Living with a Lifetime of Misdiagnosed Anxiety and Depression – Debs’ Story
17 and seeking support
The GP reached across and patted my mother on the back of her hand. ‘It’s her nerves, Mrs. Cooper,’ he smiled. ‘Nothing for you to worry about.’
I was 17, and we were at the doctor’s surgery because my parents had run out of ideas of how to ‘fix’ what they saw as glaring personality defects which I seemed to enjoy displaying. Quite what miracle my mother expected the GP might perform escapes me. Perhaps she’d simply needed someone else—someone with authority—to hear what she had to put up with on a daily basis. An exoneration of sorts.
I’d had these so-called personality defects all my life, but the onset of puberty had exacerbated them. Outwardly I appeared to be doing well—I was in the sixth form at school and had a Saturday job working in Boots, the Chemist—but there were things going on beneath my skin and bones that terrified me… and which, in turn, affected my parents.
The early days
A sensitive child, I’d grown up nervous of others, but with a great sense of wanting to please them. I believed this ‘behaviour’ could be traced back to discovering myself no longer an only child at the age of three. When I’d been shown a baby and told that this was my brother. Because overnight, I’d stopped being the sole focus of my parents’ attention and hadn’t understood that others were also deserving of affection: at least this is how I explained my ‘behaviour’ to myself. And nobody corrected me. It was my own fault for not knowing how the world worked. For never knowing.
It’s easy to blame our parents for the way we grow up, because our parents also had issues, passed down from their own parents, and so forth. Although I’m (now) firmly of the opinion that my own mum and dad simply weren’t the parenting type. They were following fashion and doing what they saw everyone else doing, which included having the obligatory 2.5 children (the .5 being our mongrel, Kimmy, who was comparably lavished with affection).
A visit to the doctors
With the benefit of hindsight, I can see that if my ‘neuroses’ at the time of my mother and I sitting in our GP’s room had been caught earlier (say, at the tender age of 3, when it would’ve been helpful to have known there was a sibling on the way; what a sibling was; where it came from and how it might change the family dynamic I was used to) and given careful parental consideration, then I might not have believed in my infant mind, that I was being replaced by someone far more interesting and loveable. A belief I carried with me and which coloured every situation, every relationship, every thought, throughout my life.
Additionally, there was the fact that the term attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) had not been invented back then (this was 1980). So textbook signs such as forcing every small object I found up my nose to see the crazy reactions it created in the humans around me, were dismissed as silly, attention-seeking, childish behaviours. Nothing to do with the fact my tiny brain was trying to raise its deficient dopamine levels to neurotypical standard.
Teenage years and anxious thoughts
But back to puberty, the doctor’s surgery and the reassurance that my nerves wouldn’t get in the way of mother’s hoovering. In the months leading up to this appointment, I’d been experiencing what I now know to be panic attacks. On a daily basis. Nightly, at times. I’d wake up with a feeling of dread and anxiety which led to shaking and nausea; about what a mess I was bound to make of the day ahead. And this always began with the way I looked.
Logic dictated that if I appeared ‘normal’ on the outside, any stammering, shaking and blushing, which wrecked all social interactions from facing a family member, to getting on the bus where hot, spiky eyes bored holes in my face; to the hordes of humans that awaited me at either school or my Saturday job, if I kept my head down (my perfectly-coiffed head) I wouldn’t draw attention.
I’d reduced my food intake because of the nausea these feelings induced. I was convinced I’d throw up in front of people which would exacerbate the already paralyzing feelings of shame and disconnect I felt in a world where everyone around me seemed to get things right and I still had no idea where to start.
Of course, these deep-seated feelings of fear and insecurity weren’t as eloquently described to my GP as I’ve done here. But he got the gist of it. And so, for the next forty years, because my medical records stated ‘anxiety and/or depression’ I was prescribed a raft of antidepressants for every occasion with hardly a second glance or further query.
Looking back on these times, where my psyche was being moulded by dismissive external influences, my neurodiverse brain treated as nothing that manmade chemicals couldn’t mollify, I wonder how on earth I managed to survive 60 years. Because, below the surface where lipstick detracts and presents a normality I’ve never quite felt, scars created by these misdiagnoses continue to cross-hatch every tender fibre of my being.
A huge thank you to Debs for sharing this incredibly emotive and open contribution to our ‘Your Stories’ blog. If you’d like to read more of Debs’ writing, head to her blog.
Posted on: 21st July 2022