Story time – Anxiety is not a made up construct.

I’ve had anxiety since long before I ever knew what it was. I remember being a teen and pre-teen and suffering from full blown panic attacks for reasons I couldn’t even understand. My brain was convinced there was going to be an earthquake and that I’d die in my sleep. Or I’d be at school and was convinced that there would be a mercury spill in the science lab and we’d become violently ill.

Nothing made sense, but I had these fears and if I ever told anyone about them they’d laugh, or tell me I was being dramatic or tell me to not worry about it.

I have very distinct memories of sitting in a ball in the corner of dark classrooms to wait out my panic attacks while at school. I think the first full-blown panic attack I ever had was in fourth grade. And I continued to have them all throughout elementary and high school. I didn’t know they were panic attacks at the time, but I knew I couldn’t be around people. At home, I would go for hours, days (if allowed) on end without even leaving my room. I was afraid of going for a walk and someone trying to kidnap me. It really didn’t matter where I was, I was always on high alert. I could walk into a room and would scan for exits, memorize faces, know what I could use to protect myself. I was anxious. I was always anxious.

In my mind, something was going to go wrong. Always. I was on high alert and prepared for the next disaster to happen.

Another side effect of my anxiety, that I didn’t realize at the time (probably due to my lack of knowledge about anxiety) was sleep. My parents used to yell and scream and me that I needed to go to sleep. They thought I was purposefully laying awake until 2 or 3 or even 4 in the morning just to be a troublesome child. I didn’t want to lay awake worrying. That’s just what happened. Any time I told anyone what was really happening they’d laugh it off or just tell me to not worry anymore.

Because clearly, the solution was that simple.

There was one point, I do recall, going to the doctor for annual check-ups, my mother told the Doctor that I was not sleeping. The Doctor told my mother that I was either acting out, or that I was consuming too much sugar/caffeine. As a fifth grader, I wasn’t consuming caffeine. So in her mind, the problem was sugar. She didn’t let me have sugar for MONTHS! It was probably close to a year. She’d specifically take my siblings and I out for ice cream and tell me that I wasn’t allowed any treats until I proved to her that I was willing to sleep when it was bed time. As you can imagine, this made fifth grade me extremely angry. She was treating it like it was something I could control. And, when I didn’t have any sugar in my life and I still couldn’t sleep at night, she’d convinced herself that I was sneaking sugar and lying to her about it.

During the few hours a night that I actually did sleep, I was grinding my teeth in my sleep. Every time I went to the dentist he’d tell me I was ruining my teeth. He convinced my parents, on three separate occasions, to get expensive ($500 or more) mouth guards for me to wear when I slept. They never worked. They fell out, or they’d break, or they just caused me to struggle even more so with my sleep. I was asleep and grinding my teeth. I couldn’t control it.

Many a conversation were had in which my parents discussed there frustrations with me not properly wearing my $500 mouth guard so the teeth grinding woke them up. They were both angry that I was ruining my teeth and felt as though they couldn’t wake me up because I slept so little.

All of this… and I mean ALL OF THIS was symptoms of my anxiety. My parents, while good people for the most part, openly acknowledge that they believe anxiety and depression are a made up construct.

I moved away from home. I went to University, got a job, built a life for myself and, for almost a decade, things were really good. I learned what anxiety was, as per my own research, and learned how I could cope with it on my own. I found great friends, and I was managing the anxiety I had, after finally learning what it was. I got into a good sleep rhythm and, the teeth grinding stopped.

Last year, when everything fell apart the anxiety and panic attacks hit me like a ton of bricks. I was experiencing it in ways that I hadn’t since I was a teenager. Knight and I came to see my mom right after her second surgery and I remember her telling me she could hear me grinding my teeth so loudly that it woke her up.

I sought out medication to help me cope with the sheer weight I was carrying in my brain and I cannot tell you what a difference it made in my life. No one in my family knows that I take this medication. My family frowns on medications of any sort. And, since they believe that mental illness is a made up construct, it just didn’t make sense to try and pick a fight with them about it. I wish I could tell them. But, maybe it’s just something for me to teach the next generation about.

