Mental illness is inherited from our parents. Discuss. . . This seems to be a hot topic in the media at the moment, but is it really anything new? We pass on a variety of things via our DNA; blue eyes, receding hair lines, asthma, so why is anxiety or depression that surprising?
In the past readers have asked my opinion, but this is a difficult one for me because I don’t like association of blame that comes with it. The idea of a family being cursed isn’t pleasant and implies that everyone is a victim. When it comes to genetics I see it in basic terms, you get what you’re given and it’s up to you to decide what to do with it. I suppose it’s the old nature vs nurture argument.
So before we begin let me be clear, I have a wonderful relationship with my family and I don’t blame them for the way that I am. I was blessed with very loving and supportive parents.
Researchers from the Department of Psychiatry Institute of Wisconsin-Madison were recently able to prove that an “over active brain circuit that is typically linked to anxiety disorders was passed down from one wave to the next.” Naturally they did this using monkeys, it’s always bloody monkeys. You can read the full study here
So there you have it, I was born with a brain more susceptible to anxiety than others. Although in my opinion the faulty nerves lay dormant for many years until I reached the age of fourteen.
I was a happy and reasonably carefree child, but I don’t think my parents would disagree that I was overprotected. Some of the key repeated warnings still haunt me today, “don’t do that, you’ll break your neck!” “Be careful, chew your food properly or you’ll choke to death!” “Bad men wait in dark alleys. Never go anywhere alone” As I got older the warnings became less about death and more about life choices. “You cannot live in that (student) house, Jesus Christ Claire. It’s awful.” “You can’t do that, you won’t be able to cope.”
These days Dan and I joke about my fear of the world. I worry that every knock on the door is a murderer, (seriously I do). It also makes me smile when my dad calls me dramatic… is it any wonder!
Still, I didn’t break my neck doing hand stands and I wasn’t abducted by the child catcher, so all in all I’d say that my parents did a good job. I was their first child and naturally they wanted to keep me safe from harm. The world can be a scary place.
Unfortunately this cotton wool treatment did cause me to seriously doubt my own abilities to make decisions. I was terrified of making a mistake that might ruin my life and I sort guidance for everything. When actually, your teenage years are the time to try things and be free.
Sadly when I did make a mistake at the age of eighteen (I chose the wrong university and had to change), the stress was so great that I smashed into a thousand pieces like a china doll. I wasn’t made of anything tough because I’d never had to be.
The majority of teens probably wouldn’t have been affected by such a cautious upbringing. But unfortunately due to my dodgy wiring I took everything that was said not only to heart, but as gospel.
When I shattered again five years later, I finally decided to rebuild myself using stronger materials. But we all know that story.
Growing up I knew that my mum had ‘wobbles’, but it was never spoken about. Everything was hushed up and secretive. From my parents point of view, the key was protection. I was to be shielded from all the horrible and unpleasant things that life has to offer… and what’s wrong with that? They probably thought that if I didn’t see it then I wouldn’t be tainted myself. Mental health just wasn’t spoken about in the nineties. However, this protection actually made things worse and when I started to experience my own wobbles I kept it a secret because I assumed it was shameful.
Social gatherings were a problem too, they caused a great deal of stress in our house which I naturally picked up on. Watching your mum get ready for hours only to announce that she looked ‘rubbish’ was (and still is) heartbreaking. I’ve always thought her to be so pretty and feminine.
So where am I going am I going with this rambling back story? Well I genuinely believe that anxiety is a solid combination of genetics and the environment in which a child is raised. Watching my friend’s children now it shocks me how much they pick up on, whether it’s a topic of conversation or general vibe.
Naturally I worry that I’ll pass my anxiety on to my own offspring, but I can’t control that any more than passing on my pale skin that refuses to tan… or Dan can his hairline.
My child will be fortunate enough to live in world that accepts mental health on a greater scale. I’ve said this a hundred times, but I want anxiety to one day be as shocking as a sneeze. If he/she is struggling with it then we’ll tackle it openly and as a family.
I would also like to say that I won’t wrap my kids in cotton wool, but I couldn’t swear to that. Although being aware of this urge will hopefully rein it in and prevent me from projecting my own fears onto them.
I think it’s very easy to blame issues on our parents. Isn’t that why shrinks always ask “tell me about your relationship with your mum and dad.” They’re the easiest target. However, surely they did the best that they could (in most cases) and we should respect that.
If you take responsibility for your own life then you can make changes, or at least that’s what I believe.