When Your Childhood Is the Elephant in the Room

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In the first 25 years of my life, I suffered two mental breakdowns and countless bouts of depression and anxiety. It took me many therapy sessions to discover and come to terms with why I was so monumentally “messed up” as a young adult.

The beauty of the human mind is in its ability to block out trauma, but sweeping our troubles under the carpet in the hope they will disappear almost always leads to future heartache. It’s never easy or pleasant, but it’s high time we started openly talking about the elephant in the room.

My first breakdown came at the end of my first traveling expedition.

When I was 22, I was fortunate enough to take a three month sabbatical from my job, and travelled around Thailand and Australia for three months with some old flatmates. The Thai segment was largely spent lazing on beaches by day and boozing by night, with a large smattering of the readily available pharmaceutical drugs we took for fun chucked in for good measure.

We must have been the only travelers there who weren’t diving, which seems absurd now, but at the time it wasn’t a problem. I had convinced myself that I was living the dream, but in reality I was merely trying to escape the pain I was feeling by getting trashed. Being in Thailand simply meant having nicer surroundings and not going to work.

By the time I got to Sydney for the last few days of my trip, I was in all kinds of a mess. Although I was physically exhausted and emotionally drained, sensible was not my middle name. So I did what I always did and headed out to an all night party with the friends I was staying with.

A handful of us continued on to the after party, by which point I was absolutely wasted having taken a cocktail of uppers and drinking on top. I got chatting to a Thai girl in the toilets who had fled a few years previous, escaping a life of abuse, sex slavery and misery. Her story was compelling and had me in tears.

When the tears wouldn’t stop, I realized I wasn’t crying for her any more: I was crying for myself. 

At just 22 I already had a serious drinking problem and “recreational” drug habit. Soon after this incident I would start coming to terms with the reasons behind why I was so out of control. I would start to see I had been hiding the pain of a severely dysfunctional childhood. That the wounds I had been masking ran so deep it took getting completely obliterated every single weekend just to feel good about myself.

How could it have possibly been any other way after what I went through as a kid?

Sexual abuse. Check.

Emotional abuse. Check.

Bullying at school. Check.

Living in a constant state of anxiety caused by moving house every 6-12 months. Check.

Leaving home at 15 with no money or qualifications. Check.

The list could go on and on, but this article would be too long. The fact is that no-one escapes the psychological damage of a childhood like mine. 

When I returned home from that I trip I made one of the best decisions of my entire life and started seeing a counselor. She opened my eyes to how toxic my relationship with my family had become, and how I needed to redefine the rules if I were to continue having them in my life. She helped me see I deserved to be loved, and taught me if I didn’t respect myself I couldn’t expect anyone else to.

She helped me deal with my demons, and start the long journey of recovery. I began to face up to my past so I could truly make peace with it, and over time, it would eventually stop destroying my chances of future happiness.

Nothing that is worth doing in life comes easily though. It will likely be a painful process, but as soon as we’re ready to face up to the skeletons in the cupboard, I believe we’re halfway to burying them.

Follow this journey on Mummy Tries

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26 Assumptions You Shouldn't Make About Someone With Anxiety

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For the millions of Americans living with anxiety disorders, there can be good days and bad days. Explaining this to others can be somewhat exasperating. Worse yet, when people who don’t have anxiety assume they know exactly what it’s like, debunking their definitions of the disorder is enough to give anyone a headache.

And while coping mechanisms can be mistaken for anti-social behavior (canceling plans again must mean you’re mad at your friends, right?), that isn’t always the truth.

We reached out to our Facebook communities and asked those living with anxiety to set the record straight.

Here are some assumptions you shouldn’t make about people with anxiety:

1. “I am antisocial or a bitch.” —Casey Coats

via GIPHY

2. “I can just ‘turn off’ my anxiety. If that was the case, I would have done that already!” —Alexis Dorn

3. “You can control it.” —Mari Smith-Roerig

4. “People assume I’m just being dramatic on purpose!” —Julianne Ortiz

5. “I ‘didn’t take my meds because I’m having a bad day. Medication isn’t some sort of magic thing that just makes you not have anxiety, even with medication bad days happen.” —Becky Davidiet

via GIPHY

6. “It is a choice.” —Christina Schulz

7. “I’m just being overly cautious when I check things over and over again. They don’t realize that the bully in my brain basically tells me the worst will happen if I don’t check my straighteners are off one more time before leaving the house. They assume it’s a personality trait, rather than an imbalance.” —Vicky Gage

8. “Bursts of calm social behavior mean I am cured.” —Ramona Rhae

9. “If I just got out and socialized more I wouldn’t be so anxious.” —Jennifer Peterson

via GIPHY

10. “I don’t want to hang out with them.” —Patrick Dovah Bowden

11. “I’m negative all of the time.” —Morgan Rinck

12. “At some point I’ll just ‘get over it.’” —Sarah Martin

via GIPHY

13. “I should know why I feel the way I do.” —Kristin Duncan

14. “My anxiety is just because I’m a woman and that it doesn’t interfere that much in my life.” —Grace Shockey

