Sunday 14 May 2017

Growing Up With a Mental Illness

Growing Up With a Mental Illness mental health childhood children wellbeing anxiety depression OCD

As a little girl, I worried all the time. I would worry that when we came back to the car after a day out, someone would have broken into it or hit it and drove off. I would worry that when we came back from a day out, the house would be broken into. Every single time. 

I worried about all the things I said to people during that day and all the things I had coming up the next day, planning in my head how I was going to get through the day without embarrassing myself or things going wrong. I worried that people didn't like me. That no one wanted to really be my friend, they were just nice to me because they pitied me. In short, I worried about everything. It really saddens me to think of all the years I lost to anxiety, without even realising.

My main issue, which always has and always will be at the centre of all of my mental health problems in one way or another, is my overwhelming need for control. If you haven't already noticed, I'm such a control freak. It has to be done my way, or I'm not interested. Okay, maybe that's a slight exaggeration. I can comprise and cooperate with others, but if it's something I'm passionate about, I'll make sure I have as much control as possible.

At school, this need for control conflicted with my anxiety. I could never speak up in a group. I didn't want to share my ideas or let people know what I thought because I would constantly doubt they would ignore me or think my idea was stupid or something. Which is why I often appeared disinterested or unmotivated in group task activities. This couldn't be further from the truth. I really did care, I just didn't have the courage to speak up. 

Without getting the violins out and trying to make you all feel sorry for me because that's definitely not what I'm trying to do at all, my life has been hard. It has been full of uncertainty ever since I was a toddler. This significant level of uncertainty, much more than what most children have to go through in the first years of their life is the root of all my mental health issues. 

As a child, the things you are supposed to rely on the most, more than anything else, are your parents. I couldn't count on mine. When I was two or three my mum was very seriously ill, fighting for her life in a coma. Since then some of my most vivid memories have been of visits to the hospital in the middle of the night, with my mum who was very poorly. As a child, you need continuity, safety and protection. But throughout my childhood, none of this was really there. 

Over the years my mum's health has steadily improved. Things were looking up. In 2008, my family were hit with a bombshell. My dad had a brain tumour. This news devastated my family and me. I was only a pre-teenager, so things were still pretty hard for me to understand, however, unlike when my mum was ill, I was old enough this time to remember everything that happened that year. These memories still haunt me till this day.

When you can't rely on the things you are supposed to, you seek to control and order in other things around you. I used to check things constantly, I performed strange rituals and even controlled what I was eating. These were all external attempts to control a very internal problem. 

Growing Up With a Mental Illness mental health wellbeing childhood depression anxiety OCD help support

More recently, lack of uncertainty, organisation and order in my college life, due to no fault of my own coinciding with the Ill health of my mum, left me at the mercy of obsessive compulsive disorder. I developed an intense and overwhelming fear of germs and contamination. I could control not getting ill by washing my hands repeatedly, avoiding touching objects or not eating with my hands. This was just another attempt to control the chaos going on around me. Trying to fix everything externally, while in fact, the problem was very much internal.

Retrospectively I now know I was suffering from anxiety and OCD as a child. But at the time I thought it was normal. I thought everyone worried as I did. When something went wrong at school or a teacher shouted at me my initial reaction was to cry. ( not gonna lie, it still is today) Wasn't every child like this though surely? Didn't all kids worry about these adult problems? As a child I was plagued by intrusive thoughts of my family falling off cliffs, being in a car crash or some other awful event. These thoughts caused me immense fear and dread. 

I now am undergoing therapy to overcome my anxiety, OCD and other mental health struggles. I'm slowly but surely working on my need for control. Letting it take up a smaller fraction of my life. 18 years of uncertainty and lack of control have really messed with my mind a bit. Of course, I don't blame my parents for what has happened to me. It's just life. Life gives us challenges to test us. 

Sorry for the long life story, which essentially all this post was. I guess if you've ever wondered how my mental problems started or when was the first time I found myself struggling with a mental illness, I guess this post may have answered your questions.

I envy young people today because of their access to social media. Children as young as eight or nine can watch Youtubers talk openly about their mental health, and as a result, they realise they are going through something similar. They are not alone and can get help. Thus mental illness robs fewer years of their life.

I'm rambling now I know! I hope you enjoyed this post. Hopefully, it gave you a clearer insight into what it is like growing up with a mental illness and how my mental health problems started.

Thanks for reading, as always X

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