This post is about my epiphany about the causes of the high anxiety I lived with for one reason or another during my childhood. While growing up I was a bit of a worry wart. I still am at times but now much less often.
Some of my anxiety stemmed from basing my self esteem on my mother’s. She had several devastating events in her life which for a long time affected her attitude about herself and her life. These attitudes were quickly adopted as my own, since I was the only child for two years and my father was away a lot; working and driving a travel bus.
But I had my own personal reasons for being worried a lot. After having strept throat often as a four to five year old and later, two things worried me.
1.Would I need a Penicillin shot in my behind? It hurt!
2. This problem was precipitated when my “brilliant” pediatrician told me I might be a carrier for strept throat like the English woman, Mary Mallon, a.k.a. Typhoid Mary, was a carrier of Typhoid Fever. That comparison sure made me worry a lot that I might infect one of my siblings. But my siblings didn’t get Strept throat, at least only rarely. So that fear dissipated.
The nuclear bombing of Hiroshima was in 1945. In 1954 Godzilla movies came out. They may not have reached our country until 1956 when I was almost 5 years of age. I saw or maybe just heard about Godzilla. TV shows and science fiction movies told about monsters generated from nuclear bomb explosions and waste falling into the ocean.These giant monsters destroyed everything in their paths. For a 5 year old, that’s pretty scary!!
I remember collecting a few lizards or salamanders from near our creek when I was 6. That night I had a nightmare about them becoming giant lizards. Daddy had to get up and release them before I would go back to sleep. Gee, I wonder where that dream came from??!!
Of course fuel was added to the fire when I heard about the nuclear bombing of Hiroshima and the miles of devastation around the center of where the bomb landed. I was a bit freaked out! We just barely missed that kind of horror in our own country.
In 1962 I was about 11 and of course heard bits and pieces about the Russian nuclear missiles on Cuba aimed at our country! The thoughts of war coming to our country were particularly frightening, especially when the leader of Russia was a crazy man named, Nikita Khruschev!
This was a time of uncertainty about our country’s safety and future. People were having large holes dug in their own backyards and having bomb shelters installed with a full supply of food, water and other necessities so they could be protected in the event that one or more of those nuclear missiles hit our country.
The horrific effects of nuclear fallout and the contamination of everything we needed to survive was a frightening topic for a little kid to see! All of this was going on when I was about 8 to 11 years old.
In some parts of the country there were school classes (although I do not remember ever seeing one of them) teaching us to “Duck and Cover” in the event of a nuclear bomb striking near our school. (Duck under your desk and cover your heads. As if that would really help?) Take a look at this video for students.
Can you imagine the thoughts that went through a little kids head during this time? What if Mommy and Daddy were killed? What if we ran out of food? Where would I go? What if I was the only human left? (There were plenty of movies, “Outer Limit” and Twilight Zone episodes about that!)
Later in October, 1962 the fears of the missile crisis were abated when a treaty was signed and the Russian missiles were removed. Whew! I was 11 a few months before that!
Then in history classes and my own parents I learned about World Wars I and II. Then the fears came again. If it could happen in Europe, it could happen here! Anxiety reared its ugly head again.
Earlier in my mother’s life a sweetheart of hers was killed as he crashed his badly shot up bomber to avoid hitting a city. My father had taught pilots how to fly fighter airplanes. Wow, this was getting close to home for me!
So I grew up with a big chunk of anxiety. I was so worried about being bombed that I didn’t want to wear shoes that had to be tied. The reason? So if there was a fire (bomb?) at night, I could put my shoes on fast and run to safety. I always wondered where that paranoia came from! Now I know!
Finally somehow I managed to realize that those terrors were highly unlikely to happen in our country. When I was about 12 I joined our church. As a Christian and a child of God I felt better protected and more confident. (As if those who had been killed weren’t?? ) My parents kept us from the local terrors of crimes and kidnapping. So life seemed safer.
But I later saw and heard on the news some of the scary events of the past and present: car accidents; children starving in foreign countries, robberies, killings, and shootings. (Believe it or not I did not know about or understand that there was extreme racism against Black people.)
After this for many years I focused on being a conscientious student in school; making good grades; and being a kind, good girl. The scary stuff was tucked away in the past, further and further away from my then present and future life.
Then there was the usual angst of being a teenager. About when I was 13 or 14 my mother told me she had been married before she married my father. The husband had been a bad husband and they divorced. My wonderful mother had made a mistake and married someone who was obviously (to me) the wrong person!
If she could marry the wrong person, then so could I! OH NO! Not that divorce was the worst thing in the world in my brain, but rather the realization that if my mother who I loved and placed on a pedestal could make a big mistake like that, then I could too!
So now you know, why I was a scared little girl! Fortunately I grew up and got through the teenage years, the young adult years, the middle age years and now I am working on the senior years. But I am a wiser, better, calmer , more understanding version of that scared little girl.