9/11 changed everything for nine-year old Tricia. At school, the little girl imagined planes flying into the building, black smoke billowing, and the walls collapsing around her and her big sister in a nearby classroom. She felt panic overwhelm her as she worried about her parents being in an accident. The boisterous, exuberant child became quiet and withdrawn, shadowing her sister at school and her mother at home.
“I had this fear that only my mom could take away,” Tricia says. “I don’t know how to describe it. I would be in class crying, everything had changed, it was a different me.”
More than a decade later she still struggles to explain the feelings that once overwhelmed her. “I could feel it wasn’t me, it scared me.” Her mother, Clair, knew something was seriously wrong, saying, “It became my mission to get her the right help.” Tricia was seen by a child psychiatrist, who diagnosed her anxiety disorder and referred her to the Shaw Clinic, Child and Family Service, Mental Health Program at Mackenzie Health for individual, group and family counselling.
Her physician began working with Tricia to determine the required medication, but things got worse before they got better. Getting her to school was a daily struggle, her marks plunged and she continued to have crying jags in class. At home, she lashed out at her family, often becoming hysterical with fear, yelling until she could hardly breathe.
Weekly sessions at the clinic’s anxiety disorder group immediately helped Tricia to feel “normal” again. “I thought I was the only one, then I saw all these different people in group — we all had different (anxieties) — and I felt I belonged somewhere for the first time. The biggest part for me was seeing I wasn’t alone, that’s when I went back to being me.”
While Tricia worked hard to develop the skills to cope with her disorder, and her independence grew, she continued to require constant contact with her mother. School remained a struggle, as the anxiety limited Tricia’s ability to focus and severely impacted her cognitive functions. Other issues began to emerge, including depression, attention deficit disorder (ADD), obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) and dramatic weight gain from the medication.
In Grade 8, with the encouragement of her Shaw Clinic team and family, Tricia accompanied her class on a trip to Quebec City.
At first, Tricia cried throughout the eight-hour bus trip there and balked at taking part in the activities with her classmates. “The turning point was that trip to Quebec City,” Tricia says. “I did it! I felt if I could do that, I could do anything.”
“I always knew I wanted to be a teacher,” Tricia says, her face lighting up. “I needed that trip to Quebec City to tell me I could do it.”
Her marks slowly began rising, from 50s and 60s to 80s and 90s, and then honour roll. “The Shaw Clinic taught me how to deal with my anxiety, but also taught me life skills, how to take care of myself, how to do homework,” Tricia says. “In that room, I was normal, and that was everything — they saved my life, gave me a childhood.” The deep bond between mother and daughter is readily apparent. They are proud of the journey they have travelled together and are deeply gratefully for the exceptional care and support Tricia and her family received at the Shaw Clinic, so close to their home. Today, Tricia is steps away from achieving her goal and is successfully managing her anxiety disorder. She is in teachers college, with a perennial presence on the Dean’s List. She lives away from home and is in a stable relationship with her longtime boyfriend. She meets challenges head on — whether it’s taking the subway or planning a trip to Greece.
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