A friend recently said to me that if she has a daughter she’d want her to be a Virgo. My first thought was: Why would you want that? Then you’d have a daughter like me. I couldn’t fathom why anyone would want someone like me. Granted her daughter wouldn’t have a mirror image of my life, even if she were born under the sign of Virgo, as I was. She’d have different experiences, a different environment, different beliefs and a different world around her. But the fact is that I wouldn’t wish my life on my worst enemy. From the outside, my life doesn’t look that bad, and I’m sure some of the things I’ve done would make a number of people envious. On the inside, though, is another story.
I’ve been reading some of the articles the Duchess of Cambridge has commissioned for the Huffington Post UK for the campaign Young Minds Matter, which aims to raise awareness for children’s mental illness. A significant amount of the articles are directed at parents who feel ashamed to expose themselves and their children to the stigma of mental illness. I sincerely applaud the Duchess’ efforts. I think it’s wonderful that mental illness is finally coming out of the Dark Ages and being approach with openness instead of shame. I decided to share my Young Minds Matter story, though I’ve written before about my struggle with depression, because I’m what happens when childhood mental illness isn’t treated.
I’m perceived by many to be cold, abrupt, and unfriendly because I pretty much shrivel up in social situations. Throughout school, I never had any friends that I hung out with. I never learned social skills in my teenage years. When I got to college, people gave me looks that ran the gamut from pity to what is wrong with you. It was such a gift when I met some really good friends my sophomore year. Along with the friendships, though, came more anxiety, because I couldn’t believe they really wanted to be around me. I lived in fear they would figure out what a fraud I was and see me for the useless freak I was.
To this day, I try to have as quick a conversation as possible with people, so as to not inflict myself unwanted on other people. I don’t believe they want to be around me, so I eliminate the small talk and just ask my questions, get my answers, and quit the conversation. I’m an introvert naturally, so being social is incredibly stressful to me anyway, but a lot of my awkwardness is because I have no self-confidence or sense of self-worth. I assume I don’t belong anywhere and that people are just tolerating me, and because of this stiltedness people think I’m a bitch.
I’m just going to lay it on the line for parents out there who are afraid or ashamed to get help for their children. I understand shame and I don’t want to belittle anyone. Parenting is hard. I’m not a parent so I’m not going to give any advice in that area. I’m speaking from the child’s perspective. I am what your child will look like in thirty years if you don’t get her or him help. I have no savings or retirement because I’ve never thought I’d make it to that age. I have no career because I’ve never believed I can achieve my dreams. I stopped dreaming a long time ago because I knew that, even if I accomplished the physical aspect, I still wouldn’t be happy or feel joyous about it, so it seemed pointless.
I’m in fight or flight 24/7. I have no reserves because my hormones are always pumping into my bloodstream. I have anxiety about everything. Little things are colossal to me because I know after one or two of them, I’ll be back to trying to talk myself out of suicide. I spend the majority of my time and energy trying to function normally with the burden of my depression and anxiety.
I actively avoid human beings for fear of being hurt. I am positive they’ll say something to insult me. It’s not a valid fear anymore but growing up, going to school was like being a soldier going to the battlefield. I had to be ready for an attack from any direction. Many times the verbal attack did happen. Other times it was a physical attack. Then I just imagined threats everywhere and my stress levels skyrocketed. While I don’t rationally think that I’m going to be attacked anymore, years of constant readiness have taken their toll. I’m so paranoid that I assume people have it in for me, that they hate me and will attack me given the chance.
Ask yourself if this is what you want to see in your adult child. Please get your kids help. You don’t want them ending up like me.