Category Archives: Childhood Mental Health

Teen Mental Health Awareness

Mental Health has again been in the UK press this morning- this time regarding the inadequate care and treatment of suicidal teens.

Mental heath issues during the teenage years is a topic very close to my heart. I had some extremely despairing thoughts and feelings whilst in high school and sixth form. My mood had started swinging from the age of about 13 onwards. It never occurred to me that I had an illness.

Depression & Anxiety During School Years

Sobbing silently in my bedroom I tried to conceal my unhappiness from my parents to protect them. They both had depression and the last thing I wanted was to make them worse! I was so lonely. I didn’t even know what I was crying about half the time. But I remember that desperate helplessness and thinking that things would never get better for me. I was angry and jealous that the other kids seemed to find school so easy to cope with, whilst I found it extremely stressful, even traumatic.

I was terrified of a couple of boisterous, aggressive lads in our class. Their chaotic, angry natures disturbed me a lot and I felt extremely uncomfortable even having them in the class. They weren’t particularly horrible to me, but their behaviour to others was enough to affect me negatively.

The jostling, pushing and rushing through crowds of chaotic kids, in a mad scramble to get from one class to the next, was enough to leave me feeling exhausted! I never really knew why. I was always so affected with anxiety in these situations- I was in a chronic state of stress.

I think all this was a part of my general unhappiness with my teenage life. I was so sensitive and really needed a calm, quiet working environment, even then. School was an unsettling, disturbing, even threatening environment for me- and I went  to a fairly decent school! I dreaded Monday mornings with a passion.

Parental Depression

This was just one aspect of the difficulties I encountered as a teenager. In retrospect I wish my parents or teachers had done more to help me. There was a vague attempt to speak with my parents when I had frequent short episodes of sickness from school, but nothing ever came of it. My parents knew I cried regularly due to red, puffy eyes, but my Mum attributed it to hormones. I think they should have sent me to a doctor or counsellor.

I wish I had known sooner that I was experiencing mental illness. I just thought I was defective and felt in the wrong place on the wrong planet. I couldn’t talk to anybody at all about how I felt. I was so worried about making Mum & Dad’s depression worse. I felt completely responsible for their happiness. I didn’t realise I was only responsible for mine.

Awareness & Intervention

I was so innocent and naive. How could I have known I was ill or that there was help available out there? Why didn’t anyone do anything to help me? I don’t think I could have hidden it all that well, could I? Maybe I did! It was an extremely lonely time. This and the anxiety were a constant.

So yeah, I feel exceedingly for teenagers who are experiencing their own, or their parents’, mental health problems. I think as much as anything I just wish that someone, anyone, had noticed and got me to a doctor or counsellor whilst I was still that young. I think parents and teachers (I know they are very overloaded already, but they are important to kids) should be made more aware of the signs a kid is experiencing difficulties with mental ill health s intervention can be taken earlier. I’m sure I wasn’t completely devoid of signs of my illness, I just didn’t know that help was available or how to ask for it.

You Never Have to be Alone.

If I could revisit my 13-year-old-self today, I would tell her that her repeated, despairing sobs weren’t normal and that she doesn’t have to suffer in silence or alone. There is help available to her. An earlier diagnosis would have helped me enormously, just so I could feel that at least there was a clinical reason for my emotional pain- I wasn’t just a freak!

Maybe this was all just my experience. Maybe kids these days are better informed and get help more quickly than I did. But judging by the news article today, enough still isn’t being done to help teenagers in distress.

Resources & Links

BBC Newsbeat

Teen Mental Health

Child and Adolescent Mental Health

The Guardian- Today’s Youth: Anxious, Depressed & Anti-Social

School-based Mental Health Support Results in Positive Outcomes for Children

Photo Credit: David Castello Dominici

School Days: Anxiety & Fitting In

Different at Primary School

Wherever I go in life I never feel like I fit in.

