Mental health care didn’t exist for me, or at least, that is what it felt like when I was a child. My feelings, emotions and any negative response to them was often discounted as me being a“sensitive child.”
Without knowing better, I accepted that I was different, overly emotional and bound for a future where I would continue to be quiet and only comfortable in the shadows. In a sense, I was encouraged to just leave these thoughts be. I wasn’t encouraged to challenge them.
To grow up without understanding who you are, or why you feel a certain way, can leave you in an odd sense of limbo. It is as if you are alive but not really living.
At times, I felt like I was trapped in a shell of a body, and my brain did not belong on this planet. I could not relate to any of the people I knew. I could not understand why no one else could relate to me.
School reports all showed a child that, upon reflection, showed symptoms of growing anxiety and depression. The evidence was there. My participation and confidence decreased. My choice to spend more time alone, or get attached to one particular person. My fidgety nature, lack of concentration and motivation. The fact that I was incredibly reclusive, quiet and fearful.
I feel very upset when I think back to my childhood. I can still feel that scared child inside of me, desperately searching for acceptance and understanding. Dreaming to find people who were like me.
It’s baffling, as a mental health advocate now, that no teacher, no adult or anyone close to me had noticed the warning signs. I had no therapy, no one asking me how I was doing. There were no questions about my wellbeing. I was just labeled as a ‘shy child.’
That shy child grew into a very reckless teenager. I turned to things such as alcohol, self-harm and dangerous relationships. I was trying to find ways to cope. I was trying to understand who I was. But with no one to guide me, I went down a risky path.
I was able to access some help over the years, though it became very hard to find. I was discounted for my age or gender. I didn’t always feelheard. Sometimes the stigma became too much to bear, that I stopped fighting for help altogether.
And one day, it almost cost me my life. I was so desperate to end the pain, but I felt like I had tried everything possible. It seemed like death was the only way to stop all of these uncontrollable emotions and feelings.
The child that I was, who was growing the roots of mental illness, grew into an adult with chronic anxiety and depression. I went on so many ups and downs with my recovery that I have learnedprogress is not a straight line.
Luckily, I am now in a state of recovery. I have achieved things that my depression branded impossible, and I have found myself happy I survived and made it into my 20s.
However, I cannot help but feel that if I had treatment and support from the start, if as a child, I was given support for my growing anxiety and depression, thenmaybe I would have managed my illnesses better. I could have possibly avoided some of the reckless behaviorsand attempts at my own life.
While talking and learning about mental health would not have prevented my battles with mental illness, it could have provided me with vital tools to start my recovery much sooner. I could have given me the knowledge that I was not alone, and that I am not a problem.
It took me until my 20s to understand that what I was feeling was somewhat normal, and not something to be ashamed of. I wish I had known that from that start. I wish looking after your mental health was as widely known and encouraged as getting rest and drinking water when you have the flu.
Charlotte Underwood is a mental health advocate with the aim to provide a voice to aid against the stigma.
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