I’m doing a series of posts on the cheery topic of anxiety to herald in the New Year.
I was twelve when I had my first full on panic attack. I didn’t establish this date stamp until recently. I had pegged myself to be around the age of eight. I guess eight was how ‘old’ I felt in my head.
Turns out I was a hormonally sensitive tween. It was 1986. There was a disaster at the nuclear power plant Chernobyl.
My precocious friend ¬†Alana cornered me at school. “Do you know,” she said. There’s been a nuclear power plant accident in the Ukraine. Deadly nuclear fallout is going to drift all the way down to New Zealand.”
Perhaps my friend¬†Alana¬†was exhibiting a ¬†journalistic nose for news. When you’ve got a breaking story¬†the imperative¬†is to share to an audience. Verifying sources and fact checking can come secondary to the urge to share.
Alter this pronouncement; Alana¬†went home to her parents who had recently converted from Catholicism to Buddhism.
She¬†had this past year also enlightened me to the actual nature of Santa Claus. I¬†went home to an acute state of misery.
The next two days were an internal monologue of, “when am I going to die, ” and”I’m so scared.” I was asked what was wrong by my worried Mom. My stomach and tongue were so twisted in knots that I¬†couldn’t tell her. She finally drew it out of me and I started to feel better. I believe it was then I got the card. “Welcome to Anxietyville, Have a nice day!”
I wonder how many Cold War era basket cases there are out there. I am certainly one of them.
Dealing with anxiety in childhood comes down to three things.
1. Genetic set point. I was never a bullet proof child. I tended to worry about random stuff even before the onset of panic attacks.
2. Exposure to events that might cause an overly anxious reaction. As a parent we can ¬†be aware that they may be having internal reactions that We can’t wrap our children in cotton wool but I’m careful to check in with them.
3. Management of anxiety by parents. Sometimes kids look older than they are. I don’t over share. They’re going through a totally different life experience than I am ¬†and I may not be able to judge their maturity level. I have a conflict of interest as a parent.
The panic attacks continued sporadically throughout my early childhood. Any prediction of the end of the world would set it off. There was some inane prediction by ¬†freaks channeling Mother Shipton that set me off around 1990. ¬†But everything else was mostly normal until I moved schools. Then came the rounds of social anxiety. More than mere shyness. I am an extrovert. I love social situations. I had lots of friends in my early school years and have lots of friends now. ¬†But due to whatever factors were at play (hormones, recent parental break up, I would suffer. I would go into a new school situation and be paralysed. I wouldn’t speak. I’d desperately want to make friends but I wouldn’t speak. ¬†And not being able to speak severely limits your ability to make friends.
So I learned to self medicate by the age of sixteen. The usual suspects for us¬†Gen X teenagers.¬†Wine (casked); beer; ¬†rum. I developed ¬†a good posse of friends which was awesome. ¬†I took the misbehavior all a bit far in my late teens and early years of college. But it didn’t matter if¬†I burned off the odd flatmate because I was able to talk again and write. My anxiety would reoccur periodically. I’d go and talk with a doctor. They’d ask me how much I drank. I’d lie and life would move on.
I met a couple of people who had a huge influence on my internal state. I was a housekeeper at a motel and made friends with the head housekeeper who was just a few years older than me. She would curse¬†and¬†speak her mind. And she was so funny. We would be in fits as we folded sheets together. We’d finish work and hang out and she’d tease me and I’d relax. She was like the older sister I never had.
I met the deadlocked hippy who was my future husband.
Call it Oxytocin or “Love at first sight” ; the rare combination of Brains (we were College dropouts) and Aspiration (we had none; we were hippies) drew us together. It turns out we’d experience the future ups and downs of life together.
I’ll split this post out into two¬†shortly
I realized this year, mainly through others honest discussions, that we all have something. Call it anxiety; depression; the human condition. We’ll go to any lengths to hide it but we’re all suffering from it!
Crazy crazy us! If you’re an anxious teen or prone to anxiety; hang in there. It always gets better. And never underestimate the power of a laugh or a cuddle.