I think it’s so important to note that that mental illness is not a made up construct. I also think it’s extremely important to acknowledge that mental illness does discriminate based on age. When I hear people say ‘No she’s too young for that’ or ‘No, he’s way too young to experience that’, there’s a little voice screaming in my brain ‘YOU’RE WRONG, YOU’RE NAIVE, DO BETTER’.

Who knows what would have happened had I known what anxiety was when it started affecting me. I could have found/gotten help and learned how to cope ten years before I actually did.

I think it’s so important to talk about the subject of mental health and well being with kids. I would never look at a kid and think ‘No, they’re too young’. I look at kids and think ‘Perhaps we could help them thrive a lot more as humans if we have these difficult discussions rather than avoiding them’.

If I had a dollar for every time I’ve heard someone tell me they’ve had anxiety since before they knew what it was, I’d be rich. I’d be a fucking millionaire.

My only hope is that the present generation of kids, the kids of Millennials and Gen Xers, are being taught about this because their parents can speak from experience.

The doctor was convinced that I was consuming too much sugar. The dentist was convinced that I needed a $500 plastic mold to stop me from moving my teeth in my sleep. A teacher who saw me having a panic attack in his classroom just told me that I needed to ‘man up’. My parents were convinced I was just trying to be a troublesome child.

And all I really needed was someone to teach me what anxiety was.

75 thoughts on “Story time – Anxiety is not a made up construct.

  1. Ironically, many mental illnesses also have to do with genetics. By acknowledging there was something different (not wrong) with you, they may have had to look in the mirror.
    I, too, have hope for people. And then I think of the anti-vaxxers, and the people with a solid “that’ll never happen to me” mentality and my hope gets tempered.
    We all have opinions, but sometimes people have the wrong opinion, regardless of how much you try to educate or explain to them.

    At least you’re getting the opportunity to understand and better help yourself and can help those who need it.

    Liked by 6 people

    1. Yeah. I’ve mentioned before that I’m pretty certain my dad suffers from anxiety but will not, under any circumstances admit to it. I’ve seen some behaviours and actions in him though, I think when he looks in the mirror, he likely knows exactly what it is. I do think it could be genetic.

      This world is such a je ne sais quoi sometimes.

      Liked by 1 person

    2. “By acknowledging there was something different (not wrong) with you, they may have had to look in the mirror.”

      I’ve heard/seen this said a lot, but it’s a totally foreign and unrelatable concept! I find it hard to believe anybody would put that kind of egocentric viewpoint before doing the best for their child. Nevertheless, I know it does happen some times. I think a lot of cases come down to a of lack of knowledge, open-mindedness and curiosity. Those last two alone can result in such damaging actions.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Ideally, I would like to agree. But the world is a strange and dark place sometimes.
        Alternatively, there could be a denial that there’s anything wrong with the children because they’re expected to be perfect or are “too good for that to happen”. Part of the “This can’t happen to me” mindset. Just spitballing here, I’m sure there’s numerous other reasons kids get neglected.

        All in all, pretty sad, but it happens.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. I wholeheartedly believe, even to this day, that my dad won’t admit to anxiety because he doesn’t want to deal with it. I’ve seen it in his behaviour. He’s never confirmed it, but he exhibits much of the same behaviours I’ve been through with anxiety from time to time.

        Liked by 1 person

      3. Urgh. I don’t relate to not wanting to solve these issues. Surely not solving them is worse and more painful πŸ€·β€β™‚οΈ. I see the same in my family, too. I have one uncle who told me in 2018 that he suffered with severe OCD and does now better after treatment, and sees it in his son, too. That’s it, but that was very helpful information.

        Liked by 1 person

      4. Yeah. I have a related thought about it oftenβ€” it’s hard to draw the line, isn’t it? Once you make anxiety etc. a more openly-discussed thing, do people run the risk of complaining about too many things?

