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What It Feels Like to Be Called 'Childish' for Struggling With My Mental Health

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As a person who struggles with various mental health problems — but most prevalently depression and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) — I have habits that stem from my illnesses. I also have self-harmed and have acted out in public due to my mental health. Being called childish is something I take offense to, not because of my appearance, but because it triggers a panic attack. I have personally been told I was acting childish when I was reacting in the only way my brain and body knew how to react.

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When I told a family member I had been clean of cutting for a few months, they responded with, “You still do that? It’s so childish.” I was instantly upset. This is not childish, in fact, I had just gotten out of a pretty bad month full of panic attacks and nightmares. Hearing that my habit had been “childish” did not benefit my recovery. Instead, it made me feel worse. I felt guilty for self-harming. Instead of asking how I was doing, or empathizing with the pain I was in, I was put down for struggling through a hard week PTSD-wise.

Similarly, when I am in large crowds and exiting is made more difficult, I panic. Being trapped is something I fear, and it causes me to have a panic or anxiety attack. In these situations, my anxiety may look like a grown adult throwing a tantrum. When in reality, I am overwhelmed. I have seen the looks strangers give me when I panic and feel unable to escape a crowded store. It is the same ones they give when a child cries or screams. In these situations, for me, it’s a fight, flight or freeze reaction. I usually choose flight and escape the situation rather than stay relaxed.

In the same way my “acting out” has been called “childish,” my coping techniques have been called childish as well. I may color for an hour, which no longer has a negative association with adults, but used to be considered silly. I play with fidget toys. Not so much fidget spinners, but I have tangles and a fidget cube and have played with a fidget snake to keep myself grounded. I write in a journal which has been called “angsty” by some people. Sometimes, I take a bubble bath or hug a stuffed animal. These things have been called childish. I can’t tell you how many times my family has asked why I have so many stuffed animals since I am a grown woman.

So please, do not call habits “childish.” It may be a reaction to something you may not understand. And do not put down others’ ways of coping. If someone wants to finger paint, don’t stop them. If they feel that they need to cuddle a stuffed animal, then let them. Even as an adult struggling with mental illness, being told my actions and reactions are childish is harmful. Especially since you have no idea what someone is going through.

Unsplash photo via Nicole Mason

Originally published: February 15, 2018
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