On another page of this website, I talked about living life with an anxiety disorder.
It’s something that dictates how I live my day-to-day life, and it prevents me from doing many of the everyday things that most "normal" folks take for granted.
In this article I go into more detail about the most likely origins of how this disorder came about.
I don’t feel my story is particularly unique, and a lot of folks, particularly from my era, may relate to some, or much of what has been written here.
I grew up in the 1970’s and early 80’s. They were very different times back then. Attitudes towards raising kids were not like they are today. Life was more free in many ways, but could also be pretty tough, even brutal in other ways.
There’s no escaping the fact, I was a weedy kid; definitely not your alpha-male type. I was timid, overly-sensitive, easily intimidated, had zero self-confidence, and was far too trusting.
My parents were watching every penny, so I ended up being sent to school in the kind of clothes that made me stand out like a sore thumb. I was quickly characterized as the kid from the poor family. The combination of my coy character traits and my dreadful dress-sense quickly earned me that dreaded label of “different”, and, predictably, I became a target for bullying.
To cut a long story short, I was continuously bullied at school from around the age of 8 until I was about 15. Bullying caused me to experience sustained high levels of stress and anxiety throughout much of my childhood. Most of the time it wasn’t "physical" abuse; In hindsight, I sort-of wish it was; If I was being beaten-up, at least it would have been publicly visible and it might have attracted some help. But this, for the most part was psychological bullying. It was dark, pernicious and unremitting, but worst of all, it was well hidden.
Even my closest friends didn’t know about it, although there were a few times when they’d suspected. When they asked, I denied it; Stupid I know, but when you’re a kid held to ransom by the threat of unthinkable violence if you tell anyone, it really is impossible to speak up or say anything. You feel completely trapped.
During my school years, the public persona “mask” that I started to wear, was always that of the smiling, cheerful, friendly and happy kid. Looking back now, I realise this personality mask had most likely evolved as natural form of self-protection; In my mind, I guess I’d figured that it would be harder to be nasty to somebody if they were really likeable.
During my time at school, I evolved into an earnest people-pleaser, and often the class clown, always in the underlying attempt to be popular enough not to get bullied, but sadly, it wasn’t enough. Despite the cheerful, friendly personality, and often playing the fool to abate my oppressors, the bullying rarely stopped. Behind that cheery mask of smiles, I would feel my spirit dying a little more every time it happened.
Thankfully it wasn’t all stress and anxiety. There were still many fun and happy times I enjoyed through my childhood, especially during the earlier years when my sisters were still living at home. Family life on the whole was ‘reasonably’ normal, or at least fairly typical of family life in the 70’s.
Like most families of that era, we enjoyed occasional trips out, picnics at local places of interest and the odd day trip to the seaside. In particular, thanks to my dad’s job, we were able to have a 3-week-long holiday each year during the long school summer break.
I always looked forward to those holidays so much. In many ways, they were even better than Christmas; I was physically out of reach from my bullies, and my dad became a different person when he was in “holiday mode”. Everything would be so much more relaxed, and for the most part, stress-free.
The stresses and fears of regular life would melt away, although never completely. I could always feel them lingering just out of sight. But for the most part, our holidays meant I could experience 3 weeks virtually-free of any anxiousness. I will always cherish those times.
Looking back as an adult now, I’m pretty sure dad was hoping for a son who would be much more like him, someone he could relate to, and bond more with. Instead, he got this scrawny, unassertive wimp of a kid, afraid of everything, including his own shadow. As I grew older, he came to realise I was nothing like him, and I think it disappointed him greatly; we had so little in common. It was obvious I had inherited mostly my mum's traits, her mannerisms, her benign temperament, her artistic sensibility and her introverted predisposition. My dad on the other hand, was the polar opposite; a brazen, overbearing, militant and fearless Alpha-male type.
I remember most communication with him was a painfully frustrating process. He seemed incapable of conversing with me in a normal civilised way. I could never get a straight answer to anything. Whenever I spoke to him, even just asking the simplest of questions, I would invariably end up getting a lecture, a dressing-down, or just another reminder of my failings. I don’t remember a single instant where he gave me encouragement, I’m sure he must have done at some point, but the memories are just not there. In fact, pretty much the only memories I have of any dialogue we had, mostly seem to revolve around him putting me in my place.
All that said, I don't "blame" him, he wasn’t a monster, and he was still my dad. I both loved him dearly and hated him with a passion, the way only a child with a strict overbearing parent can do; but I can never ‘blame’ him for being who he was.
He’d had an unbelievably tough life: was put into military (army) boarding school from the age of five and was in the army until after world war 2, after seeing action in several places including Burma and Borneo.
As I look back with an adult’s perspective, I realise my dad was doing the best he could to raise me and my older sisters with the life-skills he’d been provided with. Unfortunately, most of those life-skills were rooted in his military upbringing.
Perhaps things might not have been such an issue if the stress and anxiety was just limited to school bullying, but sadly, it wasn’t.