I’ve always been a bit different. Ever since I started primary school I felt out of place. During break and lunch I was equally happy to play on my own as with others. In fact I would often go off on my own if a game wasn’t interesting to me. I think I probably came across as a bit of an outsider. I think other kids would think my games silly or not want to play them. I was always off in my little fantasy world, dreaming about flying and winged horses, unicorns and magic. To me this was totally natural. I was never interested in sporty games which I guess would isolate me a bit from some of the others.

I never struggled in school either. I don’t think it was really until middle and high school that the other kids would start to tease about being a teacher’s pet. I never intended to be a teacher’s pet. I don’t think I ever really was one, it’s just that the others would see me as a bit of a know-it-all/goody-two-shoes. I didn’t mean to be like this, I didn’t set out consciously to irritate other kids. I could be a bossy kid which always gets on other’s nerves. I liked to help other people with work, but I think I’d go a bit overboard. If we ever worked in groups I liked to be the leader!

Different Beliefs

Two of the main reasons I’d get picked on were for being religious (went to church every Sunday with my family) and I was a bit podgy- not fat, not then. Just a little overweight. I still remember how horrible it felt at playschool, when all the other kids were dressing up and I was the only girl who couldn’t fit into the pretty ballerina tutu. I wanted so much to be the fairy!

I guess, when I was a kid, I would have wanted to be popular and for everybody to like me. I wanted to be pretty, wear fashionable clothes, have fashionable toys that everybody wanted to play with. I wanted long, blonde hair that I could wear in long braids (I had a stupid boys hair cut that my mum made me have- I hated it). I wanted beautiful dresses! I just wanted to be liked by everyone! I didn’t want other people to talk about me meanly behind my back- who does? I didn’t want people to pretend to be nice to me.

Fears

Another difference was my anxiety and sensitivity. I found teachers fairly terrifying! I hated displeasing anybody, but the punishments were what I feared the most. Even something like being told off in front of others was a trauma-inducing thought! School really scared me. I would often have “stomachaches” or “earaches” and Mum would let me stay home. I never realised when I was a kid that I suffered with anxiety, but now it is obvious to me that I did. I dreaded going to school: fear of other kids mean-ness during breaks and the teachers’ anger during work time was enough to stop me sleeping. Summer Moon from My Bipolar Bubble has written a great post on Separation Anxiety and Bipolar in Kids which really resonated with me.

Do I think I had Bipolar symptoms back then? I don’t know. I definitely had separation anxiety though and anxiety about school. I’d be upset more easily than others and hurt by comments or criticism.. I cried quite a bit!

Different Passions

At high school I started to learn that it was a bad thing to know the answers or to be good at music or art. It made me different. Was I arrogant about it? Was I boastful? I don’t know? Maybe I was, though it was unintentional. I soon learned to keep quiet.

I loved dancing, but dancing is what all the popular girls did and I never fit in with them. So that made me not like dancing so much- well not the social group anyway. I used to dance at home a lot, to all sorts of music, often classical (this was during ages 11+). I definitely got the feeling others thought I was weird for liking classical music. I tried not to hide it, just because I loved it so much. I was passionate about it- certain pieces of music would move me to tears, even at the age of 11. I didn’t want to hide something I loved so much. I wanted to listen to classical music all the live-long day! And watch ballets- I loved watching ballets. I’d dance around the living room pretending to be different characters in Swan Lake and The Nutcracker. I would enter a whole new world. It was magical and helped me to love life, despite hating school. There was always ballet and music- I’ve never lost my passion for them. I’m still convinced I was a dancer in a former life!

The First Bipolar Signs

I think my first Bipolar symptoms cropped up in high school. I remember getting very hyper and talking a-mile-a-minute. I’d get loud, precocious, silly, really giggly and hysterically laugh. I’d find it hard to calm down. Other times I couldn’t stop crying, usually when I was at home alone in my room. I’d sob silently, about nothing in particular sometimes, other times because I felt very alone and helpless. Sometimes I thought to feel despairing and terrified was normal, well it had pretty much always been normal for me. Other times I thought I was a freak. I always thought that maybe I’d be happier if I just fit in better with the others, then I wouldn’t get teased. I thought that there was something “wrong” with me for liking the things I did, for not being someone who people liked. I felt defective and this feeling I still carry with me today. I can tell myself I’m perfectly normal until I’m blue in the face, but the feeling of being defective remains constant. Maybe it’s starting to lessen a bit. Other times I feel like I was born on the wrong planet!

