I don’t remember the date or the year but I remember the event that gave rise to my anxiety.
This Is How I Perceived Mental Health As A Child
I am very small and I am at the seaside. My older brother rows out to sea in a rubber dingy and I am watching. In my eyes he is rowing out many miles from shore. He is rowing into the unknown and into untold dangers.
I am powerless to stop him. It frightens me that no one is trying to call him back, that no one else seems to care or is worried. It seems like I am the only one aware of the danger. I am rooted to the spot, filled with panic inducing dread.
Where it all started
That was my first encounter with anxiety of which I can remember. I suspect that from day forth it stayed with me and has never really left. Though I feel that now, many years later, I have it under control, it still lurks in deep recesses somewhere within me. I need to be constantly vigilant to ensure that it does not ambush me at some unexpected moment.
It was in my childhood in which the anxiety first appeared and with time flourished. It developed in many different forms. All however seemed to coalesce around my inability to control things. So many things to me appeared out of my control and thus scary.
Trying to make sense of it all
As a child I simply did not have the mental capacity to comprehend and make sense of all that was going on around me. My ability to intervene or take control of what was happening around me was severely limited. Through my eyes reality became somewhat distorted.
This all had a profound impact upon my mental development. For other people these experiences may not have played a major role in their childhood. Maybe it was that I was overly sensitive? Whatever it was because of their impact, I struggled with many things. Things that to anyone else were normal, were to me massively anxiety inducing.
Creating the perfect environment
I struggled with big crowds and unpredictable events and as a fussy eater I struggled with food. When I reacted badly to something my anxiety was compounded and made worse. I would therefore go out of my way to avoid anxiety-inducing scenarios.
This really affected my confidence and I was always seen as a bit shy and unadventurous. In turn when people pointed this out to me I believed it and ultimately embodied it. It all became a vicious circle. Constantly repeating and reinforcing itself.
I created an environment perfect for the growth of anxiety. I cannot blame anyone for this, for it was all of my own making. Yet at the same time I cannot blame myself, for as a child I simply did not know any better.
And so my anxiety grew. It grew and it took control of my life, throughout my teenage years I was literally unable to control it.
Reaching out for help
As a teenager I tried not to let anxiety define who I was. But it was so difficult, when I could no longer do this, when it all came too much, I finally reached out for help. With no other choice, I had to. I wish in many ways I had done this earlier but now realise that I just was not able. I can forgive myself for that because I cannot forget how difficult and confusing life often was back then.
The help I sort and many years of self reflection did give me some answers. Foremost to emerge was the fact that through my childhood I lacked the reassurance I needed to know that everything was ok. My brother was never in any real danger and I was safe when I was in those big crowds. I needed to know this, be told this. But for whatever reason I did not get in the way that I needed.
I am sure my parents did their best in this regard. But for whatever reason, I required more. I did not have the capacity to give that reassurance to myself Nor did I have the understanding or the ability to ask others for what I needed.
It is only now that I can give the child that still dwells somewhere inside me the reassurance he craved all those years ago. And it is only now that he can rest assured that all will be well.
I find it amazing sometimes that my experiences with mental health as a child have echoed down the ages. That those experiences, seeming so minor and inconsequential as seen through the eyes of an adult, could have such a lasting impact on my development. They literally changed my life.
I do not think I am alone in telling this story. Many people out there who are struggling or have struggled with mental health issues may have had similar experiences from childhood albeit in different contexts. My experiences spawned anxiety, in others it could be depression, an eating disorder or obsessive compulsion.
There is often no rhyme nor reason, like other childhood maladies, some amongst were just more prone to developing them. There is no shame or blame, for these things just happen. Ultimately we need, where we can, to be compassionate to the people we were and accept them with kindness and without judgment.