Anxiety can be a real you know what sometimes. If you haven't experienced it personally, it's hard to fully grasp the feeling. If you're one of the not so fortunate ones like me, you get to play host to the crappy feeling on a daily basis. I am sure I will write many posts on anxiety in the future because I know it oh so well, but I wanted to talk about my experience with anxiety as a child in particular today.
Unlike most kids at this age, my life outside of school was primarily spent at my dance studio. I began dancing around the age of six and fell absolutely in love with it. By eight, I was dancing 4-5 days a week for several hours after school and spent many weekends at competitions. To be clear, I 100% pushed this on my parents. It was one of those things that I felt at home doing. Social anxiety was already an issue for me and I was a stage five clinger to my mom at this point. I'm sure it came as a surprise that I was so willing to spend hours on end without her at dance, but the studio was like a second home to me. My parents knew that was the only thing in the world I wanted to do and did everything to make that possible for me.
However, the more I threw myself into dance, the more little incidents began to pop up that now I am able to look back and see as markers of a child struggling with anxiety. By no means am I implying that dance caused my anxiety, in fact it was a much needed outlet for me. Little red flags just became more apparent and my perfectionist tendencies took on a life of their own. When you are eight or ten or even 15, it is hard to grasp the concept of anxiety. It's abstract and complex, affecting everyone in its own unique way. The trouble is, no one explains anxiety to you as a child. I think we associate it with adults more often than not. Like it's some magical thing that you get when you're older, and poof out of nowhere you have the unwanted gift of anxiety. But that's not how it works.
As far back as I can remember I unknowingly did everything in my power to control my environment. Why may you ask? Because that was the only thing that made me feel less anxious. (Which is nice to know now, but I wish I had that insight as a child). I hated the feeling of seams on clothing, so I only wore leggings and dresses as a little kid. Socks could NOT have seams and if they bunched up slightly I would freak out. As a baby I couldn't stand the feeling of my hands being dirty and as I got older I kept my Barbies in their boxes because I didn't like the chaos of clothes and shoes being all over the place.
I have a particular memory of being at a dance competition having a full on meltdown because my hair wasn’t tight enough. Most kids cry because their hair is too tight. Not me! My mom proceeded to redo my hair three times that morning to try to achieve maximum tightness and I honestly don't know if it ever happened. Another time, I had a colossal sized freak out because I felt the color of my tights was slightly too orange (it was the exact color it was supposed to be but you weren't going to convince me of that). I would regularly work myself up into a panic attack before competing because a hair pin was poking me or my shoes didn't feel just right.
From the outside it seemed like I was an absolute brat and a nightmare of a human being, and I will be the first to say, you are correct. But I wasn’t that way because I had terrible parents or I was a spoiled child. I was struggling with a beast of my own that was rearing its ugly head the minute I stepped out of my itty bitty comfort zone. Internally, I felt a force constantly working against me. Almost like I was crawling out of my skin and I couldn't control it. I could feel outbursts happening and it felt like I was spinning out of control. As a child, that is frightening to say the least. I didn't cry because I was sad or I didn't get what I wanted. I was crying out of frustration and my inability to identify and express the awfulness that I now know as anxiety.
I look back and empathize with my poor mother because I did not make her life easy. She lost her temper with me a handful of times but she did her best to have patients and desperately tried to understand what was causing my behavior. I was lucky that she has a background in child development and was insightful enough to know that I wasn't just being a brat. All too often it is easy to look at what is happening on the outside and pass judgment without stopping to consider something might be happening at a much deeper level. Children struggle with anxiety and depression just as adults do, they just might not have the same capacity to fully comprehend or articulate what they are feeling. Mental health shouldn’t be an “adult conversation” and words like anxiety and depression shouldn’t be a taboo.
We stress the importance of kids learning social skills and laying the foundation for their education, yet we rarely stop to consider that what we struggle with as adults likely came from a seed rooted deep in our childhood. So next time you see a child acting out, yes, they may just be a spoiled brat, or they may be struggling with something much more complex.
Until next week. XO
Disclaimer: Please note, all information on The Cheeky Life is not intended as medical advice or as a substitute for professional care. The intention of this blog is to connect with the community and share my personal experiences with mental health, eating disorders, and life in general.