15. “I am flaky or rude for canceling plans at the last minute.” —Holly Cooper McNeal

16. “There must be something besides my brain that is making me anxious.” —Judith Reed Quander

17. “I just need to calm down and relax.” —Stephanie Williams Ewert

via GIPHY

18. “I want pity because of my anxiety.” —Deanna Yourgans

19. “I’m not a social or extroverted person. I love going out, trying new things and meeting new people, but my anxiety likes to stop me from doing that.” —Monica Jean Cozadd

20. “I’m on the verge of suicide or a nervous breakdown.” —Cyrynda Goody Walker

21. “A panic attack is visible. You can’t see my thoughts normally, so why do you think you can tell from the outside when I’m having a panic attack?” —Sharon Fischer

via GIPHY

22. “Because my anxiety disorder causes my hands to shake sometimes uncontrollably people think that I’m a drunk [and] coming off a bender.” —Mark Williams

23. “I’m controlling because I’m always trying to fix things or prevent things I see coming, particularly if I see them coming when nobody else does.” —Carol Stewart

24. “I make up my depression and anxiety attacks for attention!” —Brooke Stephens Rivera

25. “If I have a smile on my face, I’m OK.” —Sheri Little

26. “I just worry too much.” —Melissa J. King

Editor’s note: Not everyone experiences anxiety in the same way. These answers are based on individuals’ experiences.

*Some answers have been edited for brevity and clarity

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To Anyone Who Still Struggles, Even in Recovery

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I’ve been struggling recently. As much as I try to deny it and ignore it, I’m having a hard time. As someone who has dealt with cyclothymia, post-traumatic stress disorder and generalized anxiety for years, this is nothing new. But it is difficult. I would be lying if I said it wasn’t.

Recently, my days have been getting longer and my thoughts have been getting darker. I have stress dreams which cause my sleep to be interrupted nearly every night. Some days my depressive and anxious symptoms keep me confined to my bed. Some days my thoughts wonder places I wish they’d never go.

The difference between where I am now and where I used to be is that now, I am actively working to recover. I want to get better. I want to graduate from college and fulfill the goals I have because I know I can. I focus on my recovery and take the steps needed to maintain progress. Even when the things happening in my mind seem unbearable, I know they will pass. I know I’ll have good days so long as I continue to move forward. I know I can get better because I have seen it happen.

To anyone who still struggles, even in recovery: you are doing a great job. You are still here, and that itself means you have survived the thick of it. We will get through this because we have the will and the drive to recover. There will be dark days, but those days will never blot out the sunshine from the bright ones.

The Mighty is asking the following: Write a love letter to another person with your disability, disease or mental illness. If you’d like to participate, please send a blog post to [email protected] Please include a photo for the piece, a photo of yourself and 1-2 sentence bio. Check out our Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

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To the Anxiety Monster Who Haunts My Life

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To the figure that haunts my life,

What did I do wrong? What did I do to make you haunt me? Did I do something to deserve your attention? Your evil? You cost me the job I loved, my friendships, my goals and aspirations for the future. I can feel you there all the time. Standing in the corner of the room watching me, waiting. Waiting for me to have a thought or feeling you can latch onto.

You tell me such terrible things. Awful lies that you make me believe. You tell me my headache is a brain tumor. That my palpitations are going to kill me. That I’m going to drop down dead. You’ve convinced me I’m dying at the age of 24. That one day my mom will come home and find me on the floor, or in bed, never to wake up. You tell me not to go out because I will die. You give me every symptom you can to make me as weak as possible. You tell me not to get out of bed. I can hear your voice in my ear. If I get up, I will pass out. If I eat, I will be sick. You tell me I’m not as good as my siblings. That I’ll never be successful. That this is it now. This is my life. Over. I am doomed forever to move between my bed and the couch, snapping at the people I love and feeling constantly ill. For the last year, you have attacked every part of my life.

But you are just like any other monster. You can be defeated. Every time I laugh, go out or achieve something new, I’m pushing you back. Every time I push, you push me. Trying to set me back, you sometimes manage to send me to my spot on the couch, or back to the doctors. But you will never take my dreams away. You will never take my family or my sense of humor. I will always be able to fall into the world of books and TV, forgetting you exist if only for a moment.

But most importantly of all: I am not fighting you alone. Every person you assault is fighting back against you. We are forming an army. When you hurt one of us, you hurt all of us. We are warriors. We are picking up our swords and shields and holding you off. You will not win. You will not beat us. I say this to you anxiety monster: We are coming for you.

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17 Things Significant Others Can Say to Someone With Anxiety

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Anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the United States, and the Anxiety and Depression Association of America estimates around 18 percent of the population is affected by them. Odds are you know at least a few people living with anxiety, and you’ve probably dated someone affected by it, too. But do you know how to help them, and more importantly, what to say or do when they need your support most?

We asked our mental health community what they’d like to hear from their significant other when dealing with anxiety.

