Childhood memories, childhood scars

From my LiveJournal, December 15th, 2010: (Caution: contains references to puberty and other such TMI subjects.)

Every now and then, memories of previous episodes from my childhood come back unbidden, and I always *mean* to record it for posterity, it just rarely happens. Various episodes of paranoia, freaking out in class or other places…

There was a time in math class in the eighth grade where I had been called to the projector (remember those things? With the Vis-a-vis markers and having to write at a strange angle so you didn’t block the projection?) to show how to solve some problem. While at the projector, I could hear all of my classmates whispering. I had a pretty heady case of paranoia about what my classmates were saying on a normal day, but this day, as I could hear the telltale hissing of whispers and muffled giggles, I lost it. I don’t remember what happened next, but some of my shocked classmates told me that I slammed my hand- and summarily the pen- down on the projector hard enough that the pen skittered out of my grip, cap going in one direction and the pen itself in another, and started screaming at them for talking about me, before tearing out of the classroom and running for the safety of home. To be honest, I don’t even know if I actually stopped in the office on my way, or if I just grabbed my belongings and ran. My parents’ house is only about four blocks away from the school, so it wasn’t far. I then refused to go back to school for two days, sitting at home and panicking about what I had done, and trying desperately to recall what did happen. I still don’t really remember anything beyond feeling my cheeks burn when I heard whispering. The rest is a blank, until I got home and called my mother and cried on the phone with her.

Some movies have led to episodes where I became convinced I would die before the end of the night. “Sphere” and “Contact” both did that. I remember sitting in my brother’s room, sobbing, begging not to die, but for some reason, I was utterly convinced I would die before the end of the night. This terrified my brother, but I begged him not to go wake up mom, because she might die if she got woken up before I died. I have no idea. Mom did eventually wake up because she heard me carrying on, and she came and sat with me until I fell asleep, and that sense of terror and dread would be gone in the morning without a trace. I’m still very careful with movies, and I don’t watch many movies that could trigger that without someone with me, and I usually watch them during the day, with the lights on, so I can recover and not panic.

I had pretty frequent episodes where I would essentially have a panic attack that lasted days, and I would feign any illness I could think of to get out of going to school. I was a good student, and evidently a pretty good actress, (or my mother just played along, praying that someday I’d stop being such a drama queen,) so I was allowed to stay home for the most part. There were more incidents where I panicked in class, usually prompted by thinking someone was laughing about me, or by me embarrassing myself. I cried for days when a joke would flop, or I would inadvertently stick my foot in my mouth. I would get even worse at that time of the month, so anxious about it and convinced that my period somehow made me a disgusting creature unworthy of life.

It’s hard to explain the self-revulsion I felt about my period, especially as it started very early for me, and my mom didn’t expect it so soon so she hadn’t talked to me about it yet- and that particular health class was several years off, yet. I was the only girl in my class in elementary school who had no choice but to wear bras, who had periods and had to be excused from class to take care of that sort of thing, and classmates would remark about it and joke about how often I had to go to the bathroom. On the odd occasion I had an unfortunate accident and got blood on myself, I would have an outright panic attack and lock myself up at home. One time in class, I realized I was leaking and didn’t know what to do, so I sat there, for an HOUR, saturating myself and my chair, until my class got up for library, and then a friend stood guard while I made a mad dash for the office. I saturated my entire outfit, and was completely mortified. I didn’t return to school until the following Monday. I had a panic attack while on a trip with my family, and had no choice but to use a portapotty and managed to get some blood on myself that nobody else could see, but I was crying most of the rest of the drive, panicking. All of this led to a complex I still have about the bathroom, where I get panicky when driving and being afraid of getting to the bathroom on time, and I have to go to the bathroom last before I can fall asleep. If I get up to do something in the middle of the night, whether or not I actually need to empty my bladder, I have to go to the bathroom. God forbid when I’m on my period.

I would form strong associations with scents, tastes, and textures as a kid, which is an indicator of childhood bipolar disorder. Any time I got sick, or something embarrassing happened to me shortly after eating a particular food, that food (and sometimes just the smell of that food) would be forever linked, and eating it would lead to the same feelings of nausea, embarrassment, or shame. I still can’t eat elephant ears or anything dusted in powder sugar, and I spent years not eating chocolate or lasagna. Years without chocolate, people. It was awful.

I don’t like some textures on my skin and would have panic attacks if I was forced to wear something that made me uncomfortable. I’m still pretty weird about textures and I drive people nuts when we go clothes shopping, because I get weird about how the fabric feels on my skin. There were a couple periods of my life that I lived in essentially the same outfit because it was all that felt comfortable. I think my entire sixth grade year was spent in the same three flannel shirts, until I managed to get one of them twisted after gym and buttoned inside-out somehow, and then I was mortified by the feeling of that shirt and couldn’t wear it. Any clothes I was wearing when something bad happened became unwearable and uncomfortable, even if it had been my absolute favorite outfit earlier that day, and it would then rot in the back of my closet. Putting those clothes on again felt like putting the shame and embarrassment back on and wearing it around; I worried that people could see how stupid I was because those clothes were indelibly marked with my stupidity.

…Wow. I was a messed-up kid.

Growing up with the childhood form of bipolar disorder is a scary thing, because I didn’t understand what was happening to me, and my family called me a drama queen and diva when I was legitimately panicking over something that may seem insignificant, but actually felt like the end of the world to me. To some extent, my mom was in denial, because she didn’t want me to have inherited my dad’s mental illness, so she tried to pretend nothing was wrong, I guess. She didn’t believe me when I initially told her about my suspicion. I wish more had been known about bipolar disorder, particularly in children, when I was growing up. It could have saved me a great deal of heartache.

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5 Comments

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5 responses to “Childhood memories, childhood scars

  1. such similarities, so much I can relate to it’s uncanny. I find it amazing how many little, seemingly insignificant little quirks us bipolars share. I too became a woman far earlier than anyone else and I had the same paranoias, not quite as severe though. And the clothes thing!! It’s not so much the textures or anything like that for me. It doesn’t matter what the outfit actually looks like on, what matters is whether or not I feel like it is hiding a particular flaw or accentuating an asset. I could look like hammered horse poop but if I think its ok, then thats all that matters…

    • My roommate was telling me about how a coworker’s bipolar tween daughter has been having fits most of her life where she will actually make the whole family stay home from things because of the textures of clothes or because she’s having a panic attack, and that’s when the little lightbulb came on for me. “Oh,” said I, “I did that, too.”

      My roommate mentioned that her coworker’s daughter had been particularly distraught over buying a swimsuit. Swimsuit shopping, something which this culture has already trained us from a young age to be awkward and uncomfortable, might as well have been a death sentence for me. The textures of swimsuits usually freaks me right out, because the fabric has a weird texture anyway because of the nature of the fabric, and then the associations they carry- being teased for being overweight, being mostly naked in public, sunburns, the itchy, uncomfortable feeling of sand in weird places- all of it would lead to a breakdown in the dressing room at least once a year, for me.

  2. Pingback: Childhood bipolar disorder: bad news, in my case | prozacinmycornflakes

  3. Pingback: Recurring nightmares | prozacinmycornflakes

  4. Pingback: Recurring nightmares | prozacinmycornflakes

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