This post was a request from a friend. I’m planning on continuing his question in the next post. As always, if you have a question or something you’d like me to elaborate on, feel free to get in touch via email or my social media accounts. My email can be found on my “about me” page, and my socials are at the top and bottom of this page.
Being a child with mental illness was… interesting. A lot of people don’t develop psychiatric illnesses until their mid to late teens, if not later. My major symptoms began around the age of 9. I’ll go into the times before then in a later post.
I started experiencing major depression in 4th grade. I suffered from chronic migraines already and didn’t have any close friends. I think these two things helped kick-start feelings of depression. There is a history of mental illness, particularly mood disorders, in my immediate family as well, and studies have connected them to genetic factors.
I grew up being raised by a single mom with two older siblings. She had a good career, but not a particularly well-paid one as a college teacher, so we were short on money a lot. She had her thyroid removed due to cancer when I was a baby, so she’s had regular check-ups, blood work, labs, etc. since even before then, plus her medications. Once we started adding in my sister’s and my issues too, money was just short. I don’t know how she did it, and she probably didn’t want us to know. Despite everything my mom’s been through, she never sought her children out for a shoulder to cry on. She is the strongest woman I know, and I never had a role model other than her. But even as a child, I knew we were consistently in a tight spot with money. I think that was always something that was stressing me and the fact that I couldn’t do anything to help because I was a child.
These things combined–having no friends, being in chronic pain, well aware of financial pressure for my family–probably didn’t help in my development of depression. It was weird watching the other kids my age run around and have fun, talk with people, be unaware of these problems. Obviously there were others somewhere, but I didn’t recognize them as that at the time. I felt even more like an outcast, being that severely depressed as a literal child, than I did just without friends.
I couldn’t help but let the depression take over. I did have migraines every other day, but sometimes even on days I didn’t, I would call my mom from the school to come pick me up because of one. I put on a mask for people, acted cool about things, so they wouldn’t know. I started thinking about death and committing suicide, as well as hitting myself when I couldn’t make myself stop feeling. But the more I had suicidal ideation, the more the voices cropped up.
The voices started by telling me that I didn’t deserve to die. That I deserved to live a long life of pain and suffering. That my life wasn’t about me, I would be a horrible, terrible person for doing that to the people who cared about me. This made me more depressed, and I accepted what they said as the truth. That’s how my inability to live for myself was established, which stays true to this day. I’m trying to break out of that.
I had one close friend in school. I met her through my old friends that I had perceived abandoned me, and she and I were best friends throughout 5th grade and middle school. But missing as much school as I did took a toll on my social life, as my friends continued making memories without me, inside jokes, having experiences. My best friend never left me out, but when my depression got the worst it had ever been, in 8th grade, it drove a wedge between us too. We had fights, and we kind of stopped being friends. I don’t remember if we finished the school year as friends or if we were totally apart. I don’t remember much of that time at all. I still wore a mask, but apparently it wasn’t very convincing, because other people knew something was wrong.
Luckily my grades and skills weren’t affected. People still liked me overall. But I never felt like I belonged anywhere, and I had episodes every other day. In 8th grade, I stopped eating and stayed home from school 2-3 days a week, my attendance issues hitting an all-time high. In a larger school, I might not have gotten away with it. But missing so much school caused me to miss a lot of small experiences with peers. So growing up with mental illness was very, very lonely. No matter how much I wanted to find my place with them, I couldn’t be there consistently enough to.
I know other people with mental illness who felt the same way growing up. One is my ex-boyfriend, who is now a friend of mine, and he still feels this way in adulthood. He was not as charismatic with others as I was, so he felt it more than I did as a kid. I was lucky there. But not everyone growing up with mental illness is lucky like I was.
To be continued…