Laundry list of problems

I´ve got about two or three articles I started but never finished. Let´s see if I manage to write this one. Since I´m in no mood for complicated thoughts, I´ll do something simple but useful: I´ll write a preliminary list of all my mental health issues from my early childhood till the beginning of my teenage years. I don´t know, though, if the list is complete. Also, I´m very uncertain about some of the dates and time frames.

Emetophobia and other possible psychosomatic issues

So. The earliest problem I can remember is emetophobia. When I was about 3 or 4, my grandmother was terminally ill and my mother often had to visit her in hospital, which meant I stayed at home alone with my father and sister. Sometimes my mother stayed at the hospital over night, since it was in a different town. I remember one day my father and I went on a walk with the neighbor and his daughter, who was my best friend. We were running ahead, when suddenly she stopped at a bench and threw up. I must already have had emetophobia at this point, because I had that typical feeling of dread and worry I still get when I feel nauseous. My mood changed just like the atmosphere can change when suddenly there is a cloud in front of the sun. I don´t know how the day went on, but in the evening I was suddenly starting to feel “sick”. I remember the loneliness, fear and despair, and I´m pretty sure that I wasn´t really ill. It was purely psychosomatic. I went to my father and told him, and he sent me to the bathroom, told me to just throw up and went back to work. Of course I couldn´t throw up on command. I insecurely spat into the sink a few times, hoping to feel better (there is a German expression for vomiting that literally translates as “to spit”. It could be that my father actually used this one). I don´t remember how the evening turned out.

I have always had emetophobia, but there were times when it was dormant. I believe it remained very much awake and active throughout my kindergarten years, though. Also, I had to take homeopathic medicine (my mother was a huge believer in this) throughout kindergarten and elementary school because I had so many persistent and mysterious gastroenterological problems. My emetophobia became particularly active again some time in my early teens; in the evenings I was often lying on the couch, with my mother sitting somewhere else in the room, trying to distract me while I was moaning that I was feeling so sick. My fear of vomiting was less prevalent during my later teens, but it was always there in the back of my head. For a long time I stayed away from alcohol because I believed that the first time you drank it you would inevitably throw up. I managed not to vomit for twelve years, then a little over two years ago it happened again. I wasn´t even scared when it happened. To be honest, I really don´t know what I´m so scared of because it wasn´t all that terrible. I thought for a moment that I had really overcome my old phobia. Well, and then…bit by bit, anxiety was sneaking into my life. It took me about a year to fully understand that the constant nausea attacks were really just psychosomatic.

Well, then there were these weird belly cramps that sent me to hospital when I was 15. They might not have been psychosomatic themselves, but they deeply undermined my feeling of security. The days after my release I was feeling lost, anxious and disconnected. I had a similar experience one year later when I suddenly felt intense pain in my abdomen at night. My mother took me to hospital, but, once again, they found nothing. At that time I was already severely depressed.

Other kinds of anxiety and compulsions

I had anxiety disorders besides emetophobia even when I was little. I remember on some occasion lying in my bed (it must have been after my fourth birthday because I already had my loft bed) thinking: “First I was scared of throwing up, then I was scared of housebreakers, now I´m scared of housefires. I wonder what will come next.” For a long time, though, nothing came. I was scared of housefires. That fear, however, was debilitating.

I developed a compulsion to check the stove, and when I was lying in my bed I would be scared that there was a fire under the bed. I checked, then went back to bed, then checked again. I told my parents I was scared, and they said: “Do you seriously believe we´d leave you up there if we thought there was a fire?” They insisted I go back to bed. I remember that as a kid I also feared the sound of sirens, believing it might be the fire engine on the way to my house. I still get that sometimes. Well, quite often, lately. The fear is just not this intense anymore. But you should see me when there is a burnt smell anywhere. I don´t dare leave the house because I feel I must protect or guard it. A few years back I got a crying fit because of a blown fuse.

When I was 12 I developed a compulsion that forced me to enact complicated thought rituals whenever I thought anything to do with fire. If you have ever tried not to think of something, you can guess that this compulsion occupied me all day and night. It might be that I had it before, because when it set it, I experienced a strange déjà-vu. After half a year or so I told my mother about it, who said it might be a good idea to consult a therapist. There was never any follow-up, though. I managed to cure myself of the worst of it either with 13 or with 14 by forcing myself to think a series of stupid, mocking thoughts each time I performed the ritual. For some reason that helped. Now that my emetophobia is back to life, though, unfortunately this compulsion is returning, too.

Other things I was scared of as a kid were dogs – and subway trains. Sometimes when I was walking down a street I suddenly got caught up in the fixed idea that there was a dog or a train behind me, coming for me, and that I had to run quickly and get up on some wall or a tree in order to escape. All the time I had to keep on imagining they were just behind me, but not quite reaching me. It was, once more, a weird combination of anxiety and compulsive-obsessive behavior. It was like having a lucid nightmare while awake. I could influence what happened, but I had to make a mental effort, the nightmare and the accompanying feelings were just there and I had no control over it.