Still Different…..

Even now I don’t fit in with “regular” folks my age. I used to wish I liked the fashionable music and clothes, and liked clubbing and drinking and having a huge group of friends, just so I could fit in. But I’ve tried so desperately hard to like these things and fit in with “popular” people that it’s made me utterly miserable. Why do I desperately seek the approval of others? It seems so silly sometimes. I want to love life, not hate it by being someone I’m not, just to fit in. So I’m going to learn to love my differences and to shout about them, rather than hiding behind a rock the whole time.

Similar posts: Free To Be Average; Bipolar & Perfectionism Part 1; Perfectionism Part 2; Bipolar Disorder & Trauma.

Check out Separation Anxiety & Bipolar in Kids by Summer Moon on My Bipolar Bubble.

Photo Credits: Violin by Maya via freedigitalphotos.net; Child in Autumn by chrisroll via freedigitalphotos.net.

Free To Be Average

I’m currently reading the psychology classic The Drama of the Gifted Child by Alice Miller- which takes a comprehensive look at the psyche of those afflicted by Grandiosity (present in Narcissism and Mania) and Depression. She is able to delve deeply into the psychological past of those who have developed these symptoms (Bipolar/Narcissistic Personality/Borderline Personality amongst other disorders) and- as a very basic summary of her theories- attributes it to the following:


1. Not being able to freely feel our authentic emotions, feelings, needs.

We have repressed our feelings, needs and emotions as children due to insecure parenting. Theses authentic emotions and needs in the negative, such as despair, anger, loneliness, jealousy, helplessness,etc were threatening to our mother’s sense of security, inconvenient and anxiety-provoking. (This is due to our mother’s insecure parenting during her childhood. Secure mothers are able to deal more effectively and skillfully with these needs in their children).

Children need the love of their parents to survive, so shut off these anxiety-provoking emotions.

2. Furthermore the child develops an assigned family role to boost the insecure family.

To boost the family’s social standing/insecurities, the child is “assigned” a role, using their talents, achievements, special abilities, beauty or behaviour (good, mature, pure, virtuous, helpful, perfect- strong link with Christian families I think!).

So not only are we forbidden from “bad” behaviour, some of us also become “achievers”. Self-respect is therefore now dependent on qualities, functions, achievements and performance, all variables that can ultimately fail us.

Because of theses expectations that have been ingrained in us, and the lack of being able to experience our authentic self (therefore love), we seek ADMIRATION as a substitute for LOVE. However, as admiration is aimed at the achievements, beauty or behaviour, this is NOT our TRUE SELF.  Our true self is whole and encompasses all those needs and emotions and inconveniences. It needs love not admiration.

My Own Issues.

Looking at my life so far from the viewpoint of Alice Miller it is so easy to see where I have developed my highly vigilant people-pleasing. I’m still living like this- terrified to feel rage and grief and jealousy for the fear of “God” (the old, childish view of God I used to have), my parents and even now, my boyfriend. I am terrified of being abandoned and deep down do not believe I am capable of taking care of myself.

Due to Bipolar I have “lost” my gifts of achievement and am now living as an underachiever. I guess I am now on the journey to loving and accepting myself as I am and allowing myself to be average.

Even though I’m trying to tell myself it’s safe and OK to be average, inside I’m screaming no it bloody well isn’t! I have to be the best at everything otherwise what’s the damn point!!! The only point in drawing something or performing or behaving “well” is to secure approval from other people. If what I do is crap, there’s no point in doing it!! I HAVE to be the BEST!!!!!! I can’t be average – Mum & Dad will just trample all over me. They see no point in the arts except for enjoyment, so maybe if I can be the best at them, they’ll let me have a career in them?! I’ll show them!

