Let Talk About Mental Health – More Specifically, Anxiety.
Anxiety is a mental health disorder that I have been struggling with for most of my life, and sadly, it’s not something that I fully understood until more recently.
Last week, I wrote a blog post about the importance of surrounding yourself with the right people, and I related it to an experience I had early in my childhood (read the full post here). After writing the post, I was thinking about it, and it’s possible that this particular experience might have contributed to my development of anxiety early in life.
When I was in elementary school, I was “randomly” placed into a 1st grade class that was full of problem children. (I say “randomly,” because I believe I was actually placed here strategically after having been identified as a student with a developmental delay. I believe they pegged me as someone who was likely to become a problem causing child because of said developmental delay).
The teacher of this class was a real tough guy, sort of militant in a way. He often came up with creative punishments to straighten us up. Most notably, forcing us to walk in a straight line around the playground during the first several minutes of recess while we watched the students from other classes play; and all because a handful of my classmates were seemingly incapable of walking in a straight line.
I was always a good kid. Quiet, well behaved, very polite. I listened to my teachers, followed the rules, and did what I was told. But no matter how good I was, there was nothing I could do to avoid being punished. I had no control over what was happening to me, and it was all because of the people I was surrounded by (or as I believe, the people my educators thought I was most likely to be like). That’s a lot of stress for a 6 year old to handle!
Doesn’t This Sound Like a Recipe for Anxiety?
I mean, what are some of the symptoms of anxiety ( I mean besides over thinking everything, fixating on worst case scenarios, and being mostly incapable of living in the moment)? Often times we avoid situations that we feel we won’t be able to control. Situations where we feel we may be vulnerable, or in some sort of “danger.” And when we are put in those types of situations, we completely lose our shit.
Doesn’t it sound like my experiences in the 1st grade could have catered to those symptoms? I was literally in a situation I had no control over. I was subjected to punishments for crimes I didn’t commit. It was a highly stressful situation for me, and I’m almost 100% certain that it started me down the path of anxiety.
When I was in first grade, I picked up a habit that has stuck with me my entire life: chewing my nails. My first coping mechanism I suppose.
When I was in 4th grade, I started showing other symptoms of anxiety, including extreme reactions to certain situations. Homework was a huge trigger for me, particularly math, because it was so damn hard. I can remember having full blown anxiety attacks over just the idea of math homework (before I even started working on it) on several occasions. To this day, I have extreme anxiety about doing things that could “get me in trouble,” even though I’m a grown ass adult, and making mistakes at work is a huge trigger for me.
As I got older, I became more quiet, reserved, and unsure of myself. As my anxious reactions began to spread throughout other areas of my life, my family members fondly came to think of me as a drama queen. And so did I. I resented it, but I felt that it was true.
It wasn’t until much later in life that I even realized I had anxiety, and that’s kind of sad to me. I’ve had to go through most of my life managing an invisible illness that I didn’t even know I had!
Even now, I struggle with accepting it sometime, and in many cases, after I come down off of an anxious episode, my first inclination is to think, gosh you’re such a drama queen, Alex. Get it together.
Even though I’m aware that in a moment of anxiety, I have little to no control over what’s happening in my brain, when it’s over and my brain goes back to normal, I think, Jesus, what is wrong with me? And that’s kind of not fair.
Managing My Anxiety
As the one person who can understand exactly what it’s like to be me and to have my anxiety, don’t I owe it to myself to be kinder, gentler, and more understanding? I’m tired of always being so tough on myself. When I was a kid, this shit happened to me, and I had no control over it. Isn’t it only natural that I should feel a strong need to protect myself? That my brain developed anxiety as a means of helping me avoid ever being in a situation like that again?
Maybe it’s a little extreme, but I’m sure that because I was unaware of my anxiety for so long, there have been plenty of things in my life that have continued to contributed to the developing/worsening of my symptoms. But, as I do the necessary work to become familiar with my triggers, and learn new coping mechanisms, I believe I can slowly start to get better.
So, I’m going to work on being kinder to myself, paying closer attention to what my triggers are, and surrounding myself with people, places and situations that make me my best self. Because lest be honest, the last thing I need is more unnecessary punishment, am I right?