How to make friends when you have anxiety from being mistreated your whole life.

Roma asks: I am not part of a very good family relationship. My mother lost custody of me last year and I’ve been devastated ever since. I seem to have these breakdowns and anxiety every couple days or even more often than that. I have a decent life outside of home, but my grades aren’t great because I have no one who helps me with my homework. I get by with the whole homework situation fairly easily on my own, but now I seem to miss at least two homework or classwork assignments every single day. And I don’t even know the rules of my own school because when I started the school, my grandparents, whom I live with, just tossed the information we were given without acknowledging it. I intend to learn them, but am afraid to ask anyone what they are. I have ADHD and ADD and my hearing and sight are very bad. However, only my eyesight has even been thought about by my grandparents. I suffer from bad re-flux as well, and as you have probably guessed, they don’t care at all. But anyway, the question is: we have a field trip in May and my anxiety is so bad that I start hyperventilating at the thought of just about anything. The field trip is to the mountains. We’ll have fun I’m sure, but how do I prevent or reduce the effects of these serious breakdowns? I’ll be with thirty other sixth-graders, only three of them being my friends, and we are there for a week, 500 miles from where I live. I just don’t know what to do.

Hi Roma –


My friend, you are going through a LOT.  I know, no one ever said life was supposed to be fair, but your situation is simply UNfair.  I don’t know what your mom did or didn’t do to lose custody of you, but whatever it was was unfair to you.  The fact that your father is so not in the picture that you didn’t even mention him here is unfair to you.  And the fact that your grandparents – who at least are qualified enough to keep you – aren’t paying attention to everything you’re dealing with… is unfair too.


Then there are the other issues – the ADHD and ADD, the hearing, the eyesight, the reflux… and all this is SO unfair.


Which is all going to make my answer to your question sound weird, or even unfeeling.  Because I’m going to tell you to stop worrying so much.


You have all sorts of reasons to be a very anxious person.  You’ve been through tons, and I don’t even know what it all was.  But I’m going to guess that the solution to your school problems, and your reflux, and your hyperventilating, and definitely to your problems with the upcoming trip, are in your anxiety.  In fact, reducing your anxiety might even help your attention issues.


I used to have a next door neighbor named Sophie.  She and I would bark at each other across our fence, and I wanted nothing more than to play with her.  Sophie was a spaniel, and there was no reason in the world why we shouldn’t have been great friends, and spent days and days playing together.  Her owner was a nice woman, who talked with Handsome about how nice it would be for us to get together.  And finally, she brought Sophie over.


I went up to Sophie to play, and she got scared that I’d hurt her (I’m bigger than she is), and so she lunged at me to bite and hurt me.  I’m a very good fighter, so was able to quickly get her onto the ground on her back, with my mouth on her throat.  That way I could get her to relax, and see that I wasn’t going to hurt her – after all, if I’d wanted to, I could have killed her right there!


She finally relaxed, I let her go, ready to play, and she lunged at me again.  I repeated my trick, got her on the ground, got her to relax, let her go, and again, the same thing!  Finally, her human took her away.  We were all disappointed – Sophie simply wouldn’t allow play to happen.


Did Sophie have her reasons?  I’m sure she did.  I’m sure she had been hurt by other dogs, maybe she was naturally nervous, maybe all sorts of other things had made her more so.  But her human, and Handsome, and I, all did everything we could to make things work.  She was the only one who wouldn’t let it happen.


So that’s why I’m saying, Roma, that I want you to not be a Sophie!  You can’t fix your parents, or even your grandparents – and it’s not your fault – but you can learn to relax more.


Here are a few ideas.  First, I want you to, at least three times a day, get yourself into a quiet place and do deep breathing for a few minutes.  You can close your eyes if that helps, but what’s important is just that you focus on your breathing.  We dogs do this all the time, but when humans do it it gets called things like meditation or mindfulness or even prayer.  Call it whatever you like, but try it.


Next I want you to drink more water.  It will be great for that reflux, and even for those attention issues.  Do you drink a lot of sugary or caffeinated things now?  See if you can replace those with water, at least some of the time; it really will help.  (After all – when was the last time you saw a dog drinking a Pepsi?!)


And third, this is the hard part – I want you to actively work to make more friends at school.  Not necessarily great, close, besties – but just people you can talk with.  Ask someone to study for a test with you – or offer to help someone who’s having trouble with a class.  Find someone who doesn’t have a lot of other friends, and ask them to go to a movie with you.  Find something you’re interested in (a favorite singer maybe?) and see if you can get a conversation going with someone else who’s into them.


What this will do is to change your view about that field trip.  Imagine how much better that trip would look to you if you said, “I’m going with three really close friends, and ten other people I get along with.”  Suddenly it wouldn’t be scary; it would sound like the best time of your life!


And that’s my real argument to you, Roma: you deserve the best time of your life!  You’ve suffered enough.  You’re in sixth grade – everything in your world is changing: your body, your views, your interests, probably even your school will change soon.  So wouldn’t it be great for the rotten stuff in your life to also change?!


Now again, we can’t change your parents, or your grandparents.  The only thing we can change is the fear you live in.  So try those relaxation techniques, and try to get more friends in your class, and see what happens.


I’ll end this with a story about another nervous dog.  His name was Ygor.  Handsome lived with him years before he knew me, back when he was a teenager.  Ygor had been abandoned by his humans – literally tossed out of a car out in the countryside.  Handsome’s family bought him from a shelter, and, outside of Handsome, none of them ever really liked him much.   So Ygor tended to be a pretty nervous little guy.


But he still chose to live a life of joy and love.  He had a girlfriend who lived a couple of houses away, and they would kiss each other through their fence (a far cry from Sophie and me!).  He’d dig out of the yard and seek out the mailman, and follow him around for miles.  And when he befriended a stray dog on one of these jaunts, Handsome’s family ended up adopting him, and the two became brothers for the rest of their lives.


Now Ygor wasn’t a particularly smart dog, and he never got any reasons to build his confidence.  But he did have a great heart, and so was able to build a wonderful life for himself, just by being friendly and loyal.


I hope that, over time, you can overcome all these rotten problems, and develop great confidence.  But right now, I’ll be thrilled if you can just be an Ygor and not a Sophie.  It’s not easy; you’ll have to confront those fears every day.  But I have faith in you.


So get out there, Roma!  Beat fate!  Get that reflux down, get those grades up, get more friends… and live a life that’s so great you have to dream up new wishes every day!


All my best,


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