Anxiety and OCD: onset aged 5, treatment aged 55
22 September 2020
By David Monk
I have suffered from anxiety since early childhood, so I know that it can be pernicious. It is also crippling, undermining and shameful. Because we all prefer to show the world that we are strong and able to cope, this can lead to us denying to everyone (including sometimes ourselves) that there is a problem. This means that anxiety can also be exhausting, because it can lead to an infinite variety of strategies designed to disguise our true selves from those around us, in case our most vulnerable self is somehow spotted and everything comes crashing down around us in the way we fear most.
All this is to say nothing of the wide range of obsessive rituals. My list has been truly inexhaustible, but has included checking countless times that the doors are locked before leaving the house, necessitating a mad dash for the train to work as a result; screwing down taps so tightly that eventually they break; and trying desperately to convince myself that I have not put bleach or some other toxic substance into the cooking for my loved ones. All these and countless others have been accompanied by an all-pervading sense of dread deep in the pit of my stomach which I came to recognise early in my early adulthood as free-floating anxiety. The many irresistible rituals sometimes eased the intense butterflies, but in the end brought nothing but the most transient relief.
My list [of obsessive rituals] has been truly inexhaustible, but has included screwing down taps so tightly that eventually they break; and trying desperately to convince myself that I have not put bleach or some other toxic substance into the cooking for my loved ones.
I finally decided to tackle my anxiety through life-changing therapy in my mid 50s, having concealed it rather brilliantly from all but my wife for several decades, such was my sense of acute shame. I spent much of my life working as a social worker and probation officer with troubled children and adults, seeking to ease their pain and believing that if I worked hard enough on that, and my own disguise as carefree and relaxed, all would come right in the end. But of course it didn’t.
As a result of my experience, I passionately believe that all children need adults around them who are prepared to sit alongside those in their care, and support them in their endeavours and struggles, including making well-judged and genuine enquiry as to how they are feeling. All children also need the time and space to talk about who they are, who they wish to be, and the things they fear most and might otherwise feel compelled to hide.
much greater support should be available to parents in recognising the first signs of anxiety in their children, and how this might best be dealt with
Of course this goes to the heart of effective parenting, but beyond this my plea would be two-fold. First, much greater support should be available to parents in recognising the first signs of anxiety in their children, and how this might best be dealt with. Second, I believe a major expansion of mentoring services for young people is needed, so that childhood worries can be shared with a trusted adult outside the family, without becoming tomorrow’s behemoths.
My experience of anxiety led me to finally put pen to paper in my early 60s, which led to the recent publication of Further Up the Beach. Although a fictional account, my own experiences have done much to shape the narrative of Sam, the central character, and his relationship with the rest of his family in general and his father, Walter, in particular.
Further Up the Beach is published by AuthorHouse and is available here and online from other major booksellers.
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