By Linda Privitelli
The day that changed it all
It was a warm Monday morning. The summer sun was already beaming down on us and our eyes were being shaded by our own hands. The children were all lined up on the asphalt, ready to sing the Australian National Anthem. I was standing behind them, making sure they were all facing the front, attentive for the start of whole school assembly.
Then it happened…
I began feeling overwhelmed by the morning heat and sun. I started to feel lightheaded and a little faint. My legs started to wobble a bit. I felt like I couldn’t stand still anymore. I started to panic. A million thoughts raced through my mind…
Should I sit down? Should I walk over to the shade of the trees? Was I going to faint? Should I tell someone? Could I just leave my class there? Would people notice me swaying? Would my legs hold me up anymore? I need to get out of the sun? Where should I go?
As a teacher, your first priority is to make sure the children in your class are safe. There were teachers to the left of me, to the right of me, in front of me, and behind me, so I knew that if I needed to leave, they were going to be safe. But it took me a few moments to find the courage to seek refuge.
By now, panic had well and truly set in. My hands were shaking. My legs were like jelly and I felt like a fawn learning to stand for the first time. My heart rate increased and my breathing quickened -this lead to me becoming even more lightheaded.
Without realising what I was doing, I stumbled quickly past groups of parents to the admin office (which was thankfully just behind the assembly stage), and avoided making a scene. I’m not sure the kids even realised I was gone.
I managed to get to the bathroom and when I saw myself in the mirror, I freaked out a little. I was grey – I had absolutely no colour in my face, or body, and I looked frightened out of my mind. My eyes were wide and glassy and panic was written all over my face. It felt like I was having an out-of-body experience.
I splashed some cold water over my face and tried to calm myself down.
I could hear, through the school sound system, that the assembly was coming to an end, so I tried to compose myself and headed back out to my class.
We walked VERY quickly back to our classroom and I’m not sure exactly what happened after that.
All I remember is having about 3 or 4 kids in the classroom with me, me lying down at the front of the room with my legs elevated, and a teacher coming in to check to see if I was OK. I think, on the walk back from assembly to my classroom, I had somehow managed to let the teacher next door know I wasn’t feeling well and she ushered my class into her classroom until I could stand without feeling like I would faint.
Little did I know, that this small event would have such a huge impact on my life…
From then on
After experiencing my first panic attack in the heat, my body developed a very strong aversion to hot environments. Any time I was in a hot room, or the temperature rose, or I got flustered and warm, I would get lightheaded. My brain would then kick into autopilot remembering what happened the last time I was lightheaded in the heat, and I would have another panic attack.
Sometimes, these panic attacks happened in the car when it was hot, in the shower when it was hot, in restaurants, in shopping centres, at home. And before I knew it, my brain not only associated the heat with panic, but also the places where I was when I had my panic attacks.
The awesome thing <insert sarcasm here> about anxiety it that it is like an elephant – it never forgets. The chemical that induces our ‘flight or fight’ response does so to protect us. My brain was trying to protect me by telling me that hot environments and being in those above-mentioned places, was dangerous!!! Instead of fighting, all I wanted to do was ‘fly’. But when you are driving on over the Westgate Bridge in the middle of panic attack, you can’t exactly ‘fly’ (although I desperately wished I could!).
I have always been an anxious person; I hate change, I love routine and order and I worry about things constantly. Looking back, my anxiety has been with me since I was a child, manifesting itself in different ways. I put a lot of pressure on myself to always be the best I can be, and over time, I think I wore myself down. My school assembly episode was probably just the straw that broke the camels back, and was probably my body’s way of saying, ‘Hey, Linda. Enough is enough, now. Slow down!’
A big change
As I began to associate more and more things with my panic attacks, my anxiety got worse. After six years of primary school teaching, I decided to resign. When I commit to something, I like to commit to it 110%. Knowing there may be certain things I couldn’t do as a teacher, or certain activities I couldn’t take part in while teaching, I knew the best (and hardest) thing to do was to resign. I needed to be fair to my employer, to the kids, and to myself. Putting myself under more pressure was only going to fuel my anxiety, not help me mange it.
The year of my resignation saw me almost housebound. Going to the supermarket was a huge challenge, driving was a major trigger of my anxiety, and simple things like having a shower brought on my panic. I would spend my days on the couch, watching mind-numbing TV and trying to fill the hours with things other than my harmful negative thoughts. I had hit rock bottom – I no longer had purpose. And I could feel the heavy, dark cloud of depression floating above me and resting on my shoulders.
My family history is rife with anxiety and depression, so I was completely aware of the signs and symptoms of depression and I knew I did NOT want to go down that road. I needed to feel ‘myself’ again; I needed purpose.
Finding my purpose
I was, and still am, a creative person. I like to use my imagination and I love to create with my hands. I knew that being creative would help fill my time, and my mind, in a productive and positive way. I decided to work from home, where I felt safe. If I had a panic attack, I wouldn’t be compromising anyone else, or anything else.
I opened up my own online business creating personalised artwork for children. For five years, I designed, created, networked and grew my little business. During those five years, I chatted with so many parents of young children, and it was two particular conversations with parents that changed everything for me.
These parents had primary school aged children who were anxious – not just every day worries, but anxieties that consumed the minds of these little people on a daily basis. Knowing, from personal experience, how much these children were suffering, I wanted to do something to help them. I closed my online business and decided to dedicate my time to helping children manage their anxieties.
Combining my personal challenges with anxiety, my experience as a teacher, my love of design, and my obsession with all things sausage dogs, I designed the little wuppy®. The little wuppy® is a sausage dog worry puppy designed as an aid to help ease children’s worries, and to help comfort them.
Children are encouraged to send their worries to the little wuppy® by placing its heart against their own. They can also use the little wuppy® as a focus tool when they are trying to concentrate at kinder/school – this is especially helpful for children with ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder) or sensory processing issues. The soft minky backing of the little wuppy® is perfect for cuddling, and suited to children who need sensory items to help centre and calm themselves.
The little wuppy® is small enough for a child to hold in their hands, pop into their bags or pocket, or place under their pillow.
Knowing that something as small as the little wuppy® can make such a huge difference in the lives of children, and their families, is extremely heart warming and humbling.
Although anxiety is (and always will be) a part of my life, without it, I would not be where I am today. That warm, sunny Monday morning, nearly seven years ago, lead me here. Experiencing anxiety has helped me help others, and helping others is one of the most fulfilling and joyous things in life! It is my purpose.
Linda is the owner + designer of little wuppy®. She lives west of Melbourne with her husband and two dogs, and was a former primary school teacher before severe anxiety and panic attacks forced her to resign. She is an artist who is obsessed with sausage dogs. And she is passionate about helping children manage their own anxieties. Linda is working hard at trying to break the stigma surrounding mental health issues, especially in regards to children.
To learn more about Linda and little wuppy® you can visit the website www.littlewuppy.com.au, or follow little wuppy® on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.
little wuppy® proudly holds an Made in Australia licence.