Fear and Learning

You would think things like this wouldn't surprise me anymore, but either it's just surprising, or I have significant short-term memory loss. Let's just go with surprising because the other doesn't sound fun.

Today, H. and R. had an appointment with the neurologist to go over the results from their EEG's and MRI's. A brief digression. The short explanation of their appointment: their brain's are very weird. I saw the pictures. They're weird. The doctor was actually amazed at what they can both do having seen the pictures of their weird brains. But that's neither surprising nor what I'm going to write about. I want to write about something that happened before we even left for the doctor's appointment.

We had told the girls the night before that they had doctor's appointments today. In my adult brain, this was hardly news. It was the neurologist which is a sit-and-talk appointment. The only reason I even gave it a second thought was that the office was an hour away, so it would take a chunk out of the afternoon. I think this is why I was so blind-sided this morning during our school time.

There were a couple of instances where I had a conversation with H. that just seemed off. She clearly was not tracking with what I was saying, and was just 'off'. This feeling continued when we sat down to do work during her time with me. Things that were easy and enjoyable last week, were suddenly completely baffling and upsetting. It was so bad that at first I thought she was having seizures, but that didn't seem to be quite the case and she could still communicate with me. Having learned long ago that trying to do anything productive when she is in this state is fruitless at best, I opted for a completely different exercise I knew she could do. Once we had done this a bit, I started to ask her questions again, trying to figure out what the heck was going on.

After much coaxing, H. was finally able to identify what was bothering her. (And do not dismiss the hugeness and importance of her being able and willing to verbalize what is wrong. It is a new found skill.) She took a deep breath and blurted out, "I don't like surgery!" and burst into tears.

The light bulb (finally) went on in my head. We were driving to a doctor's appointment and she was suddenly fearful that it wasn't just a doctor's appointment, but was a trip to the hospital for surgery. Yes, last night we assured her this was an easy appointment and involved no needles, but clearly she did not believe us. So we talked for a while and I assured her once again that this was an easy appointment and no surgeries were even scheduled, much less in the plan for today. We practiced her touching her nose, which was the hardest thing which would be asked of her at the appointment, and I could see the fog lift from her brain.

The only thing wrong with her brain and cognition this morning was that she was afraid. Terrified, in fact. This feeling was so overpowering that nothing else was working and to her it didn't matter. I could have brought in trained monkeys to illustrate the lesson and it wouldn't have mattered because that would not have dealt with her fear.

Fear is an extremely powerful and overwhelming emotion. It is also pretty irrational. At no point did we even breath the word surgery, but the fear was there, none the less. It makes me wonder how often a child is considered slow or oppositional or lazy or any other negative description for a child who does not grasp something quickly or tow the line. There was nothing wrong with the functioning of H.'s brain this morning, thought that is what I thought at first because the behavior was so extreme. The only thing wrong was the fear that completely took over and consumed any rational thought.

Being anything but happy is still an ongoing learning process for H. Even after her little breakdown about surgery and my reassurances, there were several times when she wanted to clarify something. "You still love me when I cry, right, Mommy?"

"Yes, of course, I do , H. Very, very much."

"I love you, too, Mommy."


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