I would go home, only to have the anxiousness sustained by my excessively strict, authoritarian father.
To me, dad was a tough, intimidating figure of extreme authority.
He was an ex-Army boxing champion and a staunch labour man, who exuded a brash, militant sureness of himself and his way of doing things.
He was also disturbingly proud of the fact he was raising me "Victorian style" and he wasn’t afraid to bluster about it to friends and family if ever the subject came up.
I loved him, of course I did, he was my dad, but I also feared him. Actually, the truth be known, I was terrified of him.
My childhood took place under his overbearing strict rule, and the older I got, the more suffocating it became. His parenting style, only serving to provide another prolonged and rich source of childhood anxiety.
Life carried on as usual into my teens. I still had to continue enduring ongoing bullying at school and the tension of living at home under dad's overly-strict regime. As I grew into my teen years, dad's rule became more intense. The leash he kept on me became ever-more suffocating, and the anxiety continued gnawing away at my mind a little more each day.
When the bullying started to get particularly nasty in my early teens, I finally plucked up the courage to tell my parents and ask for help. Sadly, I got the standard reply of that era "Just hit them back", and the help never came. Realising I really was on my own, I started to fall quietly into despair. At about age 14, I was in such a dark place, the idea of suicide had found its way into my consciousness. I remember I’d heard about some poor kid who’d hung himself after being bullied at school, and that’s what first put the idea into my head.
Disturbingly, I recall that the concept of suicide gave me a strangely comforting sense of relief, realising there was a way out.
As an adult now, looking back to that time, I still find it disturbing that at age 14, I’d worked out the exact details of how I would do it. I’d even secretly stashed away the bus fare I needed to get me to the place where I would do it.
I guess sometimes a practical-thinking mind is not always a good thing.
Thankfully those dark thoughts didn’t last too long. They were something that lingered around for a few weeks during the darkest times, but I was intelligent enough to realise that school, and hopefully the bullying, would soon be coming to an end. After that, I would eventually have the option to move out from under my dad’s rule, and start to live life on my own terms. It was all just a question of hanging-in there for a while longer.
At age 16 I opted to attend 6th form college whilst still living at home. The school bullying had all but ended and I should have been happier, but life under dad’s suffocating rule was getting me down even more than ever. He’d gotten even worse than before.
He had me wound up so tight, I was ready to snap.
I grew to hate him, with the deepest levels of anger and frustration, yet I was still completely unable to stand up to him. The fear-programming he’d instilled within me was still just as crippling at age 16 as it was at age 6.
I was still trapped.
Despite leaving school, the anxiousness and stress continued to live-on in my life. Moving out really wasn't a realistic option for quite a few more years, and I really did start to question if I would be strong enough to survive much longer in that environment without losing my mind.
With little choice, I carried on and I tried to get through college. There were good weeks and bad weeks. Some weeks, I felt so numb and despondent, that suicide had started to gain appeal again.
At around that same time, my fit and healthy dad died suddenly and unexpectedly of a brain haemorrhage.
I was still 16 and at college at the time. Of course, there were bouts of intense sadness, he was my dad after all, but by far, the emotion that kept overwhelming me, was the most all-encompassing sense of relief and liberation; the feeling of a crushing weight being lifted from my shoulders.
What does that say, when a 16 year old kid’s dad dies, but all the kid can feel is overwhelming relief and liberation? What does that say about the man? What does that say about the kid? Forgive the language, but it’ was a total mindf*ck.
A Lifetime of Healing?
So here I am some 30 years on, and I'm only just starting to recall the very occasional "good" memory that I'd had with my dad. Until recently, all I could remember was the scary stuff. For 30 years I'd only ever remembered him as the man I was terrified of and completely intimidated by.
It’s been studied and well documented now, that children exposed to disproportionate or unmanageable amounts of stress or anxiety during their childhood, are significantly more likely to suffer from long-term psychological and/or physiological issues as adults. It can disrupt early brain development and compromise functioning of the nervous and immune systems and cause things like anxiety, alcoholism, depression, eating disorders, heart disease, cancer, and a host of other chronic diseases.
Statistically, it can also knock up to 15 years off the average lifespan.
What I do know for certain, is that experiencing prolonged high states of stress and anxiousness throughout much of my childhood and teen years has had a huge impact on my life as an adult. As a boy, I didn’t have the mechanisms to cope with it, and now, years-later, anxiety dictates almost every aspect of my adult life.
It's not my place to tell anyone how to bring up their kids, but if there are any authoritarian parents reading this, you should know, there is now more scientific evidence available than ever before, that has proven beyond any doubt, that such draconian parenting practices can be extremely harmful and will psychologically damage your children for life.
Being an authoritarian parent might serve you as a parent, it might make daily life for you easier, but it’s wholly selfish.
If you can’t learn from my example, then here are a few pages that might hopefully change your mind…
|Life With Anxiety|
|The Appeal of Anime|
|Telescope & Astrophotography|
|Self Build Motorhome|
|Authoritarian Parents, Bullying and the Scars that Don’t Heal|