        I’ve been listening to an autism podcast, and sometimes they talk about endless accommodations that employers must be willing to make, but without consideration of where the limit isβ€” and there is obviously a limit. (For me, too many ‘accommodations’ is a sign it’s not the right job).

        Sometimes I hate that I write about things that at other times, in other moods aren’t issues at all. It makes me feel guilty and judge myself. I never want to be a first-world person complaining about first-world problems for the sake of it, if you see what I mean?

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  2. Hugs, dear Vee. Anxiety is such a part of my being I didn’t even realize I had it until recently. I’ve been suffering from bouts of depression since I was 7. You were a child. It was your parent’s responsibility to look after you and pursue until they found a reason and relief for your problem. Im not saying your parents are bad people, but they failed you. My parents were not bad people, and they failed me. Congrats for fighting for yourself and spreading the word to help others. I know you are having a relapse at the moment, and I hope you have Knight and your support network. I’m glad you have meds. They do help. You will go into remission again.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. It’s hard to hear that people go through similar things and that none of us knew. I’m sorry for what you went through and I’m sorry that your parents weren’t there for you when you needed it. I think it’ll serve as a really good reminder to make sure no kid in our life – be it our own child or niece or nephew, etc… gets treated as though they should just ‘man up’ or ‘be happy’. I think we can do a lot better as a society.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I’m so glad I encouraged my sons to learn about all mental illnesses, CBT, therapy etc. When they first went to uni some years ago, they both started to get panic attacks and were easily encouraged to see a doctor. They’re in their thirties now and they’ve both seen counsellors over the years and would go back whenever they need to. They’ve also encouraged their girlfriends to go to counselling when they had anxiety and panic attacks.

    They’re a great role model for all the younger boys in the family, they talk about mental illness and how to get help. All the other kids looked up to them and went “What? You had to see a counsellor – whoa – not you!” But the boys said yes, why not? It could happen to anyone.

    I think all kids should be taught about mental illness.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. You sound like a really great mom and, because of it, they sound like they’ve grown up to be really great guys. It’s such a gift, such a wonderful gift, to have a partner who helps you and encourages you and doesn’t stigmatize you for your anxiety. Knight does that for me and I know how much I appreciate it, so those kids of yours sound like they’re giving a great gift to others thanks to your encouragement. Thank you for passing that on to them ❀

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Thank you V. I sometimes think that we are these people becasue of our backgrounds and we want to do it differently. Not that I’m blaming my mum or families back in the late 60-70’s, they only did what they knew. But it taught me how not to bring my kids up rather than teaching me how to do it lol. If that makes sense.

        And I can tell that, if you choose to have children, you too will be a great parent πŸ™‚

        Liked by 1 person

    1. Okay, yeah. I guess I got lucky there. I do have relatively straight teeth, naturally. So I got off easy with the night guard that didn’t really work.

      Jaw surgery does not sound pleasant.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. TMJ fucked up jaw over the years. Despite my straight teeth, I now need jaw surgery. My parents didn’t think that an orthodontist was necessary so I’m paying my personal life savings for dental correction πŸ™„

        Liked by 1 person

  4. “My parents were convinced I was just trying to be a troublesome child.”

    β€”Oh man, me too! And I’ll never understand that viewpoint. Same with two of my siblings. They’ll always believe that now, especially my parents, because I know no amount of education will truly change what they’ve decided to believe. Every complaint I hadβ€” like sensitivity to noiseβ€” came down to me just trying to ‘control’ them, apparently. To what end? I have absolutely no idea!

    That was difficult to read about your childhood experiences with anxiety. The ending sentence really summarises how tragic it was. πŸ’™

    Liked by 2 people

      1. They’re just not capable, fundamentally, besides that though. They lack the level of empathy required to begin with. That plus the rigidity is a nightmare xD. But it doesn’t matter now, because I’m not so dependent on them, and I’ve got people who DO understand it πŸ™‚.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Just got to say, though, I couldn’t begin to describe the horror of situations I’ve been in with them, in terms of the amount of emotional trauma.

