I have limited or very limited memories of what life was like for me as a child and/or a teen before bipolar illness hit me in my twenties as a college student. This is particularly true of my early childhood years before middle school. These memories before middle school are largely blank. They are not bad memories, per say, they are just not memories at all. Like a blank screen on a TV set — all images gone with little sound either. I am seeking to explore the lack of early memories as time moves forward and as my therapy progresses.
In high school, I was a typical over-achiever and straight A student. I graduated at the top of my high school class and was voted by high school peers to be “the most likely to succeed.” I had a steady high school boyfriend for my Junior and Senior years in high school. My study peers were the Advanced Placement teens while my social peers were “the in-crowd.” Somehow it was important for me to feel that I was part of “the in-crowd” rather than just being satisfied with my academic peer group. Most of my memories of high school are very strong as I was able to hold onto this vision of myself as “successful.” These memories are much more vigorous than memories from the years before middle school.
Most of my memory absence appears to be before middle school years. When I was in sixth grade, my parents divorced. I tended to manage what I now recognize as what may have been anxiety and feelings of depression by becoming a great student and high achiever. I felt somehow if I could be a straight A student, there was no wrong happening in my life and all was right with the world.
My Dad remarried a short time after I transferred in sixth grade to a private school. When I was a Sophomore in high school, my Mom also remarried. With both parents happily remarried, I continued to live life relatively anxiety-free or so it seemed. I was a super student and a valued member of the cheerleading squad, the track team and the student council. I was the top student in my Senior class and voted in as “the May Queen” by my Senior class peers.
It was not until I arrived at Ivy College that I first experienced anxiety that I was aware of. Suddenly everybody was as smart as I was. Suddenly my coping mechanisms for stress – being the top in my class – seemed very very far away. I took to studying all the time to keep my grade point average in the “A” zone rather than adopting an acceptance for “B” work. This preponderance for “A” work I think was a factor in my inability to distance myself from the come-on’s and other subpar behaviors of my college thesis professor– Professor Flannigan — during my Senior year. The coping mechanisms I had adopted in my middle school and upper school years were inadequate for coping with the challenges in college days, particularly those challenges of my late Junior and early Senior year days. Perhaps unlike many college students, in college I did not appear to grow out of or beyond coping mechanisms that were helpful in my younger years in middle and high school.
In addition, it may have been that Professor Flannigan, untrained therapist that he was, was somehow trespassing dangerously into the “safe world” of that six-year-old child while that six-year-old child was striving desperately to stay on course. Once again, Flannigan’s assuming to be a trained therapist or acting like one was likely very, very dangerous for me particularly if sexual or other abuse was present for me as a young child.
What has changed since college days? There is still a blank screen there where there should be early memories, but at least now I am in a place to work through those voids with a trained therapist rather than an emotionally immature egotist.
3 thoughts on “My Sojourn through Bipolar Illness – Life before Anxiety”
From the outside it seems like you’re doing a good job working through various stages in your past. It makes sense that you would hold on to that drive to strive for “A” work in college when it was immensely successful for you in high school. One would think if it ain’t broke don’t fix it right? And we might think that your doing so well in high school was nothing but a positive and proof that you were quite well rounded. But it sounds like you’re opening a window into great insight and while it was positive in many ways (you were a kick ass student!) it was so much more. Your efforts were also a symptom. I applaud you for doing this work. Lots of people might miss big lessons in their life because all they see is good stuff. I’m not saying always look for what was wrong in a picture, no no. Rather perhaps we need to learn how to safely see between the lines where there is so much to discover.
Side note: I’ve found that my anxiety has dramatically effected my memory. Whenever I’m anxious I go into my head and don’t pay as much attention to other things. Either I remember the time because it imprinted as a result of my fear/anxiety or I don’t remember because I was so busy with my thoughts and worries.
Thank you for sharing!
Thanks for sharing your experience. I have memory issues as well — not sure of this is anxiety related or something else. It tends to be a regular joke in my family of about how I cannot remember things. It is not really funny at the core, but laughing helps to keep it at bay. 🙂
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I know that feeling, I use humor on a lot of topics. A LOT. Not so fun when people don’t catch the humor. Oh well… 😉