How Two Plushy Brains Help a Boy with PANS Talk About His Anxiety
I have a seven-year-old son who, 2.5 years ago, developed severe mental health issues following a series of infections. He developed PANS. His life fell apart. He stopped being able to go to school, the park, or play with his friends. He took several days to recover from even one hour of activity. He became so scared of the “dirt” that he could not let his brother near him.
Fast forward two years. He had been doing exposure therapy for his OCD using physical exposure to dirt. This was not working for him and made his fear worse as he was still so unwell. After a series of allergy attacks, he had a severe psychiatric event, which led to a course of steroids and ultimately to the first consistent improvement in two years. He is now back playing in the park with his friends. He is a young child with significant trauma from his illness and reduced ability to engage in traditional psychological and psychotherapeutic approaches due to his age and his fear.
Two little plushy brain toys have helped him talk indirectly about his anxiety. He loves “cuddlies” or “bays,” as he calls them. We discovered these giant microbe brains. One is a Healthy Brain; it is large and pink. The other one is called “anxiety brain,” but we call it Worry Brain. These plushy brains are an excellent tool for my son to externalise his worries and concerns. We can take an indirect approach and talk about feelings and concerns without focusing so directly on him. So we tuck Worry Brain up “so he feels safe.” We talk about how Worry Brain is so much smaller than Healthy Brain. Sometimes, when he has increased anxiety, Worry Brain feels larger. We take both cuddlies/bays on trips with the other bays to places that might be worrying – school or a new location. We talk about his experience and his fears by talking about the brains’ experiences.
My Son: “Worry brain is a little bit scared.”
Me: “What does he need when he is feeling scared?”
My Son: “Oh, he is getting a bit more used to things now.”
My son will then start and tell his own stories about them. When we do this, we do not single this activity as therapy time, but they are just a natural part of our everyday lives and ongoing dialogue. He can relate to them and express himself through them and become the one looking after them. This is a powerful and healing position to be in for a child who has been through such a rocky few years.