Having a Mental Illness as a Kid is Tough

I truly believe that I was born anxious.

I had serious separation anxiety as a baby up through most of elementary school when I was away from my mom. This lasted for way longer than it should have for a normal child.

As a kid, at least in my experience, I didn’t have the brain capacity to understand my emotions. I couldn’t express my feelings plus I didn’t want to. I thought that what went on in my brain wasn’t normal therefore I didn’t want anybody to know.

I struggled in school socially because of anxiety. I hated being with people I didn’t know, I didn’t like the focus to ever be on me and I always wanted to keep to myself or to my couple friends.

If I was put into a situation that made me anxious, I would cry. At 6 years old I couldn’t explain why I cried so often in school. Saying, “I cried because I didn’t like how everyone was looking at me when the teacher made me stand in front of the class.” never crossed my mind. Also if I said it, I’m not sure anybody would have understood what I really meant.

I remember taking a quiz or I was doing a worksheet in first grade. For some reason it made me upset, maybe I didn’t understand how to complete the sheet, I don’t know. Whatever triggered me made me cry which inspired the girl across from me to announce to the whole class that I was crying. My nightmare of everybody looking at me became a reality which made me cry even more.

When I reflect on being little, I so often think about the struggles that went on in my own head. I try to think about the fun things like my brother and I playing with our Crazy Daisy, going to the beach, eating ice cream and playing Pokemon Blue Version on my Gameboy Color.

I found childhood to be difficult and I think a lot of it has to do with my mental illness. Reflecting as an adult I would describe myself as being uncomfortable in my own skin. I always felt like I was in an itchy sweater that I wished I could take off so I could be anybody else but me.

I think that constant awkwardness was a result of anxiety and depression, two words I didn’t know until I was a teenager.

My awkwardness has decreased as I’ve grown but only in the last couple years have I felt comfortable in my skin. It’s been one long road to accepting myself for who I am.

Fellow Bipolar Writer readers and writers, did you have signs of mental illness as a child? If so, did you understand what was going on in your mind? Did adults around you see that you were struggling?

Celebrating My Son’s Big Step with You

When we try to move beyond something that haunts or hurts us an overnight remedy is simply unrealistic. I know this to be true yet I still search for that quick fix. Time and time again I find there are rarely easy answers. Lessons come with trial and error, as well as age. I guess it’s true: with age comes wisdom.

I recently contributed a post on The Bipolar Writer explaining how my son was suffering from his first panic attack and how anxiety was crippling his desire to go to school or play on his soccer team. It hit us like a ton of bricks. He was normally a bright, happy six-year-old who had no issues going to school. Then he melted down. He physically curled into a ball and cried, telling me “I don’t want to feel this way.” It was heartbreaking. Hearing these words from him stabbed me so deeply. You see, I have said that very verse and felt it inside of me most of my life.

There are common things that cause the general population to be anxious. Maybe it’s the dentist, talking in front of people, going through security at the airport, a job interview. These are all normal stressful situations, though for those of us with anxiety that ball of stress blossoms into a beast that shreds our confidence and turns our body into scrambled eggs. My son has a new teacher who is stricter than his teacher last year. None of his friends from last year followed him to his new class. He was feeling alone, nervous, and scared. After a solid three weeks of tears and fighting me in the morning, his outbursts started to subside.

I never forced him on the bus; I drove him to school for a month. The last week I drove him he seemed cheerier, and I knew it was time for him to get back on the bus. This Monday he did it! He was eager to go to soccer again, and he has not been tearful or combative about attending school. He’s back! Here is what I learned from this:

  • Again, there is no overnight remedied. Patience got us through this.
  • We talked about it every day so he could feel heard and know the door is open to explore his feelings in a safe place.
  • The school and library provided us with books we could read WITH him. One particular I enjoyed is The Anxiety and Phobia Workbook, by Edmund Bourne. It has easy to read content and some activities you can do with your child.
  • I strongly encouraged him but did not push participation in We would sit on the sideline until he was ready to play. I also found Ninja Warrior Training, after one session to test it out, he loved it. I signed him up to get him around peers more.
  • I set up play dates with kids in his school. It helped him connect with a buddy at lunch and recess. Both times in the day he was struggling with socially.
  • Most important! I reached out to his teachers and school counselor as soon as I knew this was a real issue. His teachers became aware of his distress, they worked with him, and we are in constant contact. The counselor also pulled my son into a social group that helps kids learn social cues and proper behavior. The small group work seems to appeal to him.

Sometimes the smallest steps take the most effort. My son rode the bus! Can I celebrate that with you all for a minute?! He got back on the bus with all the noise, jumpy kids, and cranky old bus driver for a three-minute ride to school. He did it without resisting or showing fear or panic. I hope we have turned a corner, but I’m realistic. The lessons we have learned here will stay in a nearby toolbox. We are still working through the workbook with him because I think we need to finish. It will teach him what to do next time he feels “sad” or “nervous” and it teaches us how to talk to him.

What about me? Did my son’s anxiety affect me? Absolutely. I felt powerless and scared. I was hiding my face so he wouldn’t see me cry. I don’t want my anxiety to be projected on him or to know that he has inherited this awful thing from me. My husband and I are in constant communication about this, and when I started to feel anxiety swallowing me along with my son, I pulled myself out. I did this by revisiting some helpful tools I have picked up along the way which include self-therapy through writing, talking to my therapist, honing in on my mantras, staying healthy (food and activity), and reminding myself that this is not the new norm. We will all be okay, and we will all get thru this.

Post brought to you by Fingers to Sky. Today I raise my thumbs to say, “we are okay.”

Photo by Marius Ott on Unsplash