Zombie Phobia. Yes, this is what the psychiatrist tells me my son has. Not OCD, as I expected after hours of researching “obsessive thoughts” on the Internet. My son was 11 at the time. He has high levels of anxiety, THAT we knew. This is a child who, I discovered from almost birth, needed to know everything ahead of time. If we went to the store, he needed to know how long we’d be there and what we were getting. If I told him we needed three things and grabbed a fourth, it threw him off-kilter. This is the child who had zero frustration tolerance and would bang his head when frustrated. It did not matter if the only thing to bang his head on was a concrete floor. Yet, through it all, I always seemed to be able to figure him out. He has been in therapy since age 5 and on medication for his anxiety and ADHD.
But Zombie Phobia? What do you do with that? It started subtly, after my mother passed away when he was 9. While having guests in and out of my home for a week, I noticed that every time I went into the bathroom, the shower curtain was open. I felt like I was in a Seinfeld episode- who keeps looking into my bathtub? Where else are they looking? Finally my husband figured it out. It was my son, pulling back the curtain each and every time he went into the bathroom, checking for zombies!
One time I remember seeing a dead cricket behind a cabinet. I vacuumed it up without giving it a second thought. A few days later we had another cricket in the house. He saw it, ran to the cabinet, then yelled ZOMBIE CRICKET!” He was not aware that I had vacuumed the cricket and assumed it was the dead one! This went on for years, but the bathroom seemed to be the only place he suspected Zombies. When he started Middle School he came home alone after school for the first time. (His older brother got home about 45 minutes later.) I made sure he was ok with this arrangement, prepped him for weeks by letting him stay home for short periods, gave him a key, had phone numbers posted and in his backpack. Three weeks into the school year he stopped going into the house. He would sit on the porch and wait for his brother. I spoke with the doctor several times and we adjusted his medicine to help the anxiety but it did not help. Winter and snow came and still he refused to go into the house alone. The doctor met with him to explain the physiology of death and how it is impossible to come back to life, etc. Nothing worked.
In January, his brother got a cat for his 18th birthday. I wish someone had told me earlier that cats had Zombie-detecting powers! As long as the cat was on the same floor with my son, he was fine. He’d carry the cat to the basement and close the door, or shut the door to keep the cat out of the basement if he wanted to be upstairs. To this day he will not admit that the cat helped alleviate his fears.
I want to share one other incident that comes to mind whenever I try to describe my son’s anxiety. The nurse from his camp called me to pick him up. He was complaining it hurt to walk, and he was almost doubled over. Of course she looked for signs of appendicitis and other things she could think of, like maybe gas. When I got there he was hyperventilating, crying and obviously in pain. A coworker shared a story of a child she knew whose testicles got twisted. Obviously I did not mention this to my son! I drove him directly to the urgent care center where his doctor at the time worked. In the car he continued to cry and he imagined all of the things he could have: cancer, AIDS, emphysema (again this was just after my mother passed away). The doctor did bloodwork and x-rays. She was baffled as to why he was in so much pain. She finally sat him down and asked him to explain step-by-step everything he did all day, starting with getting to camp that morning. Nothing offered any clues and she could find nothing wrong. He was calmer by the time we left and she told me to give him Tylenol. On the way out the door, he says, “Did you know I could put my foot behind my head? I did it on the bus this morning!” Mystery solved — he had pulled a groin muscle!!
I’d love to hear from other parents about the bizarre situations they find themselves in when they have anxious children.