We often think of depression and anxiety as diseases that affect adults and teens but children can struggle with them as well. I know because I did. Looking back at my childhood I can see the pain started at five-years-old after two terrible traumas that ripped a little girl apart but I couldn’t express my emotions because I didn’t know how. Children can have such a hard time verbalizing their feelings and thoughts so they may suffer in silence not realizing what’s wrong. I was too young, shy and well behaved for others to see I was in pain. I didn’t act out, instead turning everything inward toward myself. It was a heavy burden to bear on my tiny little shoulders.
I struggled to sleep every night but I didn’t tell my parents because I was afraid I’d get into trouble and I couldn’t tell them about the traumas I experienced because I thought they would stop loving me. So, I cried. That was my way of dealing with the pain. My tears fell so easily and too often. I tried to hide them as much as I could but sometimes, it just wasn’t possible. My first-grade teacher yelled at me and called me a crybaby. She told me to stop crying so much. She didn’t understand I couldn’t control it. She made me feel bad and worthless, like I was too broken to matter.
As I grew older my pain worsened. More traumas drew me deeper into that pit of torment as I struggled to stay alive. Ruminations of past experiences mixed with a guilt and shame of what happened to me ate away at my mind and pushed me down a lonely, heart wrenching world of despair and fear. My life was shattered and too painful to continue. I had to find a way out. At eight-years-old I decided to kill myself but I didn’t know what I was doing. I tried again at nine and almost succeeded but the terror of not breathing shocked me back to the living.
I continued to struggle like a baby trying to walk, always falling down; afraid of everything and nothing, still thinking I was worthless and hopeless; seeing the world as a dark and frightening place but the worst part of my life was just beginning. I came home from school one day to find my mom had been put in a psychiatric hospital. Dad took us to see her every Saturday but she didn’t know who we were or where she was. She lived in a different realm, seeing things that weren’t there and believing things that weren’t true. It was very difficult seeing her like that. I cried every night not knowing if she’d ever come back to reality and back home but she did.
My mom was back in the real world but her personality had changed. She became childish and hard to manage at times. She couldn’t be an adult anymore. I had to step in. Dad was a truck driver and gone most of the time so I became mom’s main caregiver and emotional support. It was hard but I loved her so much. The fear of being away from her crushed me like a ton of bricks, grinding me into the ground. I started missing a lot of school till I got to the point where I couldn’t go at all.
My separation anxiety drove us to court twice as the school system threatened to have me taken away from my parent’s. The first judge told me to go to church but the second judge was nicer. He sent me to be assessed by a psychiatrist. She asked me if I was suicidal. I answered honestly. She asked if I had a plan. I told her about the pills I had been saving. She put me in the hospital right away. The hell of being in a psych hospital and away from mom tore me apart. I made sure I did everything I was told so I could go home as soon as possible. I learned to tell the nurses, therapist and psychiatrist what they wanted to hear. Finally, after two months of pure hell I went home.
Unfortunately, my depression and separation anxiety never really left me. I continued to miss school. The superintendent came to our house and forced mom to sign papers saying I was quitting school. If she didn’t he would have me taken away. Mom signed. What else could she do? I was relieved from the stress of school and the fear it brought but I felt embarrassed and pathetic, like I’d never amount to anything. I was allowed to take the GED and get a diploma but it was too easy. I felt I hadn’t accomplished anything. I was still worthless and useless, a complete nothing.
I continued to struggle with depression and anxiety till I was old enough to try medication. Then my life changed. I was happy for the first time. I had energy and knew I could do anything. I went to college then grad school and earned my master’s degree. I wasn’t worthless. I was smart and determined, a woman ready for her life to finally begin. A child’s battle with herself can teach her many things about life, empathy and pain so she can use her past as a path to her future. I still struggle at times. For me it’s something I’ll always battle but that just makes me appreciate the good times even more.