        Liked by 1 person

  5. Wow, I didn’t know there were people out there who are that stubborn. I’ve had problems with anxiety ever since I was three, but it took a psychology course in university to even know what it was. It’s much better now (after a couple of years of psychodynamic therapy) but there are still some triggers. Sorry to hear your parents weren’t understanding, but congrats for being your own mental health coach–I think that’s the most important. Great post.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. It’s nice to hear a story of someone taking control into their own hands. I’m sorry that you’ve known what anxiety has been like your whole life and it took until University to be able to figure that out. That really breaks my heart hearing that happens. It’s just… we need to talk about it more. We really need to talk about it.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. We are currently finding our way with our eldest – she is getting help, and has medication – but it’s still hard. While she’s making tiny steps forwards, she can see her peer group making huge leaps, and it’s killing her.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. It’s a difficult demon to get a-hold of. And honestly, it takes a while. It sounds like you’re a pretty good parent though, if you’re willing to help. She’ll get there. It just takes time.

      Like

  7. Vee, you were and are living through pure hell.
    Your panic attacks are far worse than even the ones I have.
    I am glad you are sharing your story because you are correct we need to start having these conversations with the generation that is up and coming.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I think it’s a good thing for us to be more open about – where we’re coming from, what the inside of our brains are like. Every time we share the stigma loosens.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. That was an awesome read! Thank you for sharing your experiences. I’m passing this on to my youngest daughter who has intense anxiety & attacks… AND who can’t take meds. I think it’s great for people to know they’re not alone in things. Again, thank you.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. She is definitely not alone. There are tips, tricks and tools out there to help her, and your willingness to share with her shows that you’re a really great parent. Thank you for looking out for her.

      Like

  9. My daughter had high anxiety and self-esteem issues. My husband wouldn’t believe that anything was wrong with her. So, I did my best to get her counseling and help whenever I could. To this day, we are close. However, she still has issues at the age of 25 but not like she used to. My heart broke for her all through middle school and high school. I tried to be there for her and I think she is grateful for that.

    Thank you for sharing your personal story about mental illness. I feel bad that you went through all that growing up.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. She likely will be dealing with it for the rest of her life. It’ll calm down in time, as life gets better as things get better, but it’ll always be there in the back of her mind.

      It sounds like you’re a really good mom though. It sounds like she’s very lucky to have you. And hopefully, she’s a lot more confident in herself because of you.

      Like

    1. Thank you for reading ❀
      I think, especially when it comes to kids, it's really easy to see past what's going on and chalk it up to 'ohhh tooo much sugar' or stupid things like that. People do it all the time, because no one wants to believe there's anything wrong with their kid so their brains don't even go there.

      Liked by 1 person

  10. Coincidentally, I will be writing a post about my family’s belief that depression/bipolar/psychosis/anxiety are all things that you can just “get over.”

    The lack of compassion relating to mental and emotional diagnoses is staggering, especially when our own families are one of the biggest problems. I wish you the best of luck and know that there are plenty of adults out here who do believe you. Of course, I am a Gen-Xer, so I’ve lived with these problems myself and have dealt with self-harm concerning both of my daughters. It is a tough world, we have to bond together and seek answers and change.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. You’re so right. It’s a tough world and we need to work together to make sure we all get through it with our best state of mind and well being. Sounds like you’re very self-aware, and aware in general, though. Your kids are very lucky to have you.

