My three-year-old girl came home from daycare with a note.
Ever since our littlest has been old enough to walk and play, Anabelle, older by only a handful of months, has been a terror. Grabbing toys from her little sister for no reason, shoving the baby, shouting at her; in essence: being a bully. The professionals have all told us her behavior is normal. As long as she shows signs of affection too—which she does—and doesn’t do anything excessively violent—which she doesn’t— it’s okay. Still, some ideas have begun to form in my mind about Anabelle. Nothing solid, not yet manifested into words or actions, but a feeling, whispering, in the back of my mind. Like an aftertaste when I think about her.
My daughter might be a Mean Girl.
Earlier this week, I published a guest post by author Jasminder about her experiences with childhood and adolescent bullying. It was hard to read about kids calling her dirty and mocking her for having brown skin and dark hair. Harder even to read about how she internalized those experiences, and began to believe them. I know that feeling well; part of the reason I have difficulties with apologizing or taking responsibility sometimes is because (I’ve come to understand) my brother tortured me as a child by calling me a mistake who should never have been born. He treated me like an outcast in my own home. Because of that, I carry a feeling of wrongness in my body; a feeling like my very essence is a complete mistake. It’s hard, feeling that way, to admit to more mistakes on top of it.
The students who hurt Jasminder were kids, but their parents were adults–and those adults should have been more aware of the mentality their kids were adopting. Those parents should have actively included people from other cultures in their lives so their kids understood there was nothing wrong with looking different. Just as my father should have told his son that I was his little girl, not some random mistake clumped up behind the couch. That may not have happened, but those of us who are parents now have the opportunity to help stop bullying. How do we keep cruelty from growing in the hearts of our children?
I stared at the ceiling as wakefulness poisoned my body. That’s really what it felt like: poison. My limbs felt as though they had anchors tied to them. Rising from the bed was an Olympic feat. By the time I was fully awake, my joints ached, my heart panged with relentless, unnameable sorrow, and my mind was bloated with anxiety and self-loathing.
That was how I started my day every day for years when I lived with untreated depression. I’m not alone. The World Health Organization estimates that over 300 million people worldwide suffer from depression each year. Over half of those people are women.
I write a lot about my post-traumatic stress disorder and addiction, but not as much about my depression–at least not directly. But depression is a serious matter, even without other conditions compounding it. Even before I was traumatized, before I touched any drugs, depression controlled my life in many ways. Depression is probably why I became involved with an abusive man. Depression probably led me to start taking drugs. Without depression, I probably wouldn’t have the other problems I have. Despite that, It took me years to recognize my depression, and even longer to do anything about it.
Whether or not a person chooses to have kids is highly personal. Becoming a parent is life-changing–in ways that are both uniquely rewarding and highly stressful. Each of us should be allowed to make that decision individually, regardless of our trauma history. People with posttraumatic stress disorder can make wonderful parents, just like anyone else. Something that many people with PTSD may not consider, however, is that once they become parents, their kids could wind up triggering them.
It’s strange to think about a person being triggered by her child. After all, nobody is abused by an infant, right? But many behaviors displayed by children are similar to the actions of abusers, even if the intentions are completely different. A toddler, for example, might scream and throw objects against the wall if he doesn’t get his way. A pre-teen might yell, “I hate you!” and slam her door because you take away her phone privileges. Of course, kids aren’t behaving like abusers; abusers are behaving childishly. When you have a trauma history, though, that distinction doesn’t always matter.