I’m not publishing a Whole 30 Day 29 post today since I have only eaten sliced apples and shrimp today so with Bell Let’s Talk day being tomorrow, I thought I’d share a snippet of my life and anxiety experiences as a child.
If you read my “About” section, you would have read that I was not diagnosed with Panic Disorder until I was 18. However, looking back at my childhood, there are definite signs of anxiety at earlier ages. As I lay in bed recovering from The Little Stomach Virus That Could (Day 4, maybe 5?), I will list in no particular order some of my experiences and signs of anxiety as a child.
- Undiagnosed stomach issues.
I had heard the term “butterflies in your stomach” whenever you get nervous. But I used to get really bad cramping and upset stomach pains (not quite as bad as what I am currently experiencing). It would hurt so bad I would cry and my mom would have to rush me in and out of doctor’s offices only for them to say “we can’t find anything wrong with your daughter” or “they’re just growing pains, they will pass.” (For the record, they haven’t).
- Cheek biting, nail biting, and skin picking.
I do all three of these behaviours still today. While I have made more of an active effort to not bite my nails, when I am nervous (and often now bored) you may catch me doing this.
- Headaches and dizziness
I remember this especially after the age of 10. Perhaps that’s when school started getting harder but I remember I would stress myself out so much I would start to feel dizzy. Some days it almost felt like a superpower, but other times it was a scary feeling.
- Inner thoughts of fear of failure
I was at the top of my class as a child. I don’t say that to brag. If you ask any of my friends from elementary school, they would agree. But I also come from a small town where the class size is like, 12. Looking back, there was often a lot of pressure put on me to be “the best” or be the kid who always had the right answer, or always have my homework done. I remember one day I didn’t do my spelling homework (along with 8 other kids or so) and we all had to stay in for recess and complete it and the entire class did their little “oooo’s” when my name was called. One thing I absolutely hated in elementary school was when the teacher would say, “okay, class, we’re going to take up homework. Pass your book to the person on your [insert direction word here].” Even just thinking about it is a precursor to a panic attack. It was absolutely terrifying that I couldn’t mark my own work because others would see if I got something wrong. Am I psychologically scarred from these experiences? Absolutely not. But they were situations that brought great anxiety for me in the classroom.
- Feeling Overwhelmed With Multiple Projects
I think this applies more to my high school days but perhaps to my Grades 6-8 days as well. One of the perks of being a good student is if I felt overwhelmed, my parents would let me stay home and have a “catch up day.” Sure, I would do my religion cumulative project in front of The Price is Right but my parents knew that I wasn’t just taking the day to skip out on school and go to the mall. This would only happen maybe once per semester but I always will appreciate my parents for letting me do this and even if it wasn’t their purpose at the time, but they let me put my mental health first.
- Worrying About the Small Stuff
My dad always used to tell me *cue the tears* “Michelle, you can’t worry about the things you cannot control.” And even though that forever plays in my mind, it was said with such hypocrisy because he too worried about the things he couldn’t control. To be honest, he was a textbook (yet undiagnosed) case of Generalized Anxiety Disorder. He also said that his mom suffered from anxiety as well so I do believe in my case there is some sort of genetic component. When I was little, I would worry about so many things – missing my bus, forgetting my homework, not having friends, etc. These are things that are probably normal for a child to worry about, but these problems seemed to be amplified in my thoughts.
I’m not saying that if you have a child and they experience these things that they will have an anxiety disorder. I’m not saying that these are all results of having some sort of anxiety disorder. I can’t be certain. I’m simply saying that the anxiety difficulties I face today did not suddenly appear when I was 18. They have been and continue to be a part of who I am, making me stronger each day.
Tomorrow is Bell Let’s Talk Day – a day which I was going to dedicate an entire post to but decided against it. Let’s save the criticisms of Bell Let’s Talk Day for some other time. I encourage you to participate tomorrow. Spread awareness. Reduce the stigma. Let’s have the conversation about mental health tomorrow, the next day, next week, next month. But let’s keep talking. It’s okay to share your story. It’s also okay not to share your story. It is yours to tell and yours alone. I hope with sharing these aspects of my life you may feel inspired to share your story as you are not alone. You are not weak. And you are not your illness.