Having a Mental Illness as a Kid is Tough

I truly believe that I was born anxious.

I had serious separation anxiety as a baby up through most of elementary school when I was away from my mom. This lasted for way longer than it should have for a normal child.

As a kid, at least in my experience, I didn’t have the brain capacity to understand my emotions. I couldn’t express my feelings plus I didn’t want to. I thought that what went on in my brain wasn’t normal therefore I didn’t want anybody to know.

I struggled in school socially because of anxiety. I hated being with people I didn’t know, I didn’t like the focus to ever be on me and I always wanted to keep to myself or to my couple friends.

If I was put into a situation that made me anxious, I would cry. At 6 years old I couldn’t explain why I cried so often in school. Saying, “I cried because I didn’t like how everyone was looking at me when the teacher made me stand in front of the class.” never crossed my mind. Also if I said it, I’m not sure anybody would have understood what I really meant.

I remember taking a quiz or I was doing a worksheet in first grade. For some reason it made me upset, maybe I didn’t understand how to complete the sheet, I don’t know. Whatever triggered me made me cry which inspired the girl across from me to announce to the whole class that I was crying. My nightmare of everybody looking at me became a reality which made me cry even more.

When I reflect on being little, I so often think about the struggles that went on in my own head. I try to think about the fun things like my brother and I playing with our Crazy Daisy, going to the beach, eating ice cream and playing Pokemon Blue Version on my Gameboy Color.

I found childhood to be difficult and I think a lot of it has to do with my mental illness. Reflecting as an adult I would describe myself as being uncomfortable in my own skin. I always felt like I was in an itchy sweater that I wished I could take off so I could be anybody else but me.

I think that constant awkwardness was a result of anxiety and depression, two words I didn’t know until I was a teenager.

My awkwardness has decreased as I’ve grown but only in the last couple years have I felt comfortable in my skin. It’s been one long road to accepting myself for who I am.

Fellow Bipolar Writer readers and writers, did you have signs of mental illness as a child? If so, did you understand what was going on in your mind? Did adults around you see that you were struggling?

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23 Replies to “Having a Mental Illness as a Kid is Tough”

  1. Thank you for sharing this. What you described is very very similar to my childhood as well. I used to cry at a lot of things, especially when people brought even more attention to it. I’m glad to hear that you have been able to address and work with it as an adult.

  2. Hi, thank you for sharing. Yes, I had similar issues but I never thought of it as mental illness, just being very shy. Later I learned the words anxiety and social anxiety. My mom kept me out of kindergarten because I basically refused to go. I missed a lot of days of school. I also refused to do things in school sometimes, like give speeches or presentations, anything in front of the class. I was okay talking with people I knew well. I slowly improved and I was able to get jobs and go to college but the anxiety held me back from my full potential. I decided not to get a Masters degree when I learned I had to give presentations. One of my kids is very shy and I can tell he holds back emotions at times of anxiety or being put in the spotlight. the other have varying degrees of anxiety and depression. It’s definitely a genetic tendency in my family. Thankfully I seem to have changed somehow. I even gave a speech to a group! I am still socially anxious but nothing like I used to be.

    1. I think my family and I thought the same thing, that I was just very shy. That’s awesome that you gave a speech recently! Woo-hoo!!
      It’s a positive thing I think to be able to see your children’s struggles because you can hopefully help them through it. Thank you for sharing, PK!

  3. Thank you for sharing this. I also experienced much the same situations as a child. I didn’t know why things made me cry so much. I found it confusing and infuriating at the same time. My father would become extremely irritated with me. Tears still seem to make him uncomfortable. He has apologized for not being more compassionate though. My mom, however, still will say, in a crowded room, “You used to cry at the drop of a hat.” It makes me wonder if she still doesn’t realize that it was probably the first signs of mental illness and that I might find the memory of it upsetting.

    1. It is confusing! When everybody around you is fine but you’re a mess. That’s good your dad has apologized, your mom might not understand to connection between the tears and mental illness. Thank you for commenting, Liv!

  4. Very honest and insightful post. Thank you. I’m not sure I had a mental illness per se but was definitely an anxious child and teenager. Have you read about HSPs or highly sensitive people? I think I’m one and you may be too.

    1. I have heard of HSP and I definitely am! I have always felt emotions so intensely which can be a plus and a minus. Thank you for commenting!

  5. Mmm! This is a tough one. I never thought about it in those terms. I remember feeling awkward and that I didn’t ‘fit in’, preferring to be just with my small group of friends etc but I don’t know if this is especially unusual in young people or whether I thought it was to do with anxiety. Interesting though, thank you for posting.

    1. There’s definitely a difference between shyness and social anxiety. It could have been either depending on how intense your feelings of being awkward were. I hope my post gives you something to reflect upon! Thank you for commenting!

  6. My mom told me that i told her i was going to jump out the window and kill myself when i was five years old. I guess even at that age something was starting to go wrong in my head. There was no abuse or anything to make me feel that way. Just an out-of-whack brain. I would grow up and be diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder. What a journey my life been!

    1. Damn you must have been really struggling! Emotions are so confusing at that age too. I’m glad that you have continued on your journey. Thank you for commenting, Kevin!

      1. Yeah if it weren’t for God i don’t think i’d still be here today. It’s been a crazy ride. But it is what it is.

  7. I also believe my anxiety started in childhood. I have distinct anxious memories from as early as ages 4 and 5. Rather unfortunately, my entire immediate family suffers from anxiety and my mom didn’t understand it any more at that point than I did. It wasn’t until I was in my mid-20’s when I FINALLY understood that what I was experiencing was not “normal” and I didn’t have to continue to suffer without help.

    I am grateful in a way, because I see some signs in my young son and if that is the way things go for him, I will have his back 100%.

    1. I’m glad that you got help for your anxiety even if it had to happen 20 years after you started having anxious thoughts. It must be difficult for a parent to see their child struggling but not understanding what to do to help them cope.

      That makes me glad that you are looking out for your son! I am sure that he will appreciate your guidance. Thank you for commenting!

      1. Thank YOU for posting! I am so glad that people are talking about this stuff now. It helped me a lot when I was learning about my anxiety (and occasionally depression too).

      2. You’re very welcome! I’m glad that people can talk more openly about mental illness. I feel like this community is such an accepting place.

    1. Yes I do still have anxiety and depression. I imagine that I will have it all my life.
      Bipolar disorder is experiencing depressive episodes and manic episodes. If you click around on this blog you’ll find a lot of posts from people sharing their experience with bipolar.

  8. Thank you for writing this, I relate so much! My first suicidal thoughts were at 7-8, I sit still in one spot and stare out windows all day listening to the radio. I remember once when I was 7 or 8 throwing up at a daycare and being so upset I did it in front of everyone I cried hard and carried that shame with me for a long time. I was a big crier when I was a kid, only at odd moments when I got extremely frustrated with myself. My mom sensed something was ~off~ so she put me in counseling, but she mostly just thought I was shy and sensitive. I hated going places without my mother or brother. I still struggle a bit with separation anxitey, I just push myself more because I’m 19 now. It was tough to deal with all of that back then because even though I eventually KNEW what was wrong (I was very interested in mental health/psychology/sociology/etc as a little kid), I didn’t know how to help myself.

    1. That is a great question that I’m not sure I have the answer for. For me I felt like I could be truly open when I wrote in my diary. So maybe having students write a story or poem or create an art piece to express how they’re feeling inside.

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