Some things we forget. Actually, my parents did recognise that something wasn’t right about the anxiety which afflicted me in the run up to my A-Levels. I was increasingly having panic attacks even in only moderately stressful situations, which would either cause me to throw-up or my entire body to become numb with paresthesia until I could barely breathe.
Witness to this, my father took me to see his GP on his way to work one day. This was unusual, I thought, because I had never been to the doctors with my dad before. But perhaps it was arranged that way so I could see a male doctor. The GP was very nice and supportive, and spoke to me in a way in which he related my experience to his own, telling me that he also used to suffer from that problem as an undergraduate.
He prescribed a little white pill to be taken in stressful situations. I have no idea what it was; it could have been a travel sickness tablet, for all I know. It didn’t really help, but at least the problem had been acknowledged. Perhaps that’s why my parents didn’t make a huge fuss when I refused to learn to drive and failed to apply for university. They must have known that something wasn’t right with me, but simply didn’t know how to address it.
In truth, they probably knew much more about my life at college than they ever let on. The principal was a close friend of theirs from church; it’s unlikely that they were oblivious to all that was happening. I remember my father coming in to speak to me — finding me distraught — the day my best friend disappeared off the face of the earth; presumably he had been forewarned.
I don’t know if my parents knew that I was seeing a counsellor in my first year of college. It was my tutor who seemed to identify that I had extremely low mood, but I don’t know if this was prompted by my parents. Certainly, they never spoke to me about it directly, but then I wasn’t one who could easily be communicated with. Probably, they tried their best, but I was simply not conscious of it due to my state of mind.
It is easy to forget, looking back on those moments as adult, that I was one of four children, each of us with a different set of needs. It’s also easy to forget all that was happening at the time in tandem with my own issues. I forget, for example, that my mother’s father died in that period and that she was consumed with grief. There would be more family grief in the midst of my A-Levels when my dad’s father also passed away.
Now that I’m a parent myself, it’s easier to see the world from their perspective. It’s difficult to be a caring, supportive mentor to our kids when they always seem to be cross with us, their rising hormones sending their emotions haywire. Every new day brings new challenges: will our house be filled with love and peace, or will there be another explosion of fraying nerves, doors slamming, insults flying?
By now, we have reached the juncture of our lives when our responsibilities seem to be multiplying exponentially. In addition to raising children, we have growing responsibilities at work, which often seem to take over our lives. So it was for my parents, as their working lives became busier and busier. As hospital chaplain, then parish priest, my mother was frequently on-call. As managing partner, my father often worked long hours, arriving at the office early and returning home late in the evening.
They would have done what they could for me — and for all of us — but I know I was hard work. My apparent laziness was difficult to manage. They had no reason to think it was anything other than laziness, for that is all they had ever known from me. I have faint recollections of attending outpatient appointments for audiology tests, presumably to explore why I seemed incapable of listening to instructions, but my parents would have been told that there was nothing wrong with my hearing.
Many of the referrals of my youth now make sense with hindsight in light of what I now know about the chromosome disorder I have been bestowed with. I once saw a dental specialist to see what could be done for the teeth clearly too big for my jaw, but it was decided that nothing could be done. Now I know this to be one of many common symptoms of this condition. My parents had probably spent a decade being fobbed off my healthcare professionals, constantly being told that there was nothing wrong. Thus was I diagnosed as lazy instead.
A familiar story. We too have had such trials with our own children. We raised issues with our GP repeatedly for a year before they finally made a referral. Only then would a problem that required three operations be identified. Unfortunately, this is just the nature of parenting: you just have to push and push to be heard — and sometimes you’re just not heard at all. Humans are complex beings, difficult to manage and understand.
So I return to my own experiences, mindful of that occasional bitterness about the inattentiveness to my state in adolescence: here I must I recognise that such resentment is unwarranted. Parenting is largely all trial and error. All that I was was the great unknown; only now is it all starting to make sense. Thus must I remind myself: be more forgiving. I know my parents did their best, given the challenges of raising four children all born within eight years of each other. We were given a good life and the best opportunities.
It’s not possible to be a perfect parent. We can only strive to be good enough, to try our best. I know my parents tried theirs. And now to us: we must try to do the same, whatever the tests that may come our way.