- Aging & Longevity
Growing Forwards and Backwards
Growing up, I was a pretty interesting kid. Not the kind of interesting that got discovered by an agent at a young age and became famous in my teen years. Not the kind of interesting that modeled or got on TV for a crazy talent obtained in my earlier years. And certainly not the kind of interesting that involved winning first place at a science fair or a pie eating contest. I was the kind of interesting that grew up too quickly then not at all.
When you reread that last sentence, does it make any sense at all? I grew up too quickly, then not at all. Well, I was always an eloquent and delicate soul who could list the starting lineup for a baseball game, identify presidents on dollar bills and read chapter books in first grade. I would think up phrases, one being “Well first of all, his zipper is busted” when my Dad and I went to pick up flowers at a flower stand. My Nana’s favorite line from little three year old Andrea would have been when my parents were in China adopting my sister and I asked to talk on the phone with her. She was a one year old at the time, and I greeted her with the words “Hi, I’m Andrea! I’m your big sister!” And as the story goes, it was almost as if I was laying down the law to my sister that hadn’t even met me in person yet.
But this isn’t about the funny things I said and did as a child. It is about how I first grew up too quickly. Besides enunciating my words at a young age or having a good memory, I grew up too fast emotionally. In my experience, this meant that I thought and felt so many feelings and emotions at a really young age, feelings that an elementary school student shouldn’t have felt. To make a long story short, after my sister was diagnosed with ADHD, I felt as though my emotional well-being flew slightly under the radar. The feelings of being lonely and left out arose, and suddenly I was second guessing my self-worth. It was also around this time when a strange type of competition between my older cousin and I began to be more noticeable and had a bigger impact on me than ever before. It was ever-present from a very early age, however the very beginning of puberty hit me in addition to this competition and my sister’s diagnosis.
As time went on, my emotional state got increasingly worse. I painted a smile on my face every day, the disappointing part being that most of the time, my smiles and laughs were not genuine and even sometimes fake. It has always felt easier to laugh things off than to face the feelings head on and expressing how I actually felt. This especially happened upon the arrival of 3rd grade. 3rd grade wasn’t a very good year for me. I got pneumonia on the first day of school and heard rumors that my new teacher was mean and hard on her students and gave out lots of homework, most of which was true. My new teacher did give out lots of homework and was hard on her students, but looking back, she wasn’t mean. She just wanted to prepare her students for the next grade in their elementary school careers.
The sad truth of the matter is that no one and nothing could prepare me for 4th and 5th grade, and beyond the last few years of elementary school came middle and high school, all of which was a hot mess. I started to take everyone’s opinions, constructive criticism and comments so personally and the unkind words of my peers were taken straight to heart. Needless to say, I became more and more sensitive and vulnerable to everything and anything that was said to me by anyone.
There were times that crackers were my only “meal” of the day. There were times I ate lunch in the bathrooms of the middle school I attended. There were times I cried and screamed, and unfortunately it became violent as self harm was added to my repertoire of negative behavioral patterns. And all of those negative behavioral patterns only got worse as time went on. The first time I self harmed, I was 13. 13 year olds are in 7th grade and might worry about straightening their hair or making the basketball team. Yet on my bedroom floor I sat with the will to die.
These would be the examples as to how I grew up too quickly. Now comes the even more intriguing part of not growing up at all. Because I lost my emotional innocence at the age of 7 subsequent to my sister’s ADHD diagnosis, I grew up and pretended to smile through my preteen years until my first hospitalization at age 15. Since then, all of the feelings and emotions that could ever be felt hit me all at once. I cried every day for the past few years and it still happens at times to this day.
Every time after I was done crying, a random memory of my childhood came to mind which always led to me wishing I could go back to the days before I turned 7 and when everything was easier. When high school started, I was even better at faking the happy act, even as my situation got harder than ever before. But the high school Andrea was much different than the middle school Andrea. Instead of hiding from everything, I found a new way to handle things. I started getting overly excited about everything positive that happened by jumping up and down, clapping and squealing with delight. I started listening to my childhood CD’s, reading the books with perfect rhyme and hanging out with my friends at locations that you would more likely find little kids at, playgrounds and a room full of inflatable bounce houses.
But on the other side of the not-so-positive spectrum, I continued to deprive myself of food, stayed up way too long at night thinking about all of the what-ifs that life could possibly throw at me and the worst of it, self harm. I started a social media blog with solely negative content, I isolated myself from the world and my motivation for just about everything escaped me. During my 3rd hospitalization, I realized with the unit psychologist that I was frequently recalling my childhood memories and reverting back to the interests and behaviors that a child would exhibit at around the age of 7. That explained the reasoning behind my unusual love of all things with a little kid nature, but it also left my new pattern of behaviors with a question mark next to it.
Then again, at the end of the day it does make sense as to why I was so mean to myself; people were being mean to me and my logic resembled that if it was okay for others to hurt me, it was okay for me to hurt myself as well. Looking back on it, I can see why I thought that way so often and at the same time I’m glad that I’m at a place now where I can look back on that darker period of time in my life and learn so much from it. So today you could still find stuffed animals on my bed. You can still find me looking at old pictures and listening to artists that were popular when I was younger. But what’s different now is that I think I’ve managed to balance out the good and the bad. I’m not nearly as mean to myself as I was before, but I don’t talk my friends into going to the playground with me like I did before either. So that would be the story of how I grew up too quickly then not at all. Or in other words, the story of how my emotional state transitioned too quickly, then I slowed down the process by replacing dangerous thoughts and behaviors with things that I used to enjoy as a kid. And like I said before, I was an interesting kid.