Many mental health issues do not simply appear out of the blue. In lots of instances, their root causes can be traced back to specific events or periods in our lives. This is certainly the case with me and my anxiety. As part of the recovery process, I spent some time with a therapist exploring my past and attempting to trace the origins of my anxiety.
I imagined that I was going to uncover things so horrible terrifying, surely it would have to be to explain all those years of suffering I endured. It took an unbelievable amount of courage to do this. However, to my surprise what we found were things that to me now as an adult would be considered trivial, every day, things I would not think twice about.
Yet through my child/adolescent eyes, they had had a dramatic impact on how I perceived the world and ultimately helped to shape my responses to situations going forward, thus my anxiety was created.
I won’t go into specifics but the overarching theme for the things we identified was a sense of helplessness. As that child/adolescent I learned to respond to specific incidences, often where I felt things were getting out of control, in the only ways that I could at the time using the narrow scope of my abilities to reason, think logically, take action or responsibility. As you can imagine these abilities were limited, so often my responses would be driven by the more primitive parts of my brain and more often than not produced the classic ‘fight/flight/freeze response.
These responses unfortunately stuck with me and became hardwired into my system. So much so, that years later, when faced with similar situations, as a teenager or young adult (who possessed the ability to reason, see things objectively, take responsibility or action) rather than acting rationally, I would jump straight back into the triple F response. I was essentially responding as I would have done when I was a child.
The problem was that as a teenager/young adult I was getting into more and more situations that would trigger the response, this was just part of growing up but of course, the child that still resided in me did not know that. I was therefore triggering reactions more frequently.
Of course at that age, I had no idea what was going on or why this thing was happening to me and I had no way of stopping it. The longer things went the more severe the reactions got and before I knew it they had all but taken over my life. I would do anything I could to avoid having a reaction (just to let you know, these took the form of your classic panic attack alongside nausea and vomiting) but I was reacting to so many different things my life became pretty unbearable. It was then that I sort help and started my journey to understand what had happened to me.
By understanding the root causes of my anxiety I was able to finally give the child I used to be all the things he had been crying for all that time ago but did not receive. I could give him acknowledgement, comfort and understanding; recognise his helplessness and tell him it was OK.
As difficult in many ways as that journey turned out to be, I was so grateful I was able to get to the bottom of where and how my anxiety developed. It was only by doing that, was I truly able to both come to terms with it and finally bring it under control.
Looking back on it all now from this point in my life, I am surprised sometimes, I always thought that I had had a pretty good childhood, loving parents, not wanting for anything, with no overtly traumatic experiences. And in that sense I suppose I did, so why did this happen to me?
The simple answer is that it just did, no one can predict how a child will react to any situation or how different children may react differently to the same situation. It was just chance that things happened to me but happened things did. To me, this may show that a mental health issue can literally affect anyone; that it does not take much for it to develop and doesn’t need something major to cause it.
I think this is something that we all need to be aware of. Hopefully, with this understanding, we can eliminate some of the fear or stigma that is still unfortunately linked to mental health.