I will first of all apologise in advance at the length of this post, but I do feel it is very important for others to read about, learn and understand.
As I spoke about in this post, you don't always have to go through a life changing experience, or have a rough upbringing or a tough life to suffer with anxiety or panic disorder, however, there is almost always a trigger that causes you to think and act differently in life. After researching the common causes of anxiety there were 4 repeated causes: environmental factors such as marital breakdown or loss of a loved one, medical factors such as being diagnosed or living with an illness, substance abuse or simply genetics. Other than suffering from patellofemoral syndrome, which I do not believe adds to my anxiety at all, I do not suffer from any other 'medical conditions' and I do not consider myself to misuse substances. Mental health did affect one of my grandparents, however this was arguably a steroid induced mental illness from his treatment for a lung condition so unlikely to be in his genes and passed down to me. This leaves experiencing an environmental factor, which is arguably the most common cause of mental health conditions. I had a loving upbringing, my parents are still happy and in love and I didn't lose a loved one until 3 years ago despite suffering from anxiety for the majority of my life. So you may be wondering, then what Lucy? I thought that too.
After getting questions like "you have nothing to be worried about" and "you have a wonderful life and always have done", I started feeling guilty for feeling the emotions that I did. With the advice from my Mum, I decided to start seeing a psychotherapist who helped me dig deep and find the point that my anxiety began. I saw her a few times but for the purpose of this post, I will just talk about the session when we discovered my triggering 'environmental factor'.
She asked me if I had any idea of when it may have started, and I did but it seemed too silly and so long ago to have made me the person I am today, but I told her. "My brother went missing in Queensgate when I was 4 or 5". (Queensgate is a shopping centre in a city near where I live.) From this, she put me into an almost hypnotised state where I had my eyes closed, and I was to talk in present tense as my 5 year old self about what happened that day in chronological order. She asked questions like "what do you see/hear/smell?" and shockingly, I could record what I was wearing, what my brother was wearing even what part of Queensgate we were. She asked me to speak about when my brother went missing. I told her we were in the seating area under the escalators running in circles, taking it in turns to chase each other while Mum and Dad sat and talked (He was around 3 years old), when suddenly my Dad came over, grabbed my shoulders and quite loudly said "where is Bradley?". I remember not saying anything and my dad staring at me,with scared eyes, as if it's a question I should have been able to answer. But I couldn't because he was chasing me, I didn't realise he'd gone. Then he ran to Mum who then came over to me and repeated the same question to me. "Where is Bradley?" "Where did he go?". I don't actually remember saying that I didn't know, I just remember being confused as to why Mum and Dad were mad and running around and were asking me questions I didn't know the answer to. I could see my dad running into the shop to the right of where I was stood and then come back over to me and Mum. My Mum then picked me up and sat me next to an old couple and said "Stay here" then turned to the couple and said "We've lost our son, please can you watch our daughter" and then turned and ran off to where dad was. I remember looking at this man I was sat next to, then looking into the direction of my Mum and Dad over and over again. I remember thinking that they were leaving me with this couple and they were never coming back. I sat and watched my them walk further and further away from me until I ran to my Mum and Dad. They weren't too happy about it at all as they were obviously panicking and crying and shouting and understandably didn't want to have to watch me. But I stayed with them until we found him.
That's it. No death, no marital breakdown, no tough upbringing. Just my 3 year old brother running off to play on the bikes in the window of John Lewis, and me being left with strangers. I was very emotional when we finished the session as I didn't realise how much memory my brain had stored from that day. I went home and asked my Mum questions about that day, just to see if I had made it up in my head or whether I really had remembered it. My parents were shocked at how much I could remember, especially given I was 4 or 5 at the time it happened, and as many of you know, child brains that young don't usually retain information to store as memories.
My psychotherapist talked to me in the next session about how the feelings I had felt being that small child could have triggered my social and attachment anxiety. The feeling of not being able to give my parents the answer they were looking for, not understanding what was happening, being left with strangers (who in hindsight, my Mum promised they looked nice and friendly!) and ultimately thinking my parents were walking away and would never come back for me completely triggered my brain to think like that every time something like that happened to me again. That's why I never left peoples sides up to the age of 16, it's why I still hold onto peoples clothes in crowded spaces so I don't get lost, it's why I find it hard to be left alone anywhere where I don't know people, it's also why I find it hard not being able to please people or make them happy, because my 5 year old self couldn't on that day. In a way, it's sad that something so seemingly insignificant compared to what other children and adults go through could trigger me to be the way that I am, but I wanted to write this post to prove that if you have had a good life and don't understand why you are anxious or suffer with a condition like mine, do not feel guilty. Do not feel embarrassed, as the brain is an amazing yet annoying thing, especially childrens brains.It is no ones fault that my brain decided to change my thought processes and develop and evolve over time. It is important to know that I do not in any way blame my parents or my disappearing brother for that matter. I never have and I never will.
I hope you enjoyed reading my personal experience, especially if you have a similar feeling of shame and guilt towards your 'trigger story'. I hope it's helped others understand how seemingly small life experiences that you don't even know you could remember can cause anxiety and panic disorder, and no one should ever be made to feel guilty or embarrassed by who they are, or more importantly, why they are who they are.
Love Luce xo