Ever wonder what anxiety feels like for a child and teenager? I’m sharing my experience with this disorder to give you an idea of what growing up with anxiety felt like for me.
Facts about me:
-I have had anxiety since childhood, or maybe even from infancy
-I didn’t know I had anxiety until adulthood
-The type of anxiety I have is called Selective Mutism
-Anxiety has made me suffer mentally, emotionally, and physically
Infancy to toddler, 0-4 years old
Was I born with anxiety? I don’t know the answer to this question, but from what my mother tells me, I was a very quiet baby that would barely cry and lay in my crib all day. She also tells me that I loved laying in my crib so much that I didn’t learn to walk until I was two years old!
Even as a toddler, I was very quiet and didn’t talk much, or at all. I remember going to playschool and daycare, and taking swimming and skating lessons when I was about 4 years old, and not being able to communicate verbally with the adults in charge of supervising me and instructing me. Sometimes, I wanted to ask questions, but the words would not come out of my mouth. My language skills were exactly where they needed to be at this age, so that wasn’t the barrier, however it was the anxiety that was taking over my mind and inducing the fear of speaking within me.
School aged, 5-11 years old
I remember being in kindergarten and struggling with learning the basic skills. For example, my kindergarten teachers were showing us how to tie shoe laces and the task was to tie your own shoe laces; whenever you were finished, you had to go and sit on the circle rug and get ready for story-time. I was unable to tie my shoe laces and instead of raising my hand and asking for help, like the other children were doing, I silently struggled. Eventually, all of the students were sitting on the circle rug except for me, and I remember feeling ashamed and embarrassed. The unfortunate fact is that when children have anxiety, it is difficult for them to ask for help and to verbally communicate with anyone, even a trusted teacher.
Fast forward to grades two and three, I was very fortunate to have an amazing teacher that was more like a mother-figure for me. My grade two teacher was also my grade three teacher, as she taught a split class, and having her as my teacher for two years was a huge blessing! During these two years, I had made great progress when it came to communication. I went from being completely non verbal to talking in a very quiet voice- actually, it was more like whispering. But, I was communicating, and that was HUGE!
I remember my teacher kneeling down to my level, making eye contact, and gently asking me questions with a smile. Initially, she encouraged me to just nod yes or no to her questions and then she would ask me questions that required me to speak. Another action she took was to take me aside, away from the other students in the class, and ask me questions individually- this helped me tremendously, as a part of having Selective Mutism is having social anxiety. I don’t believe my teacher knew I had anxiety, but she was just genuinely trying to make me feel more comfortable within the classroom.
Now, let’s talk about 4th grade! Grade four was bittersweet because I had switched schools and therefore everything was new to me. I was sad because I was leaving behind my best friend and my anxiety increased because of this big change. However, I met a new friend and we are still the best of friends today!
As I mentioned previously, having Selective Mutism can also mean you will have social anxiety, so making friends can be a scary thing and sometimes you aren’t able to make friends at all. I was extremely blessed, in that I had the most awesome girls come up to me and initiate conversations during my school years. Of course, having anxiety prevented me from going up to other children myself and starting a conversation with them, even though this is what I wanted to do. So, having my friends come up to me first and start a conversation was a blessing. Growing up, I only had a very small circle of friends that I could talk to, but even that was something that I was proud of.
Now, back to grade four- I still remember my first day of grade four- I was joining the other students in unpacking our school supplies on the floor and then placing them in our desks. After I was done unpacking and organizing my new desk, I went and sat down. My teacher reached down to the floor, where I had been unpacking my supplies, and picked up a package of loose leaf lined paper, ‘’someone left this paper behind, who does it belong to?’’ he asked. My heart started to race. I started to internally panic. I knew it was mine, but I couldn’t tell him that it was. I was frozen. I so very badly wanted to raise my hand and tell my teacher that the package belonged to me, but instead, I just sat there unable to utter a word. “Well..it must be somebody’s,’’ he said as he looked around the room. “Alright then, we will just share this. If anyone is in need of some paper, this will be on my desk,’’ my teacher announced as he placed the package on his desk. Phew, I could breathe again. I know, you are probably thinking, what’s the big deal? But, to someone who has anxiety, even a simple act such as raising your hand, does not come with ease.
Preteen to teenager, 12-17 years old
My anxiety became better as I grew older and I credit this to being in school. It became easier for me to talk to my teachers and I was able to talk to and make friends. I still had Selective Mutism, so I was unable to make friends myself, however, whenever my close friends made friends themselves and introduced me to their new friends, I was able to become friends with them as well (with time). There was one particular friend that I did make on my own in grade 7 though, and of course, she started talking to me first. Her kindness and sense of humour is what made me feel comfortable with her!
Although I became more comfortable with talking to my teachers, it was still difficult for me to ask for help, so I didn’t start doing this until high school. I still had social anxiety, so in some classes I didn’t have friends and although I enjoyed the subject of certain classes, I dreaded attending these classes because I had no one to talk to. Finding a buddy to work with in class or to do group work with was the worst. Often times, I was that student that was placed in groups by the teacher because I was unable to join a group myself.
One of the effects of Selective Mutism is holding in your emotions and feelings. Even though I had family members and friends that I could talk to, I still had issues with communicating how I felt to anyone- even my own parents. Sadly, I also became very passive over time and let people take advantage of me. It was mentally exhausting holding in my feelings, and sometimes I would think so much about my issues and feelings that it made my physically tired.
Even though writing this and sharing it with you all was difficult to do, I feel like it’s important to spread awareness of this disorder. Living a life full of anxiety can be isolating, so if you recognize signs of anxiety in loved ones, then please do reach out to them and be gentle with them. Being able to share my experience is a blessing in itself, as it has already made some women reach out to me and ask me for advice. Knowing that these women are now seeking professional help after reading my first post on anxiety, makes me feel like my goal in spreading awareness has been achieved.
Since posting my first anxiety post, I have received many requests to share how to help someone with anxiety, so that will be one of my next upcoming posts. I will also be sharing my experience of having anxiety as an adult and as a mother. Finally, two out of four of my children also have Selective Mutism, so I will be sharing some techniques I have used to assist them.
Resource to help you understand this disorder better:
Thank you for reading and please share this, so you can help me spread awareness about anxiety too!