A.

Anxiety and Childhood: The Power of Educating

If I see him again I will introduce myself.

That’s what I tell myself about the four-year old boy I saw on the train the other day. He was in a stroller on the station platform, being handled by his father, and I was in close proximity. The child was laughing and having a grand old time. All of a sudden, the train pulled up to the station, platformed in front of us, and his dad pushed the stroller into the train car. In an instant, that child went from innocent laughter to petrified screams. “Get me out of here, I want to get out! I don’t like it in here, I want to be outside!” he kept yelling.

The father wasn’t speaking to him much. All he was telling him was to calm down, that he was bothering everyone on the train, and how they would arrive to their destination ‘soon’ (the next stop was twelve minutes away). The little boy probably heard him, but he continued to scream at the top of his lungs and cry. He was absolutely afraid. And I could feel his fear. Hadn’t the train been so packed full of people, I would have gone over to him and introduced myself (with permission of the parent, of course). I would have told the kid that I, too, didn’t like trains, but that they are how we get to new, fun places. I wanted to tell him that many people take the train everyday and that there is nothing to be scared of. He has his daddy there that loves him very much and no one was going to hurt him; he was safe. But, I didn’t have the chance to tell him that; he was too far. As soon as the train platformed at Penn Station, I ran out to look for them, but had no success; they were lost at sea amongst the waves of morning commuters. And just like that, they were gone.

The Pain of a Stranger; A Child
That twelve-minute commute will be one that I will never forget. All throughout the trip there was a child crying and screaming non-stop. It was the commute where I felt a seemingly close connection and I started to cry. And I cried because I knew this little boy’s pain. I was terrified of trains a few months ago and the feeling was just absolutely awful. I could only imagine what he was going through! And yet, this little boy he was just told to hush down and no one was explaining to him why he shouldn’t be afraid. He had to bury this uncertainty within himself and just take orders. Which then made me think. It made me think about how, perhaps, this boy will grow up to be an adult and have a fear of trains (or closed spaces) and not know why.

I hope someone can explain it to him next time. I know the father wanted to help; he picked up his child and hugged him, but didn’t know that while hugging may help him feel a little better, that speaking to him would make so much more of an impact.  I hope that one day the kid really gets to learn. And I hope that he starts to ask questions. He may only be about four years old, but little kids have the ability to process what you say, connect the dots, and learn, too.

But then, there it was: an odd moment, right when I was crying, of a sudden flashback to my childhood that I must have buried so deep inside myself that I finally recalled it – almost twenty years later. And it was then that my fear of doctors and my feeling of being helpless came into fruition. It was at this time that I finally knew where part of my subconscious feeling of anxiety stemmed from…

Anxiety Stemming From Childhood – Uncovered
I suddenly went back in time and saw myself at about age six or seven. I was at my primary physician’s office (AKA the doctor) and was told that I needed a shot on my arm. I was so afraid of shots. Probably because whenever I asked why I needed them, I was given a mean look and was told “because.” It was kind of sad that no one ever took the time to explain that yes, while a shot would hurt for a very brief moment, it meant less runny noses, less coughing, less fevers and more time to play outside in the beautiful weather. So when the doctor started to rub alcohol on my arm, and it came time for my shot, I started to panic.  There was a need for both the doctor and my mother to pin me down to try to get it done. I was that petrified.

train

Very much like the little boy on the train, I cried and screamed- a lot. Figuring that I just needed a moment to relax and calm down, they took me off the chair and put me down on the floor. And that’s when I RAN [away]. I ran towards the door leading outside… and then I heard over the PA “we need all available doctors NOW.”

Next thing I knew, I was grabbed by four doctors, taken to a room, and was, yet again, pinned down to the chair. Each doctor had a limb to hold: legs, arms – even my hips were pressed down!

My eyes were absolutely blurry from all of the tears just balancing over my eyeballs and my vocal chords, oh my vocal chords, they were just calling it quits from so much screaming. 

That Moment of Helplessness
I remember looking at my mom and seeing such a nervous, sad, and worried look on her face. I was her baby, after all! Realizing that I was in a great mode of panic, she started to approach me.  As she reached out her hand to me, it was quickly stopped by a doctor saying, “No, mommy.  Stop and stand back. Don’t come any closer.” And just like that, I was shown that not even my own mother could help me.

Shortly after, I felt a big, painful pinch on my arm. And that was it… the deed was done. I walked away with two things: some medicine in my body and a mental scar of the moment that I was vulnerable and helpless.

Dealing With It Today
Think about it: if I was educated on just what this shot was going to do for me, if I was just given some time and a little explanation, I wouldn’t have had this thing stick around for so long.  Yet, it is all starting to make sense, now, why I feel afraid and vulnerable at times. Why I, and many people with anxiety, are always worrying about being safe and are making sure that we aren’t caught off-guard. We want to know everything about anything before it happens, and stress out about things being ‘perfect’, because we cannot deal with anything less.  We can’t deal with not being in ‘control’.  It’s a fear we live with and it all stemmed from somewhere.

There may be a link between anxiety and childhood, especially if you are dealing with it as an adult. Many life experiences attribute to who we are today and, to be honest, I am glad that the one I described above surfaced back, because it helped me see what was hidden and buried deep inside of me. And you know what? I now understand better. And that’s what counts. I analyzed the situation, learned that yes, it was unfortunate, but that I shouldn’t live my life based on what happened in the past. It’s time to move forward. We are in charge of our tomorrows and we are the ones to create our own futures.

Even though the boy’s experience was heartbreaking and unfortunate, I was actually at the right place at the right time. The situation opened up my eyes, heart, and mind to understanding something that I felt was beyond my control. When I told my husband all about the experience, I was in tears and kept telling him that I want to be better for our future children. I don’t want my children to go through what I am going through, and will encourage them to ask questions.

There’s no need to look back and blame my mother.  And there is no way that I am going out there and blaming that kid’s father.  They are parenting the best way they know how and, unfortunately, things happen. But it’s knowing that if you come across someone who asks for your explanation, or is in need of one (especially a child), to take the time to talk to them. Even if it’s another adult; take the time to explain to them what it is that they are seeking. You never know how much just one moment of educating and letting the other person understand can help shape their future and confidence. As for feeling anxious, I don’t need to seek for answers from my mom. I know what happened and I, being confident in myself, can take that experience and build on it. On my journey to recovery, I am realizing that it is a lot of taking the past as the past and working on myself in the present. In doing so, the anxiousness of worrying slowly slips away and I live a better, happier, and more stable life.

If I see the little boy again, I will introduce myself.
Loren.