Woah! I didn’t know I felt like that! Rationally I know the point is enjoyment, fun, creativity and fulfilling my artistic needs, or in the case of emotions- expressing my anger etc to keep me emotionally healthy. I can logically see the point, it just hasn’t internalised yet, I guess it takes time.  How weird that things your parents have said to you as kids still linger so deep in the memory.

Resources

For some great perfectionism therapy try listening to Perfect by Alanis Morisette

Related posts on this site: Bipolar Disorder: Repressed Anger; Bipolar and Perfectionism: Part One; Bipolar and Perfectionism: Part Two

Related posts from others: A Different Take on Perfectionism; The Poison of Perfectionism; The Ten Commandments of Perfectionism; The Perfect Sinner.

(Photo Credits: Perfect Student- Stuart Miles, Stressed Girl- kenfoto)

Perfectionism Part 2: Excuse me- where has my life gone?

Song of the Day: Bloodstream by Stateless

(Photo Credit: TONY-M available under a Creative Commons Licence).

If school and sixth form were my years of achievement despite the perfectionism (covered in Perfectionism Part 1: The School Years), then everything since then has been completely the opposite. Although obviously Bipolar has played a major part in this with the destruction of my confidence. But ego seems particularly good at sucking up your soul when you’re a perfectionist.

Perfectionism destroys the sense of pleasure and fun I used to get from drawing and music lessons, as well as trying new things. Needless to say my bipolar symptoms would probably improve if I allowed myself to experiment in these areas again, as they are part of my identity. Thought a bit of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy might help. If I sit down to draw this is what happens in my head:

“Nothing I draw will be a masterpiece, so I may as well not bother”

“Drawing is only worth doing if it’s for money- nobody would buy my art”

“I should be better at drawing by now- I’m still GCSE standard at 31”

“Nothing I draw will look the way I want it to”

….and on and on. You get the picture?

Believe it or not I have let these thoughts control me for near-on 10 years, during which time any drawing I have done has been a real struggle and not particularly pleasurable due to the above negative judgements. I have to battle with that inner critic to get anywhere, squeezing every ounce of joy out of the artistic process!

I want to learn to have fun with art again, to experiment and play about on paper- go back to the finger-painting years! I never used to judge myself so harshly. Maybe if I go back to my 12-year-old self and see what she would think about her drawing:

“Wow, I didn’t think that would turn out so well!”

“I love the feeling of drawing”

“I love drawing horses and dancers- they’re so beautiful”

“I can create my own world on paper- that’s so exciting”

“I can put this on the wall, give to Mum & Dad. etc”

Obviously my 12-year-old self was much wiser and I’ve regressed since then!

I guess I can make some mini-goals to get over my pencil & paper phobia:

– 15 minute sessions only- little and often. Sit with the feelings of discomfort, jot a few down.

– do some felt-tip squiggling, like when a kid, to get in touch with creativity and get over phobia of making a “mess” on paper.

– Try not to be ashamed of “childish” subjects that I love- fairies, angels, unicorns, fantasy in general- I have this inside me and need to express it.

There is also a fear of success (as well as failure) lurking in the background. If I achieve my potential my peers may no longer accept me. What if I really could be as good an artist/musician/writer as my potential allows- would it alienate people? Would they dislike me for my fantasy world? (I was teased at school about my drawings of unicorns). Think it was stupid? Laugh at me? Right now I just have to risk it and trust that people wont care! But there’s also the even scarier thought that “what if my best isn’t good enough”- This could lead to real, painful disappointment. Why should I get my hopes up?

My ego has robbed me of fun, play and joy with art and music for too long. It doesn’t want me to express who I am and blinds me with perfectionistic thoughts of fear of rejection, and criticism. I want to be braver than that now.

Baby steps…..

Bipolar & Perfectionism Part 1: The School Years.

Song of the Day: Perfect by Alanis Morisette

Photo Credit: SouthernAnts available under a Creative Commons Licence.

