NutNav is your platform to share your experiences and ideas around mental health.
This post came in from Emma Hammond, one of our supporters. Thank you for Emma for sharing 🙂
Anxiety & Depression can be a very lonely place and I don’t think anyone takes any solace in the fact that they’re not the only ones suffering at the hands of these debilitating illnesses.
That said I do believe that if people can share their own experiences we can learn from one another and parts of what someone else may be feeling, will resonate.
Unlike the person you may have found yourself sat in a room with, explaining why anxiety and depression happens. I want to tell you my story and to reassure you that that it’s not a choice to suffer with these illnesses, ‘Anxiety’ & Depression’ don’t have a selection box and choose who their next victim is, just as much as you can’t control when and to whom it’s going to happen to.
We all know that Anxiety and depression fuel each other, sometimes one can be without the other.
Firstly I want to tell you about how I’ve come to realise that childhood experiences, play a huge part on your mental health going forward as an adult.
I’m 38yrs old and I’ve suffered with GAD (Generalised Anxiety Disorder) since I was 4yrs old. I came into this world 7 weeks premature and back then, that was a huge deal. As I was so small, the Hospital decided that I shouldn’t have any vaccinations until I had grown more and to perhaps have the vaccinations when I was three or just before starting school. At 24 months old, I caught whooping cough from a family friends child, they had of course been vaccinated but I hadn’t. The reason this is important is because I can remember the whole of my childhood, starting with this very illness.
Every time I coughed, I’d stop breathing, I vividly remember my Grandfather peering over my cot, accompanied by my Mother, who would immediately pick me up and rub my chest and slap me on my back to get me breathing again; the sight of blood splattered patterns on the cotton linen forever etched on my mind, although then I wasn’t sure what it was. The last time I have a memory of being ill with whooping cough was when I was stood in the front room of my Grandparents (this is where my mum and elder sister and I lived until I was 8yrs old)
I was in my Pajamas and stood watching my family, everything went completely silent for moments, before I saw the horrified look upon my mums face, all of a sudden time sped up and I remember my mum screaming “she turning blue, look, look, she can’t breathe!”
In those days an ambulance could take up to an hour, so I have the memory of being in a car, face down and looking down upon a gear stick, I could hear my mums voice in between painful thudding between my shoulder blades. That was our family doctor fighting to keep me breathing as he drove
with me laid across his lap.
I know what you’re thinking – ‘she knows the reason why she is like she is…” and I would say it doesn’t matter about the WHY it matters about if you ever realise that this is one of the many reasons you suffer the way you do. . . The trauma that I remember had put me at a disadvantage, I felt emotions of fear and confusion but was that all it was, no- is that why I have phobias? No?
Anxiety, social fears, phobias also stem from childhood, however not always the case but in my case I was just 4yrs old when I suffered my first panic attack and had it been addressed then, I probably wouldn’t have GAD (General Anxiety Disorder) and my life would have been less of a struggle.
I am of a strong belief that children need to be brought up in an environment where it is acceptable to show emotion, especially for boys. The mind of a youngster is that of a sponge, so whilst kids are quick to learn to read, write etc they are also very quick to learn to learn fear, concern, worries from others and most children have literal minds.
As an example:
There was no male role model in my life, my Dad had left before I was born. I didn’t know any different, therefore I don’t think it was detrimental, however it did mean that I naturally formed a bond with my Grandad and looked up to him. I had such an amazing bond with both my Grandparents.
One afternoon my Nan was bleaching the toilets, I never really liked the smell of bleach and she’d always announce “I’m bleaching the toilets”, she did this, like she’d done many times before, however on a particular occasion my Grandad turned to me and said “You know, bleach is extremely dangerous, I want you never to touch the bleach or swallow it as it can kill you”.
Before this, it had never occurred to me, I was probably around 3 and a half years old and knew not to touch chemicals, but because my Grandad had said this in such a serious manner and whilst he was trying to protect me, it changed my behavior. My Nan would leave the bleach bottle half way up the stairs, so when she went upstairs it would remind her to take the bottle up to do the en-suite and up stairs bathroom.
I would stand at the foot of their stairs, trying desperately not to look at the bottle, I wanted to go upstairs but I was scared, petrified, my heart thumping and feeling weak, so I avoided going up the stairs and if I really had to go up the stairs I would look the other way pinch my nose and hum with my mouth closed and then obsess for hours as to whether somehow a drop of bleach may have entered my body and If I was going to die.
Ridiculous, right? Not for a child… the narrative has to be right, I know my Grandad didn’t mean to scare me and that he just didn’t want to see any harm come to me, he loved me , just as much as I adored him. All of these events led to my first panic attack at 4 and each attack led to something else.
I wasn’t feeling well, I was recovering from a chest infection and I remember being In a shop, I felt dizzy, hot, sick, I couldn’t breathe, I felt like I couldn’t breathe and literally told my mum “I can’t breathe, I can’t breathe help me!” (Looking back I could breathe otherwise I wouldn’t have been able to speak- but the words I used sound similar, don’t they?) I ended up fainting- but instead of my brain being rational, it took an irrational stance and so that shop or any shop I went in sent my subconscious mind into overdrive! Complete alert mode and instinctively telling me it was not a safe place to be.
This has taken me years to figure out and sometimes there isn’t always an obvious answer and there doesn’t always have to be huge trauma, it’s how it is dealt with at the time, I didn’t know this was why and it would be unfair for me to assume my mother knew, because I wasn’t old enough to articulate these feelings.
So at four, I’m scared of bleach, and every other chemical, any tablets (as my mum had mistakenly taken one of my Nan’s angina tablets), chewing gum (as if I swallowed it by mistake it could get lodged in my windpipe), eating out because that would be a shop and it felt like I couldn’t swallow my own saliva let alone food, any shop, school, anywhere away from home and I’d panic.
It is a slippery slope when you’re a child, one thing leads to another and before you know it – you’re scared of almost everything. If I had, had help from an earlier age – I may not have suffered in the way that I have.
I don’t need to tell you how a panic attack feels, I have suffered with Generalised Anxiety Disorder for many years. Do I think medication is always necessary, no.
I had my first nervous break down when I was 17, I needed medication, I wasn’t depressed- I was tired of fighting all the time and I was physically and mentally drained.
I have suffered with depression and still do to a certain extent, but again this has been exacerbated by environmental stressors, living with an abusive step father and then partner of 24yrs is going to take its toll.
We cannot unlearn to ride a bike nor forget how to swim, it’s the same with our brain, our neurological pathways, but we can start to create new pathways and adapt to new ways of thinking. We can choose to seek help and if you are reading this on behalf of someone who is suffering, don’t be impatient with them, you may not understand how they feel, but you can continually encourage and support them.
If you are reading this for you and you feel that you’re never going to get better, you will, it won’t ever be as quickly as you want it to be, but if you’re kind to yourself, surround yourself with good people and use all the services available to you, then you’re already half way there.
If you are a parent and worried about your child, if you notice any unusual behaviour try to talk to them about what’s troubling them, but don’t obsess about it or get upset in front of your child – do something about it. I speak as child that suffered and a mother that will not make the same mistakes, please stop telling yourself that “kids are resilient” that’s a nonsensical approach, all children are different, we are all unique, be careful of the narrative that takes place in the home and remove all toxic people from your life.
Every day you are winning in life, because you continue to try, my favourite quote and what I shall leave you with is –
‘Do not see yourself as weak, you’re not weak, you’ve just tried to remain strong for too long’