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When I Realized Childhood Trauma Affected My Mental Health as an Adult

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Why am I depressed? I can’t say exactly. I’ve always looked for an answer to that question, thinking if I could “fix” what was wrong, I could “fix” myself — a thought that obviously stemmed from my belief I was somehow responsible for “allowing myself” to get so down, so I could just as easily undo it. But while there are certainly events in my life that have contributed to it, I feel it goes beyond that. They aren’t the only things that get me down. Everything does. I can’t pinpoint which door anxiety and depression used to come into my life (trust me, I wish I could). It feels like they’ve flooded in from all directions at once. But my experiences, specifically my childhood in the context of this post, have certainly played their part.

I recently read a blog post online that absolutely hit the nail on the head. It reads, in part:

Growing up I experienced many moments like that, moments when I felt unsafe, physically and emotionally. There were countless experiences that reinforced to me, over the years, that I couldn’t let my guard down, because at any moment I could be hurt. So I learned to be constantly anxious, eternally on guard, ever ready for a threat. I learned to be tightly wound, my fight-or-flight response permanently triggered. And I learned to see minor threats as major problems, because that’s another thing I learned as a kid: Sometimes seemingly small things could make other people snap. Unsurprisingly, I grew into an adult who snapped over small things all the time. Got bleach on my interview outfit? No one will ever hire me now! She doesn’t want to be my friend? Why doesn’t anyone love me? Found a suspicious lump? I’m going to die! OK, so that last one isn’t actually a “small thing,” but the point is I was constantly scared. Life was a string of lions to tame.

So yes, I believe I have anxiety and depression in my bones, but my early experiences have undoubtedly provided the fuel these illnesses needed to tear me apart from the inside out. Realizing how they played into specific habits and thoughts by means of this post was very powerful for me. It doesn’t make it better, but now I can understand.

I’ve always felt guilty for struggling so much. Like it should’ve been easier to put myself back together again. But now I understand that every time I was trying to put myself back together, everything around me was fighting to pull me apart again. It wasn’t my fault. I wasn’t lazy or exaggerating my pain. I tried. But there was an inherent brokenness in my home that was like a wedge in a door, preventing it from ever closing. It wasn’t my fault. There was violence and anger and nasty words and pain all around me. And on top of that, I had a sister to care for. There was a lot of growing up to do, and fast. There was so much more than me. I was caught between my roles of mediator, caregiver, daughter and sister, putting out fires left and right. It wasn’t my fault. It isn’t my fault. If a building were on fire, would it be abnormal to struggle to breathe amidst the smoke? Of course not. There is nothing abnormal about that. Likewise, I am normal for struggling so much against this. I understand that now. And it’s absolutely freeing.

If you or a loved one is affected by domestic violence or emotional abuse and need help, call The National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233.

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Thinkstock photo via Archv.

Originally published: September 20, 2017
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