      Like

  11. I feel this post so much. A month into high school, my parents moved me to a new school in a new city, and that’s when my anxiety started to come out. A counsellor actually mentioned to me that me curling up in a ball in the bathroom at lunch and shaking uncontrollably was most likely a sign of anxiety, and I felt so much better knowing that there was some sort of name for what was happening to me. When they told my mother this, though, she flipped out in the main office in front of at least a dozen students and some teachers. Went on about how her child wasns’t a freak or a mental case, and they had no right trying to ruin my future for me by telling me that there was something wrong with me.
    I hid my anxiety from my family for close to a decade after that. It wasn’t until I quit my job, moved in with some friends, and went back to university that I sought help. I went through years of counselling at school to help me deal with both anxiety and low-grade depression, without the support of my family. I saw the same pattern start with my kid brother, to the point that when his counsellor sent home a questionnaire for my parents to fill out about his mental state at home, they lied and said he was perfectly fine at home and just looking for attention and scholarships with a mental health diagnosis.
    Ironically, my parents became fine with my brother’s diagnosis after he moved back home and they witnessed a full-blown panic attack. With me, however, they still keep telling me to “just breath” or “don’t let your mind get ahead of you” or “quit looking for the worst outcome”.
    Things got better with my family for my brother concerning his mental health. Hopefully, they do for you too.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. It sounds like there was quite a double standard with your parents with respect to what you and your brother have been through. That’s frustrating to hear. No child should be treated like they’re not good enough for going through something that so many people go through. Your mother throwing a tantrum like that is the kind of thing that really makes people feel like they’re in the wrong for what they’re suffering with and I hate it. I’m sorry for what you’ve been through, but I am glad to hear that you sought help and found coping mechanisms for yourself. You deserve the very best and if they weren’t going to help you, at least you could help yourself! Thank you for sharing your story with me ❀

      Like

  12. There’s so many similarities between my own struggles with anxiety it’s scary. I didn’t even know what it was until I was four years ago. I’m still having to battle my family with some things (meds especially, though in my case they like to blame everything that’s ‘wrong’ as a side effect of my meds). I really hope your family comes around and I’m glad you found ways to cope.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I’m sorry that you’ve been through anything similar. I really am. It’s such a hard subject to talk about but it’s so damn important. I hope that you have people in your life that you can talk about it with.

      Liked by 1 person

  13. Thank God the subject of mental health is more openly discussed today. I know what it’s like to have panic attacks and anxiety and my 19yo son also suffered for years from generalised anxiety. I’m so glad I was able to help him. Wish your parents had been more supportive and understanding but you know better now. They don’t need to know you’re on any medication. You do what’s right for you V.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. It was. I think it’s so important for parents to talk about these things with kids. For teachers to talk about these things with kids. For aunts and uncles and grandmas and grandpas. At least, when we’re adult, we have the experience to know… a kid who doesn’t know what’s happening to them, we need to help them know!

      Liked by 2 people

  14. This is so so so important as adults we find it difficult to identify and accept mental illness, so how much harder must it be for children?
    It’s sad how adults will only associate mental illness with children if they have gone through trauma but growing up isn’t easy just as growing old isn’t easy for adults.
    Thank you for sharing your brave story. I hope it brings awareness and children are viewed with more understanding.
    Reflect. Love. Heal.
    xXx

    Liked by 2 people

    1. My hope is that, as my parents get older, they feel more open to talk to me about their fears and worries. I want to help them. I’m certain it can’t be easy. Really, I know my post talks about anxiety’s affect on kids (my experience), but really I’m certain it affects a lot of seniors too. And my parents are officially seniors now.

      Liked by 1 person

  15. I too had it before I knew what it was. I was very scared. I wasn’t as young as you when the harsh part started, but social phobia and irrational worries were by my side always. My parents and I thought it was high blood pressure problems…until once, I was 18-19 when I had a horrible night attack, everything was pulsating and they called an ambulance. Thank God the doctor recognized the symptoms. He dodn’t say Anxiety, so I still didn’t know, but he said it was from the nerves and put me on pills. Another decade had to pass before I realized on my own, having read about it, that I had Anxiety disorder. I was relieved I was not going to die, but the struggle to arrange my life around this condition and without pills, was just beginning.

