Yesterday I decided, as a result of reading a post written by Pim over at Pride In Madness‘, that I would post a new game. The ‘Little and Not So Little Things From Childhood’ Game.
The game asks for you to answer some questions about childhood and then offers an additional challenge to pick five of them to write in more detail about over the coming week. And so this post us the first in that additional challenge. And I have chosen, for today’s post, the subject of question 30. ‘One thing said about you as a child?’
I have often heard it said, and I think there is a lot of truth in the statement, that children can be extremely impressionable. Certainly I know that I was at times.
But I also think that not only are some children more impressionable than others, but that circumstances of life can also effect just how impressionable a child is. And, I am convinced that the presence of mental illness or poor mental health can certainly be one of those ‘circumstances of life’. And for the record, in my opinion, that ‘presence’ of mental illness or poor mental health doesn’t always have to be in the child his or her self in order for it to have a deep impact on the child.
But in my case, I am convinced that it was. I say that I am convinced that it was as mental illness was not so well understood back when I was a child and additionally I can’t remember much of my early childhood and so no actual diagnosis of mental illness was made about me back then.
But that having been said, as I look back I do remember how I thought and how I felt.
And I do remember having a duality of personality. And, for the purposes of this post, let’s compare that duality to the characters ‘Tigger’ and ‘Eeyore’ from A. A. Milne’s ever popular Winnie the Pooh stories.
There is little doubt in my mind that these two characters are good representations of what I was like as a child. And I have little doubt in my mind that it was this duality of personality which often caused my parents to say the words, “Why can’t you be more like your brothers or your sister?” to me.
Now, let me explain, I am writing this not as a way of complaining or criticizing my parents. Not am I writing this in order to suggest that I had a bad childhood. The truth is that my childhood was no worse than many other kids and the fact of the matter is that I recognise that I could at times be a very difficult child to understand, let alone love.
Moments when I was full of happiness. Times when I could be funny, cheeky and mischievous. And in truth this was the side of me that most people seemed to like and to accept the most.
And I would think – although I can’t really be sure – that if you asked anyone who knew me as a child, this would probably be the way that the would describe me. And indeed it was the ‘mask’ that I would most often put on. The role that I would most often play.
The moments (and side to me) which I learned to hide or to keep private as it wasn’t as acceptable, wasn’t as appealing as my ‘Tigger’ side.
And the truth is that statements like, “Why can’t you be more like your brothers or sister?”, no matter how exasperated the person who asked it may have been at the time, simply don’t help.
Why can’t you be more like your brothers or sister?
Consider this, if you will. Each child is unique and is uniquely finding not only his or her place in the world but also who he or she is in the world. Growing up is part of that, isn’t it? As a child we have to find who we are. And who we are is very much impacted and influenced by those we are in contact with the most.
And yet I am convinced that who we are is not always who we are allowed to become. And furthermore, I am convinced that when who we are is not who we are allowed to become this can sometimes lead to what I terms as ‘uncivil rest’ and what others often terms as mental illness.
I think that is why I like (and can relate to) this particular picture of Eeyore so much.
Because despite it seemingly being bright and sunny all around, there is a rain cloud which only Eeyore sees and feels. Now admittedly others may catch a glimpse of it through the way Eeyore acts or even by what Eeyore says. But only Eeyore actually sees and feels the rain clouds.
The question is, where do the rain clouds come from? Are they of Eeyore’s own making or are they as a result of external factors and influences. Or are they, as I suspect, partly as a result of external factors and partly as a result of Eeyore’s own making? Because Eeyore has grown to expect and to know them and because Eeyore has not been equipped to handle those external factors and influences in a healthy way?
As a child I looked forward with a sense of excitement and hope but I have to be honest and admit that so much of that excitement and hope grew out of a sense of uncertainty and feeling lost within the childhood I was living.
As an adult I look back on the child I was and I still see the confusion and in many ways the sense of being lost. I still see the duality in the child I was and I see the way that duality was expressed and indeed how it was misinterpreted and indeed mishandled. And I really do do so not apportioning any blame. And as an adult I can now answer that statement, that question, “Why can’t you be more like your brothers or sister?” with the words, “Because they know and understand and are happy in who they are. I don’t and I am not.”
And I really do make that statement apportioning no blame to anyone. Because as a parent myself now, I can also look back at how I was, how I am, with my own children and I can also see the mistakes I myself have made.
So I end this particular post (apologies for it’s length) with an open statement to all parents, (which I am sure I read somewhere) and then a final thought on mental health.
Never prepare a path in life for your child to follow. But instead prepare the your child for the path they are meant to follow in life.
In this world we live in, there are some of us who are desperately searching through the debris of the child our mental health never let us be, in the hope of one day finding ourselves and becoming whole.