Perfectionism is something I’ve developed from a very young age. Both my parents are very critical (of me and the world in general!) and were depressed much of the time I was growing up, so I guess I learned that making as few “mistakes” as possible and being “good” led me to the quiet life I craved where everyone was happy. It was certainly easier than being criticized and judged negatively at every turn and contributing to my parents’ depression.

Perfectionism spilled over into primary school life. I went to a very strict Catholic school with a couple of real dragons for teachers who put the fear of God into us (rather than foster a healthy relationship with God and Christianity) . It was not uncommon for the misbehaving amongst us to be flung over the teacher’s knee and smacked on the backside infront of the whole class. So combined with critical parents at home I think I felt my behaviour was being constantly monitored and judged- particularly by God, he could see everything. I never felt safe, I never felt free from eyes watching me, even when I was alone. Thankfully my relationship with God has much altered now.

During school years I was meticulous with presentation of work, correct spelling and grammar and making as few mistakes as I could manage without giving myself an aneurysm. My main aim seemed to be to have as little negative attention thrown my way from teachers, parents or other peers as possible. Luckily for me I wasn’t lacking in the academic department and was pretty much a straight-A student. Any B grades that happened to grace my beautifully constructed essays were enough to put me in a bad mood for a few days. I would often feel despairing over them and seemed to see them as a judgement on me as a person- not quite good enough: I was just a B grade.

From the age of 12 I also became obsessed with losing weight and exercising. I was a chubby kid and attracted a fair few “fat” taunts. To my perfectionist child this was devastating- so I lost two stone, which at that age was pretty drastic, managing to keep it off until I was about 21. I think this was my way of getting control over my emotions- so easily distorted by what others thought of me and the powerlessness I felt to help Mum and Dad overcome depression and past traumas. If I could feel so good about being skinny- and it felt really good, I felt more powerful and in control- then it didn’t matter so much if I was criticized. As long as I was skinny and in control of my weight then everything was OK, I would actually go so far as to say I felt clean and pure. Of course this didn’t always work, but it certainly seemed to help me feel in control. The scales ruled my life then really though, they were in control, not me. If I was a pound over 7 stone 11 pounds then all I could think about was eating as little as possible and exercising at every opportunity. Perfectionism was stealthily wending it’s way into every aspect of my life.

(Photo Credit: david.nikonvscanon available under a Creative Commons Licence).

I think Bipolar crept in from about the age of 15, when I have vivid memories of coming home from school with an essay marked in red pen with a B grade (which screamed inadequacy to me), shutting myself in my bedroom and collapsing on the floor, sobbing my little heart out and silently screaming into nothingness. I couldn’t talk to anyone about this- it was stupid to get so upset about a grade. Why was I in the depths of despair about it? I honestly started to feel my life wasn’t worth living. I thought I was stupid and babyish. I was so lonely too, I couldn’t tell my parents as it would make them even more depressed, couldn’t tell my friends because I was too ashamed. I don’t think I even knew how to put my intensely dark feelings into words back then. I was plagued by unrecognized anxiety- I just thought what I felt was normal and that everyone felt like this. Looking back it is so easy to see that there were deeper reasons behind the B-grade despair.

The symptoms of Bipolar worsened at sixth form along with the perfectionism. I couldn’t contain my emotions when I received my first ever C grade for a first draft piece of Biology coursework. I burst into tears on my teacher- I was mortified. I couldn’t stop crying and ran away for the afternoon, skiving Chemistry and walking aimlessly around the streets sobbing and sobbing for two hours. I felt totally lost, alone, finished in a way, almost like I had failed at life and was about to die. If this was what poor grades and imperfection brought me then I was gonna do everything within my power to be perfect.

Perfectionism Part 2: Excuse me- where has my life gone?

Bipolar Disorder and Trauma

Song of the Day: Stop Me by Mark Ronson.

Photo Credit: nutmeg66 available under a Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial License.

Do Bipolar Disorder Sufferers become traumatised by unpleasant events more easily that emotionally healthy individuals?

