wE'Re AlL mAd HeRe

Anxiety, Social Anxiety, Panic… and the rest!

The mental gene

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.

Categories: Anxiety

Tags: ,

2 replies

  1. Very well said Claire. When I was diagnosed with panic disorder, my doctor told me my serotonin levels were not balanced, and that could cause depression and anxiety. That was an “aha!” moment because my mom had dealt with severe depression. So I realized I inherited it from her. I didn’t blame her, it actually felt good to know why I had anxiety/panic attacks. Unfortunately I passed that on to my daughter. But we’ve dealt with it openly because I knew right away what her symptoms were from. You’re right, it’s important to deal with it and make changes in order to manage it. Sorry this got so long, I couldn’t stop typing 😉

  2. I think being aware of possible genetic links is helpful but its also important to realise nothing is set in stone. My mum has bi polar, perhaps biological plus a shit childhood and my dad suffered from depression and killed himself in the 80’s. I grew up scared to death that I was going to have a mental illness ,it was a t a time when there wasn’t the internet or social media either. It caused me great anxiety in itself. However I’m now 30, happily married and have traveled and lived abroad most of my 20’s. I don’t thankfully suffer from depression but I do have anxiety now and again. I do think that having parents with mental illness does not mean the child will inherit it (especialy if that child grows up in a safe loving environment)but perhaps they are more susceptible than the average. But with that awareness of the importance of mental health those children could well end up more mentally healthy than others. Like if a family is prone to obesity,the child could make it a prority to eat healthy in their life. I’m aware of my anxiety, know my triggers and thankfully have never needed medication. My mantra is it will pass. I remember once though I went to my local nurse for some travel vaccines and malarial tablets and I asked for a certain type that had less chance of side effects such as hallucinations and she randomly said ‘yeah well you should have them not the others coz of your mum’ I was so offended as I hadn’t mentioned my mum,it was my first time meeting her and she had assumed that my mental health was a risk despite never meeting me before. It’s helpful sometimes observing genetic effects but it should be observed cautiously so not to create a self fulfilling prophecy.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s