When Anxy Behaviors Get Passed Between Generations
In second grade, I won the monthly citizenship award at my school for being “smart, diligent, kind, and peculiarly funny.” The last descriptor was the result of an incident during a read-along session. The teacher caught me rolling my eyes twice and blinking really hard as I was following along. She thought I was being sassy with that eye roll. It was the first time someone caught me having an OCD fit. At home, I spent hours blinking twice at each connecting corner of the wall in my room until I felt that the perfect amount of pressure had been applied everywhere. This was my secret. I knew my behavior wasn’t normal and that I had to modify it in public.
Another time, I was lagging behind my mom because I was kicking all the rocks off the sidewalk. When she yelled at me to catch up, I missed a rock. At home, I thought about that missed rock for hours, worrying that the future president of THE WORLD was going to trip on this rock and die and it would be all my fault!
OCD forms when someone feels like they don’t have enough control in their lives. I was raised by parents who suffer from PTSD from the Vietnam War. Fear, scarcity, and the need to survive shaped their minds and their behaviors. In my father, those emotions took shape in the form of alcoholism and physical and emotional abuse.
PTSD doesn’t end after one generation.
My parents’ repression and denial helped my OCD thrive. Their depression and anxiety manifested in me. I didn’t have the language to describe what was happening. I felt ashamed, isolated, and unworthy (my anxiety attacks began when I was 8 years old, but I never told anyone). Shame thrives on silence.
Growing up I didn’t feel truly connected to Vietnamese or American culture, which compounded my feelings of isolation. I turned inward and I focused my energy on creative projects. The flipside of all the trauma is that I am hyper-aware and when focused on positive stuff, it’s a boon.
Your struggles don’t just go away, but you can choose how you carry the weight. When I started to figure out that I wasn’t alone in this, I felt lighter. The more I study how trauma affects me, the less power it has. I have more control and there’s nothing to be ashamed of. I used to feel broken. Now I feel empowered. I don’t blink at the corners of a wall anymore, but every now and then I’ll find myself engaging in some OCD behavior.
When I share my story, I get the same feedback from friends, family and strangers: dialogue, knowledge, and connection allow us to lift the debilitating feeling of mental struggles and thrive. I’m proud to be part of a publication that aims for these goals.
This is why I am Anxy. Are you?