We came home last night from a week visiting my husband’s family in NJ. Travel for a kid battling anxiety and panic has the potential for disaster. He did fairly well on the way out (there is beauty in a red eye flight!), but had some really challenging moments on the way home. There were thunderstorms in the Dallas area, so our “quick” connection there turned into 2+ hours of delays. The sudden change of plans and the need to sit around waiting, was enough to send my son over the edge. He had a small panic attack. Lots of people openly stared. One person moved away. One woman smiled and spoke to me….
Friday was my birthday and we took a family trip to Universal Studios. Given the extreme anxiety and panic attacks our son has been experiencing recently, we knew chances were high for him to experience some level of difficulty during the day. We also knew this was something he really wanted to do, so we were willing to take the chance.
The day was full of brief periods of wonderful (the Wizarding World of Harry Potter really is AMAZING!), long periods of horrible, and one amazing moment of beauty that came through the kindness of a stranger.
Midway through the day we were standing in line to see the animal show. At some point, the line moved just enough to stop us in a tunnel (dark and loud) with a crowd of people. Our son was already challenged by having to stand in line near people he did not know, when the line stopped in that tunnel it was to turn his high anxiety levels into a panic attack. He was sweating, hyperventilating, crying, pulling at this clothes and trying to curl up into a ball in the middle of the crowded line. We were trying to give him as much space as we could, and also attempting to talk him through the attack. My husband was looking around to find the quickest way to get him out, and suddenly I heard a voice from behind me ask, “Is he okay? Does he need more space?”
I turned around to find a young adult male and a middle aged woman. The woman had been the one to ask the question, but it was what the young man did next that changed the course of the next few minutes and left a lasting impression on me. He moved just slightly forward, only close enough so that he could bend down and look my son in the eyes. Once he had eye contact he very quietly said, “You’re going to be okay,” and then asked him some questions about Harry Potter and what part he liked the best. My son did not answer the questions, but he did slow down his breathing and that was enough to get him through until the line moved out of the tunnel.
Once the line began moving, I lost track of the young man. I wanted to thank him for the simple kindness and genuineness of his gesture. In a day that had been filled with challenge, that young man was a bright spot. He reminded me that there angels everywhere, and gave me the moment that may have been my best birthday present this year – the pure joy on my son’s face as he watched that animal show.