Friday, October 23, 2015

Adventures on Anxiety

I figured with Hurricane Patricia looming it would be a good time for a post about what it's like to sail with a child who has anxiety. 

Jessica has always had anxiety. As soon as she was old enough to be subject to state testing at school, she'd be the only 8 year old walking into class with a huge mouth sore from relentlessly worrying and losing sleep over the test. When we're at a restaurant, if anyone takes "too long" to use the restroom, Jess will create her own search party.

One doesn't need anxiety to feel a little uneasy living on a boat. Squalls can pop up out of nowhere and suddenly you're running around pulling everything off the rails, battening down the hatches and hoping your anchor doesn't drag.  When we're actually sailing and the boat begins to heel is when Jess starts to white knuckle it and begs that we ease the sails. When anchoring, Jess is the first to worry about our depth and outgoing tides. The worrying is never ending. 

As someone who grew up with anxiety, I get it. There are times that I look at Jess when she's nothing but a ball of anxiety and I see myself as a little 12 year old girl.  Trying to console a child with anxiety isn't easy unless you've been in their situation. Repeatedly uttering "it's okay" or "we'll be fine" doesn't register with someone who has anxiety. Anxiety doesn't like reason. 

So what do we do? We've started the "Tiny but Mighty"  mantra. Jessica is a 12 year old with a mouth full of baby teeth, yet to break 70 pounds that I've knicknamed "mini me".  Recently she's been mistaken as the younger sister although she's 20 months older than Emma.

When Jess is having a panic attack we remind her that she's Tiny but Mighty. We've shown Jess some ways of being able to help control the situation she's in, which helps with her anxiety. Jess has learned to read weather files with Phil each morning. Together, they discuss what we're expecting for the day in terms of wind speed and direction. Jess has also learned how to adjust sails and is able to help create comfort if we're heeling "too much". 

We have an agreement on the boat that if our depth reaches 8.5 feet we'll re-anchor. Believe me, Jess is watchful of the depth meter and will let us know when it's time to move. When the anemometer  reads close to 20 knots, Jess knows we'll reef a sail. We've established "boundaries" in advance so she doesn't have to worry about "when" things will happen to ensure we stay safe.

Then there's Emma, cool as a cucumber, the yin to our yangs. Emma is the type of person who would be looking at how beautiful the eye of hurricane looks over the boat while the rest of us are kissing our butts goodbye!


  1. Our kid has a lot of trepidation with sailing/anchoring too. Constant reassurance for sure.

  2. You've initiated some great things with Jess. I really love the "tiny but mighty". Mighty does not always mean big as you have taught her. Praying for you all (and Jess in particular) as you batten down in advance of Patricia.

  3. We have a daughter with some anxiety issues, but honestly, I think I'm more worried about ME! I'm not on the boat yet (33 more days!), but I'm feeling anxious and have already set up some known boundaries with my husband and my kids not to pressure me into doing "new' things when I'm already feeling pretty overwhelmed about just being on the ocean in the first place! Thanks for sharing :)