The saying that you are a product of your childhood couldn’t be more true. In hindsight I realise that my anxiety disorder was as a result of the problems that I experienced as a child and the environment of fear in which I grew up in. When I look back at my childhood, I don’t look back fondly, I look back in sadness. It was possibly the most turbulent and unhappy time of my life thus far. My childhood consisted of being badly bullied at high school and sixth form, as well as being scared to death of my father who was trying to make life as difficult as possible for my mother, brother and I, as my mom had left him. My father has narcissistic personality disorder, in case you are unaware of what this is narcissistic personality disorder is a mental condition where individuals have an inflated sense of their own importance. Narcissistic people lack empathy and have a deep need for admiration from others as they are deeply insecure people. Narcissistic people believe that they are superior to other people and look down upon people who they perceive to be inferior. They use and manipulate other people and react with rage when criticised or when they perceived to be under threat from even the slightest provocation.
To say that I was frightened of my father as a child would be an understatement. I was petrified of him as a child. My parents divorced in 1982 and he would come to collect my brother and I in his red ford Cortina every weekend. I remember feeling really anxious around him, like he was a stranger and somebody not to be trusted. This was mainly because of his unpredictable behaviour coupled with the aggressive tone in his voice, and as such I was petrified of him, more particularly so when he so often got angry. I remember that he used to get irritated with my frequent requests to ask him when we were going back home to be with my mom, when my brother and I used to go out on day trips with him. I used to take with me a ‘security hanky’ that I always took around with me, that helped me to feel safe and comforted. I used to tightly hold it against my face, and it did offer help to control the fear that I felt when I was around him. I vividly remember on one occasion my father came around to take me and my brother out to a local shopping centre. As usual I took my security blanket out with me, and it was when we were in the toilets at the local shopping centre that he snatched the blanket out of my hands shouted “You don’t need that thing!” and threw it into a urinal. I remember at the time feeling devastated as that was my only piece of security, I quickly dissolved into tears which antagonised him, making the situation even worse. There were times that I went without seeing him as I was so frightened of him. My mom used to force me into seeing him by saying that he could take her to court, not really the best thing to say to a 7-year-old boy who was clearly petrified of his father.
I started High School in September 1991. Up until this point I never experienced bullying previously in any form at primary school. I was bullied for 5 years for pretty much every day of my high school years. The bullying was mainly in the form of name calling ranging from mild insults to obscene insults, that insinuated that I was homosexual and the spreading of rumours about me, all of which weren’t true. I did also have my fair share of physical bullying ranging from being punched in the stomach, thrown into the lockers in the corridors to being spat on.
I started sixth form college in 1996. The first two months at college were good, I made a few new friends and I seemed to be enjoying it. This was about to change though after the ‘honeymoon period’. The sixth form college that I went to, King Edward VI College had a reputation for academic excellence, and they were determined to the point of obsession to maintain those high levels of academic achievement amongst their students. I was beginning to find the courses that I had chosen very difficult, Advanced level Physics and Mathematics are certainly not a ‘walk in the park’. I remember quite distinctly one of the first assessments that I had in Physics, I managed 40%. I had prior to college been used to obtaining A*s, A’s and B’s, now I was just about scrapping Es. I began to feel very down and self-critical of myself, chastising myself harshly for these results. I remember one of the Physics lecturers there not taking too kindly to my poor achievements. He used to mock me and ridicule me, sometimes in front of others. My first panic attack occurred during an Economics lesson; I remember clearly what had happened. I was answering a question in the class, and mid-sentence I stopped. Suddenly I was enveloped with fear, I felt my heart race and I began go red and sweat. I felt a sharp pain in my chest as though somebody was squeezing my heart. I became suddenly aware of being so very self-conscious, as if everybody was judging me and mocking me in some way. The Economics lecturer asked me if I was ok, I said I was. I was left thinking what had come over me and I didn’t fully understand what was wrong with me. In the months that followed I continued to suffer more panic attacks, again not really understanding why I was experiencing these feelings.
So, what lessons did I learn from a traumatic childhood? Well certainly that your formative years are the most important in terms of shaping your future. A troubled start in life can lead to consequences later on in life, sometimes these problems don’t manifest until years later. In my case I developed something known as complex PTSD. It caused massive amounts of problems for me, I couldn’t go away to the University that I wanted to, I had relationship problems later in life and problems in the workplace. The longest that I was able to keep a job for was 18 months. My advice to anybody reading this is to not allow anxiety to cause you problems, get help for your anxiety as soon as possible, before it causes problems for you later on in life.