By Kiley Baker
I remember the final straw very clearly. At a midnight premiere of the latest movie in the Twilight series, in the middle of a packed theater, I began panicking. Hot tears overflowed onto my cheeks while my heart raced. My poor mother, lost on how to respond, told me what so many well-meaning parents do in the midst of their child’s meltdown: “You need to calm down.”
It wasn’t long after that incident that I found myself in a psychologist’s office. After speaking alone with the doctor for a while, he called my mom in. Then, the phrase I used to define myself for the next decade echoed through the cold, dusty office: “There may be a touch of PTSD there.”
It wasn’t an official diagnosis, but he wasn’t wrong, either. After being in a traumatic accident several years prior, I viewed the world differently than every other eleven-year-old.
In June 2006, I was hit by a twenty-two-ton feed truck while riding my bike. I was at the crosswalk in front of my house when one of my neighbors stopped and waved me across. I rode my turquoise bike onto the road and woke up minutes later to find my left leg had been traumatically amputated on-scene.
As a nine-year-old, I bounced back rather quickly. I’ve always admired that about children -- they can roll with the punches when push comes to shove.
However, my brain didn’t adapt as well as my body. After two months in the hospital, a year of recovery, and learning to walk all over again, I began noticing behaviors in myself that weren’t exactly typical.
I couldn’t be in large crowds. I struggled to fall asleep every night. Being away from my parents, even for a few hours, felt like the end of the world.
It wasn’t until that mid-theater meltdown that we began calling it what it was: severe, crippling anxiety. In that moment, I had completely convinced myself that something terrible would happen … maybe a man would walk in with a gun, or a tornado would hit the building, or a fryer would overheat and the whole place would burn down.
After meeting with that psychologist, it finally made sense. I wasn’t afraid that I would be hit by a truck again … but I was afraid of the unknown.
As a result of my accident, I learned at a very young age that bad things can happen to good people, and there isn’t always an explanation. It is uncontrollable.
That’s a hard reality for a nine-year-old to face.
It’s a hard reality for a parent to … well, parent in.
I spent my formative years feeling like I had completely lost my mind. My parents tried their best to help me cope, but in an Ohio town of 1,200 people, resources for mental health aren’t exactly a priority, or even an option.
As a young adult, I became angry. My solution to feeling anything other than bliss was to scream, sob, or self-isolate. I was mad that my brain was broken. I was infuriated with it … why couldn’t it just work the way it was supposed to?
Why couldn’t I regulate in that packed theater?
Why couldn’t I just “calm down”?
Unable to deal with the changing landscape of graduating high school and moving off to college, I self-destructed, slowly but surely.
How was I supposed to be a functional adult, possibly raising children of my own, when I had no idea how to pull myself out of these meltdowns?
It wasn’t fun, feeling like I was on the verge of snapping at any moment. I had pretty much written off the idea of ever having my own family. I felt unable to care for myself.
Cut to March 2019, through a series of very fortunate events, I became a member of the Generation Mindful team. Visiting the website, it felt like, for the first time ever, I wasn’t alone.
I felt seen.
I felt heard.
I felt validated.
Emotional education ... that is what my childhood was missing.
And thus, my deep dive into emotional intelligence began.
As a twenty-one-year-old, I learned for the first time that:
- Anger is not something to be ashamed of, and that fire I feel inside of me is letting me know that I have an unmet need. When I feel angry, I can reflect and verbalize what that unmet need is.
- It is okay (in fact, it is encouraged!) to take a few deep breaths before responding to a situation. There is so much power in pausing, as it allows me to communicate better with those around me.
- Mental health resources are not a luxury. They are a necessity, and they are invaluable.
- Trauma has many layers. I am proud to be a work in progress.
And, perhaps the most important lesson …
My anxiety-ridden childhood does not disqualify me from being a good parent.
I am not broken simply because I had to face a difficult reality as a preteen. There is not something wrong with my brain because I spent a decade being angry and misunderstood.
I may not have learned about expressing emotions in a healthy way until I was in my early 20s, but this does not mean I am a lost cause.
Being a part of Generation Mindful has made one fact abundantly clear: it is never too late to become an emotionally intelligent rockstar.
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