Today begins Children’s Mental Health Week, and this is a topic incredibly close to my heart. I was always an anxious child, and that anxiety came with uncomfortable physical symptoms, which is normal. But I didn't know that at the time. Anxiety was never really explained to me. I knew I worried a lot, I knew I had a sensitive stomach, but I didn’t know there could be a link between the two. Over time I developed an unhealthy relationship with anxiety, to the point it affected my everyday decisions and I struggled with agoraphobia. For years I had been avoiding situations that made me feel anxious. A few months into the pandemic my agoraphobia properly took grip and it suddenly became a challenge to go anywhere outside my home without being on the verge of a panic attack - to the point I regularly vomited and lost the ability to eat. It was only then I started to get the help I needed – the help I wish I had when I was much younger. And that’s why I’m so passionate about educating children about mental health, specifically anxiety. I want to make sure they don’t fall into the same vicious anxiety cycles I ended up in, because I had developed a fear of being afraid.
We all have anxiety. But for some of us, anxiety turns into a disorder that interrupts the normal function of the mind or body. When people have an anxiety disorder they look for a quick fix, but the unfortunate truth is there isn’t one. You have to gradually begin working on your mindset and facing the situations that make you anxious to change your relationship with anxiety.
Anxiety, fear, sadness, depression - no one likes feeling negative emotions because they're difficult and unpleasant. We have a tendency to want to shield children from these feelings because we don't want them to suffer. But it's only when we accept these emotions and learn how to live with them that we can strengthen our mental health. That’s why it’s important to establish a healthy relationship with anxiety as early as possible. The better children can understand their emotions, the less likely they are to have problems with them down the line. It's important that children know sometimes we're going to feel uncomfortable, and that's ok because feelings aren't permanent. So I’ve been thrilled to work on some books about mental health with publishers and authors recently. I regularly do inclusivity edits, but am not always reading from a lived experience (or an authenticity / sensitivity read as it’s often called). The first book about mental health I was offered, I was a little worried. I wondered if having to expose this side of me would be hard on my mental health, but it turned out to be quite the opposite. Being able to use my experience to educate younger people about anxiety is actually therapeutic and reminds me of how much I’ve learned and how far I’ve come in my recovery.
All of this is new to a lot of people, though, and we have so much to learn that it’s easy to get things wrong, especially when you don’t have lived experience to draw from.
I still struggle with anxiety, of course, but I'm doing much better now and am gradually changing my relationship with it thanks to therapy and a wonderful support network. So as an editor who has an anxiety disorder, I want to make sure kids have the tools they need to deal with anxiety and not let it develop into a disorder. And I do this by focusing on the approaches that actually work - even if they are difficult.
If you’re working on a book about anxiety or mental health, get in touch and let me know how I can support you. And if you're struggling with anxiety or agoraphobia and feel like you'll never get better, please know that you're not alone and recovery is possible.