Either during elementary school or during early highschool I also went through a perioud of hypervigilance and heightened anxiety. When I was alone at home, I often listened intently, freezing up, expecting somebody or something (such as a dog) to attack me. I remember being left alone in the evening once and I could hardly make myself move because I was so scared. An interesting thing is that in those states of fear I typically retreated to some elevated place, such as my bed. Our flat has two levels, and going down to the lower level was the worst thing of all. This sort of matches the behaviors described in the paragraph above. While there was a reprieve some time during my teenage years, nowadays the anxiety is back in full gear.

In early high school (age 12 or 13) I developed an extreme fear that something might happen to my mother. I couldn´t bear it when she went out in the evening, I compulsively told her to take care of herself, and I was worried sick each time until she finally returned. I had to complete complicated thought rituals, picturing her safely walking from the station to our house. Of course I constantly made mistakes and had to start over again. Whenever I wanted to stop I was starting to feel guilty, so your mother´s life isn´t important enough for you to do something draining and dull? Nowadays I have a similar kind of thing going about my girlfriend.

In order to prevent anything bad from happening, I had to “pray” every evening to some self-invented higher entities. Those prayers were long and complicated, more like talking to a mean-spirited, niggard lawyer who will do anything to screw you over, so you have to chose your words extremely carefully. Whenever I made a mistake or lost my train of thought, I had to start over again. It was exhausting, I hated it, but I felt compelled to go through with it. I don´t know when it started. I remember doing it when I was 11, and I know I stopped doing it when I was 14. Now – well, guess what. I´m doing it again. I try to keep it in check, though.

Rage, temper tantrums, erratic behavior

I´ve talked before about how I used to throw temper tantrums when my friends were picked up by their parents. I did this in kindergarten; I don´t know if it continued in elementary school. Such behavior in a little kid is not necessarily worrying. I, however, did not just show these behaviors when I was little. While most of the time I would be normal, there were occasions when I suddenly fell back into those behaviors. When I was nine, I was on a camping trip with my class. Our parents were there, too. My mother told me to come into our tent and go to bed and I made a fool of both of us by starting to yell at her like mad. When I was ten we were on holiday and some guy started talking to my mother. As far as I remember, he was a psychologist. I felt that he was teasing or mocking me over something (can´t remember), and I started to yell at him like mad. I wouldn´t necessarily say it wasn´t justified, it could be that he was really making fun of me. Still, though, the intensity of my anger and my recklessness (I imagine few kids would dare just yell at an adult) are sort of surprising. They are also not in line with my general behavior. At school, for example, I was always dead scared of our teacher (everybody was). If I was a typical case of Conduct Disorder I imagine it would have shown in all situations. And when I was ten or even eleven I suddenly started to yell and cry when I had to say goodbye to a girl I met on holiday. I was clinging on to her, my mother had to tear me loose. I could even imagine that I was calling the adults (my and her mother) names. I have no idea why I behaved in that fashion.

I showed other worrying behaviors in kindergarten. My mother told me there was a girl who I actually liked – but for some reason I had a tendency to be mean to her. I myself remember how I intimidated another little girl in kindergarten, but I don´t remember the context. Everybody thought this behavior was very much out of character, since most of the time I was such a Little Miss Sunshine.

Then there were those attention-seeking behaviors when I was in first grade, my running away from my friends. In a way I repeated those behaviors when I entered high school: I decided that I didn´t want friends. A year later I decided that I didn´t want any Christmas presents. I wonder, though, if this was more about attention or about rebellion, withdrawal. It happened again and again that I chose to withdraw from everyone, break up friendships, burn the bridges. Often I didn´t even feel much about it. I don´t know why I did it. It somehow seemed necessary.

Then the thing I feel most embarrassed of. For several years I kept on complaining that my underpants weren´t fitting properly. Whenever I found some that weren´t entirely uncomfortable I didn´t want to change them anymore. My mother reacted to this largely with shaming and controlling me. I don´t know when it started, but it might have been as early as second grade. I stopped when I was either in sixth or seventh grade.

Oh, and another thing I just remembered: For a while I insisted that my mother would not go to bed before I was asleep, and I was terrified someone could switch off the light in the hallway (I always left my door open and my bed was right next to the door). I even had a night light in my room, but somehow that wasn´t enough. Irene delightfully switched off the light in the hall, saying it was a waste of electricity. Even when I asked my mother to not let her do this, she would never intervene.

Sometime during elementary school I insisted that I read while eating dinner with my family. I kept on reading the same few books, I always had to be pursuaded to try any new books. My mother would read them to me (even when I was 13) just so I tried something new sometimes. My family didn´t like that I was reading while we were having dinner, but I always won. Threatening that I would go upstairs or not eat was usually enough to make them give in. Or give me up, maybe. Looking back, I find it strange that my parents never sent me to a therapist when I was little. I´m kinda grateful, who knows what he might have diagnosed me with (Conduct Disorder?) and what might have followed, but it is a bit creepy just how dysfunctional I could be without my parents taking note of it (or taking action of any kind).






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