Written by Lucy Nichol

Health

It REALLY couldn’t happen to a nicer… Child

This series has seen Lucy Nichol proving you never know who mental ill health will come after next, by celebrating the diverse qualities and eccentricities of her lovable friends and acquaintances. In this, the final part, she’s doing a bit of time travel.

Just look at that wee face. Lucy as a little ‘un.

It’s my last column for Standard Issue – *sniff* – so I thought I’d do something a little bit different.

During the past six months, I’ve talked to a comedian, an actor, a writer, a PR person, a public speaker, a former commando, a young globetrotter, a teacher, a hipster, a naughty elf  and a political strategist. But today, I’m going to look at something we have ALL been at some point in our lives: a child.

I wrote about this subject for the Independent recently, following the final hearing of the joint inquiry into children’s mental health and education. Should we discuss mental health with children? Should it be on the curriculum? Do children even experience mental health problems?

We all know memories are not 100 per cent accurate, but I am going to try to transport myself back to the 80s and 90s when I first experienced panic, anxiety and a massive amount of excitability. Timings are not spot on but you’ll get the gist…

May 1982
It’s my fourth birthday tomorrow. I’m getting a new bike. From the bike shop. It’s red and there is a ball of wool on it. And a basket. And stabilisers. I can’t wait. It’s coming tomorrow! Soon, I won’t need stabilisers. Like that girl with the Raleigh Apple bike across the road.

Side ponytail? Check. Soda Stream? Check. 1980s? Check.

I’m going to practice and practice and practice. I feel funny. I know they’ve got it in the house.

Can I have it in my room? Why? But why!? I’m not going to bed unless you put it in my room. No! NO! But it’s my birthdaaaaaay. But pleeeeeease.

I love my bike. It’s so pretty. I can’t sleep.

Muuuuum! Muuuuum! I feel sick! Muuuuum quick, it’s coming. Muuuuuu….bleurghhhhhhhhhhh bleurghhhhhhhhhhh

It’s got carrots in it again.

July 1987
Mum. I feel sick. I dreamt about an oak tree. It was weird. I feel really sick. I’m frightened.

I can’t stop shaking. I don’t like it. I feel really sick. I am NOT leaving the sink.

I wasn’t sick. Where’s Look-in magazine? I need to take my mind off it. I bet Madonna’s not scared of throwing up.

October 1990
If I don’t ask to leave class soon I will wet myself. Must get this page out the way. So there’s a natural break and it’s less embarrassing to ask to leave. Oh, Harper Lee, I love your writing but why is this bloody chapter so long?

Can I feel it under my skirt? Have I already done it? Can I check without anyone seeing that I am checking for a wet patch? Oh God. I’m going to have to ask. What if I stand up and everyone sees and laughs and then I can’t come back to school tomorrow. On 1. On 2. On 3.

Miss, can I go to the loo please?

Walk sideways so no one can see my bum with the wet patch. Dash to the loo.

I’m here, thank God. No wet patch.

I don’t need the loo after all.

Lucy as a teen. Clothes have stayed pretty much the same.

April 1993
What’s that red mark on my arm? It wasn’t there before.

Shit. I’ve got DVT. Shit. Shit. Shit. I can’t breathe properly.

The pill + smoking Embassy No 1 + having sex + being me + drinking that Mad Dog 20/20 last week. I shouldn’t be having sex. I’m 15. I shouldn’t be smoking. My grandma had cancer. It’s in my family. I’m so unhealthy. I’m going to die young. And not in a Janis Joplin kind of way.

I’ve got to get to the pay phone. I can’t see properly.

Mum. It’s me. I think I’ve got DVT. Well there’s a red mark on my arm and I’m on the pi… Why wouldn’t you be able to see it? Well what is it then!? Oh. Right, I still feel funny though? My heart feels funny. OK, thanks. I do feel calmer now.

My vision has gone. My legs have gone. I can’t breathe properly. If it’s not DVT what the fuck is this all about?

I’m going to be sick. I’m not sick.

July 1995

Lucy at Glastonbury in 1998. Shortly after the pic was taken, she had a panic attack, had to go back and sit in the tent and listen to Primal Scream from there. Anxiety + party pills = ALWAYS a bad idea.

I’m on the escalator in Princes Quay shopping centre. We’re heading to top deck where everyone hangs out around Kingston Jeanery. My leg aches. DVT. It must be. I can’t say anything. My boyfriend and his brother will think I’m weird.

What if it’s nothing? But WHAT IF IT’S DVT? It can go to your heart. And your lungs. And you can die. What if my vision goes funny again. What if I pass out?

It’s calmed down a bit now.

We’ve gone to the charity shop. To see their mum. The ache is back. I’m too embarrassed to say anything. My insides are knotted and I need to look cool and I’m already shy and awkward and now they’re going to ALL think I’m really really weird and stupid and shy. I so don’t want to be shy. I so don’t want to die. Not here, not with people I don’t really know.

I CANNOT collapse here in the charity shop among the teasmades and old lady anoraks. Can you imagine what the Hull Daily Mail would say? I might even wet myself. They’ll report it. L7 might throw tampons and Courtney might be a teenage whore but they choose to do that. And I bet they’ve never bloody wet themselves. That’s not out of control. That’s loss of control.

November 1998
Two of my friends just told me they had panic attacks too. Weird – we never mentioned it when we were teenagers. Funny how we can talk about sex and periods and the pill but not that stuff. So I guess I wasn’t the only one whose heart would beat faster than the Prodigy’s Out of Space on fast-forward.

April 2017
Back in the room. So some of this stuff was probably normal teenage stuff. Some of it is no doubt part of my personality (I’ve always been an excitable bod). But some of it was part of a developing anxiety disorder that I literally had diagnosed last year. Two years before turning 40!

Don’t get me wrong, the doctors have known for years that I had anxiety (since my 20s anyway). I’ve been offered beta blockers and counselling many times. And I constantly referred to myself as a hypochondriac. But just last year, my therapist pointed out that dying of a rare illness wasn’t the only thing I was anxious about and the words ‘Generalised Anxiety Disorder’ were mentioned.

Because yes, I am scared of wetting myself, locking the cat in the washing machine, my husband crashing the car (I am terrified of even writing this in case I make it happen by doing so, but let’s be brave, and see it for what it is).

So yes. It really can happen to children as well as adults who work in comedy and theatre and PR. It’s not the end of the world, although it can feel like it at the time if there is no one to talk to about it. I’m so glad I had my mum.

@Lucy_Nichol78

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Written by Lucy Nichol

Neurotic hen-keeper, feline friend and mental health blogger. Prone to catastrophisation and over excitement at the garden centre. Caution: do not give Diet Coke after dark.