I’ve always wondered this. Does our emotional sensitivity make us react to, say a flaming row, with much greater angst and upset than a healthy person? In terms of angst, upset, anxiety, guilt, etc, I would say yes, I think we do have more intense reactions, so it therefore seems logical that we would become traumatised by an event such as this more easily.

What do I mean by trauma? Well I guess I’m thinking in terms of Post Traumatic Stress symptoms: flashbacks, nightmares, anxiety, hyper vigilance, that kind of thing.

What about this sensitivity thing? Formally the trait is covered by Interpersonal Sensitivity and Emotional Reactivity, common to Bipolar and Borderline Personality Disorder. I don’t know what proportion of those with the disorder have the trait, but I’m certainly more sensitive to any kind of emotional event- I’ll react over dramatically. For example, I went to a concert where Phillip Glass’s Violin Concerto was performed- I was in tears it was so beautiful! I’ll also become more upset than most by slights, put-downs, criticism, violence of any kind, changes to routine, etc. I react badly to crowds, poor lighting, mess, overpowering smells or noises- loads of things. I wonder how many other Bipolar peeps do too? I’ve previously written a post about sensitivity which you can access by clicking here.

Photo Credit: TomBKK available under Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial License

Going back to the topic of trauma, I am curious to know whether or not Bipolar sufferers are more prone to traumatic reactions as a result of this sensitivity. I myself have experienced a few events in my life that I’m still struggling to get over even after twenty years! They are not majorly serious; I haven’t been abused or knocked about or in a road accident, etc. I used to ask myself why on earth do I feel so traumatized by the events? I could understand it if I’d lived in a war zone or something, but the events that I’ve experience, listed below, are certainly not what most people would consider “traumatic”:

– When I was 11 my Dad returned home from work one day and my sister and I were asked to go to our bedrooms. Mum and Dad shut the lounge door after them so we couldn’t hear what was going on, but we listened from our bedroom doors anyway. We heard a really weird noise that neither of us could place, a kind of wailing. It was Dad sobbing his heart out. We thought he must have lost his job or someone had died. We were terrified though as neither of us had ever seen Dad like this, he’s always been our rock. I felt like the ground beneath me had caved in. My sister and I were in floods of tears too, so was my Mum. She had to explain to us that Dad had an illness- depression. My first ever encounter with the dreaded D- word.

– My overdose at age 20. The hospital, all of it. I guess that would be a trauma for anyone though!

– Aggressive verbal attack on my manager at one of my more stable jobs- I’d been there 2 and a half years. Also attempted bodily harm. Obviously sacked. Devastated.

– Last year a similar attack on a stranger after our dogs started to fight. Still very raw about this one. Police were called. Luckily the other party involved was generous enough not to press charges. This was my first ever involvement with the police and hopefully my last.

The last experience I described is still very fresh in my mind. I’ve had quite a few nightmares about it and wouldn’t go back to the place it happened for ages, and even now, not on my own. If I see the person from a distance, I panic majorly and have to walk in the other direction. I still get emotional about it. Flashbacks occur often when I’m out walking my dog. They are intense and scary, I can still hear myself screaming at her. It is so out of character for me and I’m still terrified that I might react like that again. I felt at the mercy of my emotions, with zero self-control.

Maybe it’s just the way I’ve been bought up: church every Sunday, wrapped up in cotton wool and babied. There was certainly very little arguing when I was growing up, and no swearing or violence. So somebody with bipolar who was brought up in the opposite environment, ie. surrounded by all these things- would they be less traumatized than me? Have they habituated to the effects of this kind of environment? Perhaps they would experience no trauma at all! I guess it all comes back to the old Nature versus nurture debate.

I’d be really interested to hear what you think. Have you reacted severely to a seemingly mild event? Am I way off the mark in linking Bipolar with Trauma? The other thing, if we Bipolars do experience trauma more readily- does this exacerbate our symptoms? Would it set off rapid-cycling? It could possibly be a big snowball effect. When we have therapy for Bipolar, would it be helpful for counsellors/therapists to cover trauma?