I’m been thinking about root causes of Anxiety. How & why does it develop? Are some people simply born to be prone to anxiety or does traumatic experience trigger it? Personally I think it’s a mixture. I was born with the ability to develop an anxious condition if the right environment were presented.
For me, this environment was Secondary School. Like many people, I found it a hard and unnerving five years. For the first time in my life I was forced to behave in a way that was deemed ‘desirable’ rather than what felt normal to me. Constant group work, speaking out in class and reading aloud were all activities that ‘normal & sociable’ children should do. In contrast I prefer working solo & presenting my ideas to just the teacher or my immediate group… rather than a class of 32 hungry & cruel teenagers. This wasn’t an environment that got the best out of me and many of my teachers were not impressed.
Here’s an example from my school report in Geography from the year 2000:
Claire is a shy and deeply reserved girl. She doesn’t answer questions without being directly provoked and doesn’t enjoy sharing her work with the class. She also seems to spend lots of time day dreaming which is a concern. She needs to make a special effort to come out of her shell if she wants to successful.
Notice that the report makes no reference to the actual quality of the work I produced, (I was mostly an A/B grade student) it only mentions my personality. Surely if my work was good then I was already successful? So why did she feel the need to criticise my character at such a young age?
For the record, yes I did day dream a lot in Geography class… I’m sorry Mrs Knight, but your lessons were so dull that I’d rather spend my time fantasying about what super power I wanted. Also, you were a bully and I always avoided meeting your eye because I knew you were going to pick on me.
Teachers generally assumed that because I day dreamed and was quiet in class, that I was stupid. I remember my Maths teacher called me “bone idle” on numerous occasions and Mrs Knight once refereed to me as being “a bit thick” in a fit of temper. My class mates delighted in these labels and used them to berate me for five years.
Despite the fact that I now have a bachelors degree, a masters degree and a good job, in my darker moments I still see myself as being “thick.” That’s the thing about labels, they’re bloody sticky!
Secondary school was also the time in my life where my confidence in my appearance was severely challenged. Fellow students were more than happy to inform me that I was ugly and weird. In particular I was criticised for being skinny, pale and minging. As an adult, I’d have told them all to F**k off, but as a young and impressionable teenage girl I accepted every word they said and spent years investing in fake tan and padded bras! I also tried to dye my hair blonde on numerous occasions (and would not be deterred by the advice of professionals, that it wouldn’t suit me.) I thought that if I could just be blonde, tanned and have bigger boobs then everything would be ok. Queue the sad violin music please..
So yeah in a nutshell it was quite a horrible time. I wasn’t bullied as such and I was lucky enough to have a solid group of friends, but I was certainly punched around every day. Some nights I couldn’t sleep because the negatives thoughts were constantly buzzing through my mind and I couldn’t silence them no matter how hard I tried.
By the age of fifteen I’d developed some very physical symptoms of anxiety. In class I would blush deeply every time anyone directly spoke to me and the more I became stressed about people noticing it then the more I blushed. I also had quite bad tremors and hated raising my hand in case it was spotted. I didn’t realise it at the time, but it was the beginning of a lengthy battle with anxiety. Like most people would’ve, at the time I just ignored the signs and hoped that I would snap out of it when I left.
It was at university that I finally realised I wasn’t weird or different I was actually just an introvert! I’ll write about introverts in more detail another time, but let me tell you this… the education system certainly isn’t geared in their favour.
There’s nothing I can do about the past, so I try not to spend time thinking about those years. However, I wonder if educators realise how much of an impact they can have on a child’s life? Not all children are the same and surely this should be celebrated (unless they’re taking drugs in class) rather than challenged and criticised?
Perhaps I was an over sensitive girl? I’m sure that many adults had a hellish time at school and still managed to brush it off and forget. But unfortunately not everybody is born with the innate ability to do this with ease.
Secondary school was my trigger and any environment that reminds me of school always triggers my anxiety.