    I so get you on the Not understanding part. I am sometimes mean and wish it on people, who say it is imaginary, so that they experience it if they cannot understand it in another way.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I’m sorry that you went through it and you didn’t even get to know what you were going through. It’s easy for people to think something doesn’t exist when they don’t experience it. And that harms a lot of people.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Actually I am sorry more, because you were a kid and it must have been terrifying!
        As a kid I just thought I was painfully shy. My worse symptoms appeared later.
        I am just happy we are not alone in this ❀ and we can support each other with fellow anxiety sufferers through stories and cope mechanisms. Not everything works for everyone, but it gives one a chance to try things one hasn’t thought about πŸ™

        Like

  16. And learn how to communicate your fears! Keeping them to yourself is exacerbating your anxiety.
    Your doctor, your dentist and your teachers do not know you, you know you and you need to communicate the truth of who you are to your parents. You will learn how to do it when the time is right. Anxiety is not made up but often self inflicted πŸ’š

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I disagree.
      Anxiety is not self-inflicted.
      Not everyone gets a supportive family. And that’s okay. We make our friends into family and they can help us where our family tells us we need to get over it, or that we’re being dramatic, or that it just doesn’t matter. I think that’s why friends are so important. Not everyone gets a family that supports them.

      Liked by 1 person

  17. Fellow anxiety gal here. I’m so sorry this happened to you. I can’t imagine what I would’ve done without the supports I had as a child/teen and that I still have now. It was hard, don’t get me wrong, and I still have my days, but having no one to turn to sounds awful. Thank you for sharing.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you for reading, and for sharing your own story. It’s nice to know that people are given the support systems needed to deal and cope. I hope that happens more and more with time.

      Liked by 1 person

  18. I’m so sorry V that your family is uninformed and pushing the stigma of mental illness along. I have told you that I too had lived with extreme anxiety for most of my life. My body felt like it ran on a motor. I was on psychiatric medication for 15 yrs. Now after 10 yrs of intensive therapy and choosing a more holistic approach ,I feel a complete shift has occurred. It’s amazing really what community support can do. I taught myself and healed myself.
    I wish you nothing but peace and a way through your situation to a better outcome. My family was a huge part of creating more trauma and dysfunction in my world. Behavioral therapy, boundaries and balance are my tools in dealing. Keep moving forward my friend😊

    Liked by 2 people

    1. It’s amazing what you can do with the right support system around you. I hope everyone gets/finds a good support system in their lives. Honestly.

      And thank you for this kind and thoughtful comment ❀

      Liked by 1 person

  19. Thank you for sharing this. It’s so true that when I look back at my childhood there are so many signs of things I struggled with now. And that it wasn’t dealt with or handled properly but now it helps me to help others- especially young women to identify things they are going through. It’s funny how things work. But loved your vulnerability in this post ✨

    Liked by 2 people

    1. It’s crazy how much you can reflect on when you’re adult – things you’d wish you known when you were a kid – a way to help yourself a way to make things better, easier.

      Liked by 1 person

  20. It was interesting reading this in the waiting area to see someone about medication for the first time in my life. Of course I also only had a few hours of sleep worrying about the appointment for some reason.

    It seems our generation is at the forefront to some grand crusade to take mental health issues seriously. It’s a great thing too; I’m trying to be very open and accepting of the fact that I needed to talk to someone, and not be ashamed of it. We need to fundamentally change society and I think we’re on the right track.

    Liked by 1 person

  21. This is something I’m aiming to change with my children. I want them to see that I struggle with this and how I’m learning to cope and that will (hopefully) teach them that it is common and nothing to be ashamed of. Feelings just weren’t talked about in my home growing up and I’m determined to break that cycle.

    Liked by 1 person

  22. This goes not only in school, but at work too. In the corporate world, if you can’t work properly because you’re either having anxiety or panic attack, this means you’re lazy and making up stories. This is why I chose to give up my corporate work and start over again. I hope more people are aware how important mental illness is. πŸ˜”

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  23. I can relate. I have suffered from anxiety and OCD since I was 11 or 12, and my parents brushed my symptoms off and thought that I would grow out of it. I only found help and medication in my late twenties, and it has made such a big difference in my life. Parents and teachers should be educated on the symptoms of anxiety (or other mental health issues) in children, and how it can best be treated.

    Like

  24. I also struggle with this with family members! I always get accused of being overdramatic and it’s absolutely infuriating.

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