Here’s what they had to say:

1. “I love you. It’s all going to be OK.” — Aunt Sam

I love you heart

2. “How can I help?” — Gladys Ramos Diaz

Blank blackboard / chalkboard, hand writing

3. “Your illness doesn’t affect how I feel about you.” — Erica Enos

affect

4. “I wish I could do something to help.” — Berdie Howell Muirhead

5. “You are safe.” — Rosanna Lewandowski

6. “Don’t worry, I got this…” — Donna B Primeaux

7. “I understand you’re not ‘crazy!’” — Debra Klimowich Buffi

8. “’I’m here.’ Not much has to be said. Knowing someone has your back is priceless.” — Cailea Hiller

hand coffee background couple

9. “My husband ignores my unfounded, fearful worries, says something funny, and suggests we go out and do something fun. Works for us.” — Elise Burnham

10. “Keep it simple… Anxiety is overwhelming enough.” — Lee Lewis

11. “C’mon grab my hand, we got this together.” — Amanda Camara

12. “I may not always understand what you’re feeling or why, but I am here if you need me.” — Amanda Antonini

Couple in Love Sitting on the Bench

13. “Just let me know what you want to do and we’ll do it.” — Candace Seekford

14. “Say nothing. Get comfortable cuddling, relaxing, rubbing the temples or whatever. When you have anxiety, you need to feel safe, protected and loved through presence.” — Traci Chandler

15. “This isn’t something you have to endure alone. Your chaos is my chaos and together we can ride it out.” — Asia Brito

Red abstract blurred heart shape on frozen window

16. “‘It’s OK, take some time to yourself, I got the kids’ is sometimes the best thing he can say.” — Shannon Trevino

17. “’Breathe. It’s OK. I’m here. Take deep breaths.’ It helps when he plays with my hair or rubs my back.” — Brittany Thornton Ferrell

Editor’s note: Not everyone experiences anxiety in the same way. These answers are based on individuals’ experiences.

*Some answers have been edited for brevity and clarity

Images courtesy of ThinkStock

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5 Tips for Any Mom Living With Anxiety

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Here are five things I’ve learned to do more of as a mom who lives with anxiety:

1. Be honest with the people who matter.

Although many times my anxiety coincides with stressful situations in life, there are equally as many (or more) times there’s a disconnect between how I’m feeling and what’s going on. I’ve found it helpful to be honest when friends or family ask me how I’m doing. I’ve explained that even when our lives are relatively low-stress, I can still have a hard time managing my anxiety. More often than not, it opens up a great dialogue and lets me highlight an often misunderstood aspect of my disorder.

2. Be kind to your anxiety.

I always remind my kids that although you don’t have to like everyone you meet, you do always have to try to be nice. Truth is, I would’ve benefited from using a bit of that wisdom sooner when it came to my anxiety. I’ve spent a long time separating myself from my disorder and being cruel to it. Harsh thoughts grounded in judgment and detachment were littered throughout my most challenging times. What I really needed to do was be more tolerant and patient with not only my anxiety, but with myself. I don’t like my anxiety disorder, but I’m trying to treat it a little better now that I’m a mother. With my children always at the forefront of my mind, I’ve changed my inner and outer dialogue to be softer and more loving in my darkest moments. I want to be a strong role model of self-acceptance for my kids, and what better way than with something I struggle with every single day. 

3. Don’t get caught up if people don’t understand what you’re going through.

The truth is, not everyone is going to understand how you’re feeling. It can be overwhelmingly isolating to dwell on points of separation — it’s much more helpful to accept any empathetic feelings that are sent you way. I’ve found that although the depths of my emotions can be undoubtably different than my loves ones, I’m still grateful they’re trying to connect with me.

4. Stop apologizing.

They say a great way to measure your depth of understanding of a given concept is to explain it simply and effectively to another person. I’ve found that sharing the truths of my life with my husband, especially on the topic of my anxiety disorder, has given us both the opportunity to better support each other. Whether it’s a friend, a family member, a spouse or an acquittance with whom you feel a connection, instead of apologizing, explain how your anxiety works. It will deepen your relationship and empower you both to work together to better manage a disorder that can often times be far too much to face alone. 

5. Be as open as possible with your children.

As a woman and now as a mother, I’ve been taught that no matter how I’m feeling on the inside, I’m expected to keep a cheery and stable disposition on the outside, especially around my kids. I’ve spent a long time considering this widely accepted notion, and have since adopted a new mindset about how truthful to be with my immediate family and children. If I’m going to advocate for the destigmatization of mental health, it has to start at home. With age-appropriate terminology, conceptual language that speaks to their developmental stage and an open mind, I’ve found my children’s ability to understand and accept the challenges of others have expanded exponentially when I’m open about my challenges.

I feel proud to be a mother who is living with, and actively using, my challenges to teach my children about anxiety disorders. I hope that with my help, they’ll have the tools to not only to be more empathetic and supportive of others who may face similar challenges, but they’ll also be better equipped to identify mental health issues within themselves and, without any fear or shame, seek help.

The Mighty is asking the following: Create a list-style story of your choice in regards to disability, disease or illness. It can be lighthearted and funny or more serious — whatever inspires you. Be sure to include at least one intro paragraph for your list. If you’d like to participate, please send a blog post to [email protected] Please include a photo for the piece, a photo of yourself and 1-2 sentence bio. Check out our Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

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