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Dr. Max Explains It All To You: Diagnosis: W.I.S. - A post by Max, a PSST Mom
Posted by:Sally--Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Dr. Max Explains It All To You: Diagnosis: W.I.S. - A post by Max, a PSST Mom

Our older son Michael was discharged from 24 days of in-patient 1 week ago today. While he was in, I took little comfort in the fact that he was safe, clean, learning, and working on himself. I had the opportunity to be more care-free, do more for myself, take a thorough, badly needed mental holiday from him. But that is not how my brain operates. I worried, not as much as if he were still hanging out, but still worried, because I suffer from WIS, or "What If Syndrome".

I have always been this way: I am anxious by nature.

But I have learned this about myself over the years by working with a great therapist, and having more life experiences to draw on. I work very hard on a daily basis to keep it in check. I know it will never go away, but rather, ebb and flow depending on how serious life circumstances are at the moment. The most damaging thing the syndrome does is deter your vision from the here and now. If you stay in the moment, or force yourself to re-focus on the now, WIS miraculously dissipates.

I had a golden opportunity to recharge my battery but didn't. I didn't think I had the stamina to practice my anti-WIS program.

Clearly, I had relapsed.

When a WIS sufferer doesn't practice the program, rational thought goes out the window in two forms. One is "Hyper Vigilance", as in if I concentrate REALLY HARD on everything in this situation, I will nip it in the bud - or prevent it from happening - or 'do it better than last time’.

This will, in some cases become the second form, called "Magical Thinking", as in - I will be so prepared for the next disaster it won't hurt as much as it did the first few times.

Both forms are sneaky and can mislead a person into believing their own un-true thoughts, because anxiety takes away the energy they need to work their program.

Does any of this sound familiar to you? Does any of this have an obvious parallel?

Even if you aren't by nature anxious as I am, when something is wrong with someone we love, WIS can get you. Mind you, my husband Mel is not a sufferer. It seems that more women than men get WIS, but there are no concrete studies. But like many chronic diseases, it can be managed if you are willing to take the following steps:

Pray/meditate/talk to your higher power to be granted the serenity to accept the things you cannot change, that you will have the courage to change the things you can, and the wisdom to know the difference. Repeat as often as necessary throughout the day.

Focus - If you find your mind spinning forward, pick a spot on the wall wherever you are and force yourself to focus for a few minutes. Think of nothing else but that spot. Let yourself be hypnotized for the moment. Take some deep soothing breaths, and go back to whatever it was you were doing.

Call Someone - If you are too far along in your WIS attack, call someone - a PSST friend, your partner, or other person who knows your situation, and has the good sense to talk you down with rational thought.

Avoid people, places and things that can trigger a WIS attack.

Common examples are:

1. People: well meaning but grossly under-informed family members (usually in-laws!!) and friends who will say things like "I knew someone just like that. He's in jail now, but...."

2. Places: a graduation party where everyone says "you have an 18 year old, right? Where are they going to college?" Feeling the need to answer this question several times in a public place with a smile on your face can make a WIS sufferer start to spin like a top.

3. Things: This is a tricky one. For me, it would be going into my son's room and looking at old things like stuffed animals, baby pictures, old school projects while thinking: "If I had just done __________ earlier, none of this would have happened" or "I now can see by looking at all of his things, his decline actually started ___________ , and I somehow missed it."

As you can now see, this is all Magical Thinking. And it is in the past, which cannot be corrected. So have a good cry if you need, but no good will come of torturing yourself with the "what ifs" and "should haves".

Another situation that can cause WIS is miscommunication. As noted in Lloyd's latest post, WIS gets dissipated when parties speak to one another for clarity of a situation or verbal exchange.

Since most of us have a team of people working with us to help our child, we can get differing messages, and often skewed messages when our child repeats what he heard someone say. To help me work my program, I have no qualms about calling or emailing the therapist, PO, or case worker for clarity.

When I have the facts, I become less of a WIS.

That said, the above professionals also have differing approaches, and sometimes they even seem contradictory. This is a sure trigger for WIS, because you may start to think "If I don't do exactly what Lloyd, Kathie, Deb, Tom, Dick and Harry say, my child will relapse, and I will be responsible".

The coinciding subconscious thought may be "If I am not able to follow to the letter all of this advice, I must be a bad parent".

This is the dreaded Hyper Vigilant Magical Thinking COMBO.

My personal way of managing HVMT (combined type) in this case is "take what works for you, put the rest in the tool box for later use."

All information from a trusted professional is valuable in some way. Knowledge is power. Add to this knowledge tricks from PSST and the therapist and you are no doubt doing the best possible job for your kid.

Be open minded to all points of view.

The therapist often comes from the perspective of empowering the teen, so the therapist may ask us to "back off" or they may back up what a teen has said.

Since we are so used to being manipulated by the teen, we get WISSY.

But as Lloyd noted, following a therapists' advice does not mean you are giving the kid too much power as in the past. It may mean that you need to find "the courage to change what you can". But, being knowledgeable and empowered (as the mom in Lloyd's post was) gives parents the courage to say "I'm not comfortable with that"!


Sally said...

Please note: Sally started to edit this post and then got busy and not-to-mention a little wissy so she handed it over to Rocco who enhanced it with the really cool images. Three cheers for Rocco!

Anonymous said...

Good job Rocco,,,,where is the green Cadillac?

Lloyd Woodward said...

I enjoyed your post Dr. Max. I think it will help other parents.

It is a challenge for us all to keep the focus on oursleves especially when a loved one suffers from addicition; it is so important because without keeping the focus on ourselves we are less grounded to help our loved one.

I like to put a positive slant on it. When I feel like I missed an opportunity to use a new skill, new phrase or new approach and I find myself starting to say, "you (meaning me) screwed up" I change it as quickly as I can to "I'll do that better next time." There is always a next time.

I say this even playing racquetball. To agree to play racquetball is to accept that there will be a lot of errors made. It's in the game. Parenting is like that too I think. It's in the game [that errors will be made]. I used to say, "I shoulda got that one" but now I say "I'll get that one next time."


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