Children with Mental Illnesses

This contains mentioning of violent events, if you know that you are easily triggered, save yourself the pain of reading through.

One of my earliest memories goes back to when I was 4, in my grandma’s old house, wearing a yellow shirt and faded jeans, with my father’s fist choking me against the wall, where a very small painting of an ugly flower hung beside my head. He had brought me a jumper from a trip abroad, one I refused to wear because it was, according to my 4-year-old taste, not cute. This made him furious enough to come at me with full force. A few seconds later my mother barged into the room to save her child. Through it all, I was motionless, not scared, not in defense, simply there waiting for his anger to end.

Throughout my childhood, I was the angry child whose emotions spilled way too dangerously. Maybe it was the result of my parents' on-and-off presence, a hereditary leftover of my mother’s depression and father's Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, or simply growing up emotionally and physically abused in many ways. The thing is that most children will cry over every small inconvenience, will throw fits because of a lollipop fallen on the floor or when a parent refuses to get them the cereals they wanted. Except they’d cry, cry, cry some more, then calm down.

I was the child whose fits were short but intense. Around the age of 8, I remember pushing my leg through a plastic chair, cutting it open and splashing the blood around as I screamed, simply because my mother wouldn’t let me stay the night at my favorite cousin’s house. In elementary school, I was the bully to fistfight other students, break everyone’s pens and have fun seeing them go home crying. For a child to derive satisfaction from other’s pain, it is a red flag signaling an unhealthy state of mind. At only 10 years old, I drunk a bottle of medicine trying to find out “if that’ll actually kill me”.

All this violence was met by the other kid in me, the grown before her time kid, to take on adult responsibilities, to spread herself thin trying to please her family and friends, to tear up from happiness watching kids’ shows, and to spend afternoons in euphoric happiness leading her to repaint her room’s whole furniture.

It was always there, the over-reaction, the over-sensitivity, the extreme anger followed by hysteric happiness, yet no one saw it coming, no one would’ve guessed that this child was more than “that’s how kids are”.

Growing up in a brown Tunisian family with traditional values and a typically eastern lifestyle, it made sense that my parents weren’t going to doubt a mental instability standing behind their child’s behavior. It may have been a defense mechanism that they developed to save themselves from the pain of having a sick kid, or simply blind ignorance, but until I grew older and went to seek help by myself, I didn’t have a name to put over the mental state I have lived with for over a decade.

The thing about child depression is that as children, we are unable to express ourselves properly. So even for the parents who are aware enough to provide professional help for their kids, it is still hard to come to the bottom of the issue as we are more likely than not, not going to explain ourselves clearly. But in most cases in societies like mine, parents won’t even doubt that someone so young can suffer mentally.

We live in a culture where mental illness, usually labeled “craziness” is only for adults. And not all adults, but the ones who suffered great trauma in their lives: the loss of a loved one, an accident, or some head injury. It is the collective of stigmas surrounding mental health and children alike that builds the walls around so high we no longer see beyond the “norm” and the “okay”.

It’s at the age of 14 that I first visited a professional, secretly, feeling like my brain was going to give up on me soon. Years of therapy later, I have a diagnosis, one that is both relieving and worrying. Having chronic depression that started developing since I was very young, Borderline Personality Disorder (that explains the jumping from one extreme emotion to the next) and a couple of other illnesses put me in a box of labels where I tend to lose myself. I can’t deny that discovering the meaning of what I felt all along has helped me figure out my childhood, understand so much of my past behavior, and come into terms with how violent I used to be. Yet at the same time I can’t help but wonder, how much different would I have become if I was treated at a younger age? Maybe I would’ve lived a more stable life, seen things from a healthier perspective and spared myself some of my worst memories.

I am sure that my experience is one in many that went unseen and untreated, for families don’t bother to care for the mental health of their kids as much as their physical health’s. This doesn’t only ruin the childhood of many kids but creates generations of adults who are dysfunctional in many ways. Angry kids grow into angry adults, angry adults silence their kids, silenced kids are finally, angry kids. With so much incomprehension bottled up inside, the young brains who are still clueless about the world turn into disastrous storms that destroy their shelter and its surrounding.

No wonder that we’re such a superficial society, if we’re managed by adults who were never given a voice when younger and never learned to earn that voice growing up. When we’re individuals with battles that are never-ending yet never spoken about, we come to exhaust our emotional and physical energies leaving us to become shallow and narrow-minded.

How can we expect a healthy society to be the product of ill individuals?

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