When I describe my symptoms to a mental health care provider, the first question is almost always, "When did this start?". My symptoms didn't just magically appear out of thin air in my 29th year of life. Like a beautiful musical progression my mental health woes came to symphony in my 29th year. It was a long time coming.
When did your symptoms start?
Worrying isn't a Mental Illness
Worrying can be a bad habit but as a stand alone it isn't a diagnosable condition. It was my chronic worry, my worry over literally everything that should have put up red flags for my care givers. I obsessed with even lines, straight lines, even proportions, and labels facing forward. Odd numbers literally caused heartache- heartache that I struggled with alone.
My caregivers took a small amount of notice when I was 8 and wore only black and deep purple clothing. I had an insatiable hunger to know everything there was to know about death. They loaded me in the vehicle and to the doctor. He was a kind old man who didn't seem to even believe in mental health conditions. "It's a phase that will pass". And so it did pass. The phase passed and morphed into something that would from this point forward remove any understanding between my parents and I for many years.
It's Just a Phase
I would fall asleep crying many nights, dreaming of my funeral or picturing horrific deaths of family and friends. I can remember getting up at night while everyone slept and tip toeing around the house planning the best escape if a murderer broke in. I decided my parents were un-savable since their room was in the basement. I would only be able to save my sisters and this pained me to no end. Based on window locations and possible entry points I had a strategic plan to save my sisters that I routinely checked and double checked for flaws.
When airplanes would fly over our property I would be afraid. I have never known the life of a war torn country citizen. I'm from Atlantic Canada. I'm pretty lucky. No reason to expect bombers or war. Not yet anyways. During my youth I was certain one of these times a plane flew over, that everything would be over. I remember whispering my goodbyes and crying in my closet waiting for death. Sometimes minutes. Sometimes hours. I can remember falling asleep in my closet waking up convinced I would be entering war and devastation.I was never relieved when I would wander out into my regular life with sisters and parents and pets. In fact, I was usually disappointed.
All of this and not once could I go to my parents. It was just a phase, right? The fact that it wasn't over means there is something wrong with me... so best keep this to myself. If they only knew.
My childhood has happy moments in the sun chasing butterflies and pondering the caterpillar conundrum. But this isn't that story. I remember when I realized it wasn't ever going to be.
I remember when I told my mother other parents didn't act like her; referring to her drunk episodes, as she was a formidable alcoholic. It bothered me never knowing which mom would be around if I needed something or had a question. She was very direct in her reply, "I don't care what you think. Think whatever you want but keep it to yourself. I don't want to hear it. Shut up."
I remember when I was in the 6th grade I did poorly on a test. Something like a 70%. Not a terrible mark but not my typical 90's. I bawled. I sat on the floor and repeatedly banged my head on the cement wall repeating "they are going to kill me, I'm going to die, they're going to kill me". I was only exaggerating a bit. I probably wouldn't die. I wasn't that lucky. A teacher came over and tried to talk me out of over reacting. They just didn't understand so why bother telling them whats going on right? No one cares what I think. Just keep my thoughts to myself (this is my 8 year old logic remember).
The Point of No Return
My mom barged in my room one night saying "Your friend Britney keeps calling".
"I know," I replied, "she's having a sleepover". Of which I wanted no part.
Dearest mother in her typical bullying and agitated manor got angry with me for not being ready and *told* me to be ready in 20 minutes, she was driving me there. Looking back I think she just wanted some time in the house to herself but at the time it felt like the worst kind of punishment. With a giant lump in my throat I got in the vehicle and sat in the cold watching the snow fall. I had almost convinced myself I could just sleep in the car and not have to deal with a sleepover or parents when mother got in the car cursing me for not telling her where I was.
I just leaned against the window an cried. I cried the whole way cross town. I cried in the driveway while my mother pulled away. I kept crying in the driveway until Britney's mother came out an asked if I was coming in. I guess the sensor light not shutting off tipped her off. I dried my eyes, brushed the snow from my jacket and went inside.
That was the worst panic I've ever had, mostly because I didn't understand. I suffered severe social anxiety and lack of routine set off a very reactionary me. I remember spending half the night in the washroom with diarrhea and the rest of the night pretending I was looking for something in my bag. The mood was weird. No one asked what was wrong. That's okay, I couldn't bare to admit I didn't know. At least not completely.
I remember one of the other guests telling me I was bringing down the party and I offered to leave but that wasn't the right answer. Ever the people pleaser I swallowed my pain and with a permanent pained grin, I watched the group of girls do girly things. I might as well been on mars. I have no recollection of anything else that night. Thank goodness. What I do remember hurts my spirit so much.
So, When did your symptoms start?
Was I ever symptom free?