autism family, so I haven’t written much about the girls outside of their relationship with Sawyer. However, I have to brag on my baby girl (“The Queen” as she is jokingly called in our family) a little bit, y’all.
The last few years have not been easy on our little family. Mental health isn’t something that only affects adults; kids struggle too, and sometimes they have no idea how to ask for help. The divorce affected all my kids in different ways, and Caitlyn has struggled for years with severe anxiety. Anxiety manifests in a lot of different ways, and for Caitlyn, it started out as extreme mood swings that were eventually diagnosed as disruptive mood dysregulation disorder (DMDD) right before we moved away from Fort Campbell, KY in 2016. DMDD is a mood disorder that makes it very hard for children to control their emotions and mood swings. This can lead to hardcore tantrums and lashing out, and cause a lot of problems for a child at home and in school or other social situations. As she has gotten older, the mood swings are still there but have been made a lot better with anxiety medication. However, Caitlyn still has panic attacks now and then, and her anxiety is a very real problem.
The summer before she started 9th grade, Caitlyn came to me and told me she was really unhappy living in our little hometown and wanted to try moving to her dad’s. She was struggling with her anxiety, peer issues, and debilitating panic attacks that made her life hell. Middle school was really hard for her, and the growing pains of friend groups breaking up and the mean kids who loved to use her triggers to piss her off had made her absolutely hate going to school here. Her friend group split, and Caitlyn had started to get bullied for her panic attacks, with kids often saying she only did it for attention and a lot of kids treated her like she was weird because of them. Not only that, some kids knew she was easily triggered by people making fun of autistic people, so they’d do that just to get a rise out of her. It worked; she had several altercations with boys in her class over their use of the word “autistic” as an insult. She said that she wanted to try going to a bigger school with more activities to explore different interests than our little town’s school district offered, and she wanted the chance for a new start. It was a decision I struggled with on a deep, emotional level, but after talking it over, praying, and crying about it for weeks, I decided to let her try. I knew it was going to be a very hard transition for our family; with Emily in college, this meant now it would just me Sawyer and me living in our little apartment here in Missouri, while both of the girls would be at least an hour away (2 in Caitlyn’s case). Sawyer does not always handle change very well, and Sawyer and I both had a hard time letting her go; he and Caitlyn have fought a lot over the years, but at the end of the day, they are thick as thieves:
The first year was pretty hard. Sawyer and I had a hard time getting used to both girls being out of the house, and Caitlyn was struggling with the transition to her new school, and feeling very homesick, and still having horrible panic attacks. She had a couple of good friends, and she said she liked her new school, but overall I was so worried for her, and praying every day that she would find a great group of friends and the happiness she was missing. I’ll admit; when she told me she wanted to try out for color guard a while back, I was nervous that she wouldn’t be able to handle the pressure. Her new school’s band is pretty big, and known for its standard of excellence. However, I was happy that she was starting to branch out and try things she didn’t have the opportunity to do here.
Band camp was a rollercoaster of emotions; the stress and pressure of learning how to twirl her flags and march and learn the positions for the field shows was getting to her, and there were a couple of nasty panic attacks that her dad, stepmom, Emily and I had to help her through. The first time she performed, I sat on the bleachers silently praying for her. I prayed that God would help her work through her anxiety and be able to perform without a panic attack. The prayers worked; she was absolutely amazing, and after that first performance her nerves were all but gone!
Today, she is a thriving social butterfly! Her grades are great, she is absolutely rocking color guard, and she’s got a lot of great friends and a boy in her life that is making her happier than she’s been in a long time. For the first time in a few years now, my goofy, bubbly girl is back and it is so good to see her again. Seeing her so happy and excited on our FaceTime calls means more to me than she will ever understand, and I could not be more proud of how far she’s come. We miss her like crazy but we love going to watch her perform, and it makes me so happy to see her doing so well and so happy and content in her life in TN.
Being a parent is hard, and watching your child struggle is even harder. The decision to let her move to her dad’s was incredibly hard for me, and I would be lying if I said I haven’t cried many tears over it, but it’s all worth it to see the happy glow radiating from my baby’s smile.