When I look back on my childhood, there are several prominent memories. Of course, I had some incredibly happy times. My childhood was full of love, full of fun and full of happiness.
However, whilst there were some truly fantastic times, there were also periods that were dark. And often these are the memories that seem to be at the forefront of my mind.
I’ve previously written about my childhood mental health. From the age of about 8, I was meeting with a childhood psychologist.
This was because I had an entrenched fear that had overwhelmed my life; I was totally and utterly terrified of vomit. The act of being sick petrified me, the thought of feeling nauseous was too much to bear and it wasn’t long before my mental health had an effect on my physical health.
I’ll always remember being in a meeting with the psychologist, things were getting quite desperate. He turned to me and to my parents and uttered the warning “if Rachel doesn’t eat soon, if her diet doesn’t improve, she will need to be admitted to hospital and fed through a drip”.
A startling sentence.
My Mum was desolate. The end of her tether had been reached a long time ago. She begged with me, pleaded even, for me to just eat something. Over the period of a few months, my diet had become that limited, I would only eat 2 or 3 food items. I was so skinny. There are photos of me at a family friend’s wedding and I look gaunt. Pale and gaunt. These photos show how in the grips of this illness I actually was.
Although Emetophobia was the main phobia I suffered terribly from, on a broader scale, I had a terrible case of health anxiety.
And this is something I’m being reminded of at the moment. In fact, health anxiety isn’t the only case of history repeating itself.
Last week my almost 4 year old son was ill. It’s winter, let’s face it, this is pretty much par for the course for the foreseeable.
He was struck down by a particularly grim stomach bug. It all began at about 10pm on Monday night. He awoke complaining of a stomach ache. Fast forward 30 minutes and the bathroom I’m desperate to be re-decorated was painted with a splattering of projectile vomit. This continued on and off for the remainder of the night.
I have to ignore my anxiety at this point. There is no alternative. My son’s safety, comfort and health is paramount. Luckily, my Emetohobia isn’t as prominent as it was during my younger years. The fear is still there, however, it’s not as overwhelming as I’ve known it to be.
Of course, my son recovered after a couple of days and the sickness was almost a distant memory. That was until yesterday.
Not long before my son left the house for pre-school, he began saying he had a stomach ache. He seemed absolutely fine in himself and I sort of wondered if he was pulling a fast one, hoping to get out of going to school. He soon conceded that he felt better and off to school he went.
The afternoon soon rolled round and I was walking down to his pre-school to pick him up when my phone began to ring. I saw it was my son’s pre-school. Answering with slight trepidation, I was informed that he had been unwell for most of the afternoon and that he’d spent a large portion of the noon led in the book corner. I picked him up a littler earlier than usual and could see he wasn’t well. He looked cold, he felt cold and it was as much as he could do to stop himself from crying.
I don’t cry. I write quite often about how I’m emotionally bankrupt, but seeing my little boy look so sad and so poorly is one thing that could literally make me sob for hours. I can almost hear my heart break.
He spent the majority of the rest of the day on the sofa, feeling thoroughly sorry for himself, in and out of naps.
When he awoke he seemed fretful. What soon followed was what I can only describe as a panic attack. Huge sobs, unable to catch his breath, panicked wailing. It was awful. I felt helpless. I kept asking him if he felt sick but this would make him cry even louder.
Once I finally got him to calm down, he explained to me that he really didn’t want to be sick.
He was frightened.
Frightened of being sick.
I then felt sick. An anxious sick.
I know all too well what that fear is like. I’ve lived that fear for over 20 years. It’s horrible. It’s life changing. And in that moment I was utterly terrified he was heading towards a similar fate, a fate I know all too well.
Today he seems better. He slept from 6:30pm through to 6am. He mentioned having breakfast which gave me a reassured feeling as I left him with his Dad whilst I headed off to work.
Last night I led in bed. He was sleeping soundly next to me.
My mind was spinning. Literally racing at 100mph. I thought back to a couple of things he had said to me earlier.
He’d mentioned that his legs were hurting.
My first thought? Check his legs for bruising. It could be leukaemia.
He seemed lethargic and off his food. My first thought? Check his back for a rash. It could be meningitis.
This is how my anxiety works. I can convince myself of anything. And this is where I was throughout my childhood.
I’d spend hours upon hours feeling around my head for lumps and bumps convinced that my headache was a brain tumour.
Upon reading a tragic article in one of my Mum’s magazines as a child, I’d search my legs for bruises, terrified I’d contract leukaemia like the child I’d read about.
Every time I heard about a stomach bug, I’d be unable to think of anything else.
I’d dissect a piece of chicken before eating it, trying to satisfy myself that it was cooked correctly.
It’s a horrible, horrible way to live. Constantly in fear.
I guess, I have 2 fears here.
Firstly, I’m concerned that my son could develop an irrational and overwhelming fear of being sick. Something that has often played on my mind but yesterday I felt like my fears were being realised.
And secondly, I struggle when he’s ill. I struggle to stay centred. I struggle with my fears. I struggle to keep it together and keep a lid on my worries and anxieties.
Instead of just thinking it’s a bug or a virus like so many young children get at this time of year, I’ve basically seen him receive the most horrendous diagnosis and our lives change forever.
I’m sure I’m not the only parent who feels like this. But it’s hard. It’s hard because anxiety is such a lonely and isolating condition. Not to mention debilitating.
It’s just you. Your thoughts. Your fears.
And nothing else.