|Me in sixth grade.|
If you’re of a certain age, you probably grew up before bicycle helmets were the norm. You probably sped around your neighborhood or along country driveways on your bike, not wearing a helmet, spinning the wheels, taking sharp turns that kicked up the dust. I was one of those kids.
My brothers and I grew up in the country, on a farm, with woods to play in and barbed wire fences to climb under. My mother knew we were somewhere on the farm, but she didn’t always know exactly where we were.
It’s a wonder we lived to grow up.
Have you ever said that, thinking of the scrapes you got into as a child?
Of course, a lot of children did get hurt. I’m all for bicycle helmets and any measure that keeps kids safe and unharmed. I’m glad that we know more now about safety and are willing to do things like put helmets on our kids before they get on a bike.
I’m glad, too, that we know more about mental health today than when I was a child. We have a long way to go to overcome stigma and to ensure that everyone who needs help has a way to get help. But more information is more readily available now than even just a few years ago.
For the past few days, I’ve been asking myself, how did I live to grow up? Not physically, but mentally.
I sorted through lots of papers last week, putting away things in file folders. I found a folder in my file cabinet that contained old health records of mine.
Years ago, I had to provide my employer a copy of my childhood vaccination records. Along with the shot record, the pediatrician’s office sent me a copy of all of my records.
I looked through them last week for the first time in years. A lot of the doctors’ writing is unintelligible, but a record of my visits from babyhood on was there.
On June 17, 1975, I was 12 years old. I was seen for a routine visit. In the nurse’s notes, it states, “Feels tired always—not sleeping well.” The doctor noted, “tired and waking up crying.” He ordered blood work and, I think (the handwriting is not clear), urinalysis and TB test.
Nothing else is noted.
The next entry is for June 12, 1981. I was 18 years old. I was seen for my college physical.
I remember being 12. I remember how the dark dread of depression had descended on me in the springtime of that year. I didn’t understand why I felt so bad, so hopeless, so unhappy.
I thought perhaps it was because I was a bad person and needed to be “saved.” At the revival at my church that May, I tried to get saved, but the prayer I prayed didn’t seem good enough. I found myself praying over and over, trying to get the words right, trying to get my thoughts in line with the words, just right. If I got it wrong, I had to do it over.
Prayers could also keep my family safe, I believed. But God couldn’t hear my prayers if I had sin between me and him. So I had to pray for forgiveness, and then pray a certain way for protection. Over and over.
Any thought that was bad had to be confessed, and I didn’t know who to confess to except my mother. Thinking of something bad was just as wrong as doing it, I believed. If I even thought I had a bad thought, I had to confess it to my mother.
I was also washing my hands a lot. I couldn’t seem to get them clean enough. As soon as I washed them, they became contaminated again, and I had to wash them again. If I spread contamination and someone got sick from it, it would be my fault.
Yes, I had OCD and depression. I was consumed by them.
My parents knew something was wrong. But professional intervention for my mental problems stopped with that visit with the pediatrician in 1975.
I got help for my mental health when I was in my 20s. When the psychiatrist diagnosed me with OCD and depression in 1990, she called me “high functioning.”
How did I end up high functioning? How did I live to grow up?
I don’t know. I don’t have all the answers yet.
Life was different in 1975. My parents made certain choices based on who they were at the time, based in part on how they were raised.
I hope I’m past the blame stage.
What I choose to focus on now is helping to break down the stigma surrounding mental illness. I want to help educate others about OCD, depression and other mental illnesses. I want to help encourage others to get help.
There’s no need for anyone to live like it’s 1975.