As a child, I cried a lot. You could be thinking, yes, all kids cry a lot. They cry over falling at the playground, being left out of a game or when an adult gets angry with them — situations we certainly handle differently with age.
But my childhood tears were shed over the lightest subjects. In third grade, I accidentally said “yes” to a lunch lady for a side salad instead of smiley fries and began crying because I was overwhelmed by my wrong decision. Although it makes me laugh today, I was sent to the counselors for the whole day and given a stress ball to help control my emotions.
I would cry over not knowing answers on tests, scared to disappoint. I had intense separation anxiety and cried when I was away from my mother. I missed the bus going home frequently and cried every time it happened, thinking that I would be stuck at school for the night. This went on until I was in fifth or sixth grade.
After realizing I had anxiety as an adult, looking back at childhood memories a gave me the biggest feelings of eureka.
Yes! Wait, no anxiety is awful, but yes! I now understand the source of years of worry and insecurities. Finally, these pieces of my childhood came together, and I knew exactly why I was sent to the counselors after a simple lunchtime mistake.
My teachers were always told about my behavior, as a part of it was from my father passing when I was in elementary school. I was too young to understand what cancer even was — as my mother told me it was a “bug in his brain” — let alone try to understand my resulting anxieties in the following rough years of my life
I actually visited my second-grade teacher for a job shadow requirement in my senior year of high school. On that day we laughed about how much I used to cry, trying to remember all the small things that made me upset.
While this may be dark humor in laughing at the tears of my younger self, it’s comforting to know all the tiny things that got me upset over the years really didn’t matter. Instead they served as an indicator of the start of my worrying that continued throughout my life.
My intense emotional state in second-grade was justified, given my father’s death had just occurred that summer.
In junior high, the realization of where my constant worrying and anxiety came from allowed me to finally piece together my childhood. My appointments to talk with “the nice lady who played games with me,” was actually my counselor. The summer camp I went to was for children who were affected by the loss of loved ones. Piece by piece, I was getting ahold of my past and emotions.
Children with anxieties and other special cases were able to be excused and tended to based upon their needs. Other kids were not there to judge and frankly, were jealous when I came back to class with a stress ball with a cute face.
This child-to-child understanding is something that some adults could surely use. I am not suggesting that all those with anxieties and mental illness deserve to be excused in every situation of their lives, but more understanding and respect could surely be granted.
My mother took every step to ensure that I could try to move on and “be okay” when I got older, but my anxieties and sadness stayed with me throughout my life despite the preventatives.
So, when I hear those undermine mental illness, I get frustrated. Those who are battling certain mental illnesses cannot “change their mindsets” to make their thoughts go away. An individual with anxiety, depression or another mental illness does not deserve another’s negative opinion to add to their struggles.
Losing a parent changes your perspective on life and certainly changes my thoughts every day. Many need to walk a mile in someone else’s shoes before they make judgments about mental illness.
I like to think that today I have learned coping mechanisms other than crying, but quite honestly it might still apply today that I would shed a tear or two if I accidentally said yes to salad instead of the delicacy of smiley face fries.
Some of these mechanisms include repeating positive thoughts in my head when I become negative about myself, reminding myself of the great people that I have in my life and giving myself some slack when my workload is taking over my self-care.
I share my story not to compare to another’s trauma or illness, but to share my experience and further spread awareness. Positive encouragement and suggestions are more helpful to help fight evil thoughts, not judgement and slander.