It seems impossible to me that there was a life before these sleepless nights and automated days. Where I was not plagued by my own mind, poisoned by myself. Yet, I know there was.

Generally, I believe that on some level I have always been fighting against my mental health. I suppose It was bound to happen when I drew the short straw in life. I had one of those childhoods where one bad thing happened after another, leaving me very little time to be the one thing that I needed to be; a child.

To think back, it comes with a lot of pain. The unfortunate truth is just that I have more bad memories than good ones. But I do remember what it was like to giggle, to feel free and to dance in the comfort of my own skin. I do remember what it was like before I had a mental illness.

I am certain that mental illnesses develop over time, I don’t think they just turn up overnight. I believe that many of us may ignore or perhaps not understand what is going on inside our heads and so as time passes, the illness spreads and eventually we are left with something more permanent, for me that was anxiety and depression.

I was bought up in a family where mental illness and mental health was never mentioned. It was not like I wasn’t allowed to be hurting, it was that my parents didn’t understand how I couldn’t go on. Being the daughter of a math teacher and social worker and a son from a poor family, I suppose their worlds never gave them the chance; either it was not socially acceptable or they could not afford the expense.

I was told often that I was a ‘drama queen’, ‘attention seeker’ and my least favorite word of all, a ‘hypochondriac’. I was quickly shut down and told that my feelings would go and I would grow up; but they never did. I don’t think that this was from being dismissed, I genuinely believe mental illness was just not understood.

When I was bullied at school, I was told that it was normal and that the bullies will stop when I leave school. When I had so many sick days because not receiving an education was easier than dealing with the pain at school, I was told I was being difficult.

When I screamed about the unjust against myself, I was put back in line. I was kept in a place that was convenient for society, what would keep everyone else happy. But never once was my happiness put first; everyone else claimed to know best.

I believe I must have been hurting so much as a child because my mother claims that I even tried to throw myself down the stairs in an attempt to ‘die’ as I would have put it.

When I think about all these things, it’s not that I wasn’t struggling with mental health it was that I was a victim of stigma and I was not able to get the help I needed because of that. All the signs were there, the symptoms were shining in broad daylight, but it wasn’t until I was a lot older, that I was finally listened to.

I do have to question myself as to how much of my current mental illness is at its level because the initial signs were ignored? And as to why I am only receiving early intervention now, when it should have been decades ago.

My childhood was limited, it’s affected my friendships and relationships, it’s affected my education and ability to work. It’s in a way, warped and damaged my ‘brain settings’ so that all I know is to run away and hide; I suppose I am still very much a child today because I never grew out of that stage.

So, I think the importance of this all is to take our children seriously. Learn the signs and symptoms and get intervention as soon as possible. Because as each month, year or decade passes, that mental illness is going to grow, plant more seeds and develop so many layers that it’s going to take triple the time to heal. Think how much pain, trauma, and struggles could be prevented if we just listened?

Watch for Part II of this series coming up on October 29th, 2018.

-Charlotte Underwood

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