Monday, December 24, 2012

Anxiety as a child

Today, I'm addressing the issue of anxiety as a child.  I know I've had it my whole life, but it's manifested in many different ways.  Later, I'll be discussing self-medication in my twenties, but today, we go back a little further.

On the cusp of 2013, 8.5 short months away from my 30th birthday, I think back to my childhood.  I will never stand up and say that my parents were horrible and neglectful of us (my sister and myself), but I will say that life surely prevented them from giving us everything we ever wanted.  They worked hard- long hours and rough schedules.  This often made for a very stressful environment at home.  When we were all under one roof together, the tension sometimes grew; as children, we wanted to be loud and playful, but the adults wanted to rest.  This resulted in arguments, yelling, and threats.  After a time, I started the habit of avoidance.  I did everything in my power to avoid conflict and confrontation.  I withdrew and began to entertain myself, rather than playing with my sister.  I would sit in my room for hours at a time, tending to my Barbies, reading books, playing with jewelry, or watching TV.  Sometimes, in nicer weather, I'd go play outside by myself... repeatedly hitting a tennis ball against the house, kicking a soccer ball against the house, riding my bike in a continuous path on the street in front of my house.  When things got far too overwhelming, I hid in an evergreen tree at the edge of our front yard.  The low branches allowed me to climb up the tree some distance and sit there until I felt calm enough to go inside.

There was the occasion where I wouldn't be able to escape the madness.  Too much loud noise, too much background noise... increases my anxiety levels and makes me start to panic.  Frequently, this would lead to outbursts on my part.  I never felt proud of these instances, but I didn't know what else to do other than yell back, or cry and scream.  Sometimes things would escalate and I would just open my mouth and shriek, hoping it would distract from the issue at hand.

I love my parents.  I love my parents for raising me through the latter half of the 80's and through the 90's, when things like anxiety, learning disabilities, and autism weren't often thought of.  Back when people didn't realize that children could have anxiety problems like adults.  I don't think I need to be on Ritalin or Adderall, and I don't think I needed to be on either one then.  My problem does not lie in paying attention, it lies in people keeping my attention.  If a situation is too overwhelming, I check out.  I go to a place in my head that is safe and quiet, drowning out the noise.  I did this as a child, and I do it now.

I was sometimes accused of not paying attention, due to the fact that I would doodle or write my name repeatedly while someone was speaking or trying to teach me something.  The fact is doodling or writing helps me retain.  Now, as an adult, when I am trying to memorize lines for a play, I will write my lines repeatedly in order to help me retain the information.  It has helped me so much with my memory problems.

So for all those hours I spent jumping on the trampoline alone, or rollerskating in my basement with my imaginary friends, or the time I spent just listening to my favorite songs over and over again... I started learning at a very early age to adapt to my surroundings and try to manage my anxiety the best I could.  I didn't know what it was, and I couldn't describe the feeling I had, but I found ways to try and control it.

**If you are a parent, and you suspect your child has anxiety problems, try your hardest to talk to them about it.  Nobody ever addressed my feelings with me, and I feel like things could have been a little easier if they had.**

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