Nurture or Nature?

I recently read an article in the Guardian that shook me. I’m not an avid reader of the paper but a family member give it to me thinking it would help me understand my postnatal depression (PND). What it really did was give me a whole other issue to worry about.

How is my PND affecting my kids?

I have always been wary of trying to hide my low days from my daughter. Shes 3 going on 33 and takes every little thing in and questions it. I didn’t want her to know mummy was sad in case it upset her. But I guess what I never really thought about was how my depression could lead to her developing it. And this is what this article discussed.

It was written by one of the Guardians editors who herself had suffered depression and anxiety most of her life.But what she hypothesized was that it was genetically handed down to her from her mother, who in turn received it from her mother, both of which had suffered clinical depression. She went against the nurture theory that we learn the traits of anxiety and depression through life experiences but instead gain it genetically from our parents. Alarm bells started ringing as soon as I read this. If this was true was my daughter and son destined to suffer from this illness because of me?

From my teenage years I’ve suffered from anxiety, a few times I have had to treated for it so I know the hormonal imbalance of PND hasn’t just been the cause of my mum funk. What if I have faulty genetics that causes me to feel like this and I have passed them onto my children. The thought was unbearable. For the past few weeks since reading the article I have had to seriously question do I believe this.

And the answer I have came up with…

No.

I’ve had to search through my the generations of my family and think deeply about where my anxiety comes from. And my conclusion is mostly my anxiety developed from a few shitty life experiences.

I agree that we probably do inherit some traits from our parents but how we learn to deal with situations I think comes down to nurture. To blame my mums genetics for how I feel seems harsh.

Does my mum suffer from anxiety?

Yes she did.

She developed PND when she had me and like I did she left it untreated which she still lives with the repercussions today. But she didn’t have it when she had my older sister nor did my grandma have with any of her six children. My mum developed it much like I did with my first child. I screamed constantly and never slept leaving her exhausted, alone and low especially as she had to look after me predominantly on her own. It wasn’t the genetics of my gran or granda that made her feel this way it was the environment she was in.

Did I pick up some of my mums anxiety?

Maybe, but I don’t think that is the main cause of my anxiety.

What was the main cause was the years of abuse I received from a group of horrible girls at secondary school. Their bullying affected me so much by the age of 13 I spent a whole year hiding in my room too afraid to leave my house. I became a recluse, I had no self esteem and worse of all I had no idea why they wanted to make my life a misery so I could try to fix it. That feeling of losing control meant I developed OCD trying to gain control of other elements of my life. I had to do the same thing in the same order at the same time each day just to feel like I could survive the abuse and keep my anxiety at bay. I became a perfectionist trying to be perfect so no one could find any fault in me to pick on. I was shy and social situations give me so much anxiety I’d make up excuses not to attend them. It took me years to gain back control of my life and thanks to some great friends I was able to gain enough confidence to challenge myself in new situations. At 18 I moved away from my hometown of Belfast to study in Liverpool and it was the best move I ever made. Up until I developed my mum funk I was comfortable enough to push myself into any new scenario. I even moved across the world to China. My mum however still finds certain new situations hard which makes her over anxious. So if my anxiety was genetic would I have been able to do half the things I have?

I’ve worked hard with my daughter to make sure she hasn’t taken after me. I wanted her to be outgoing and confident, nothing like I was as a child and I have done that by hiding any anxiety I have over new environments and throwing her into new social situations. She has blossomed in every one making friends wherever she goes. And at the small age of three she can hold her own to any kid that tries to pick on her or her friends. I couldn’t be prouder of her. If anxiety and depression are genetically passed on my daughter wouldn’t be doing half the stuff she is doing now. At the age of three I wouldn’t have left my mums side. I can’t get my daughter to stay by my side.

So to all us mums out there fighting our mum funks, exhaustion or just generally the hardship that motherhood brings I say F@%K OFF to these academics and scientists! Us mothers have enough to worry about than having to add another worry over something we cant control such as our genetics. All we can do is love and care for our children and try to equip them with the tools to fight the shit that life will throw at them. Being a mother is hard bloody work and to blame ourselves because of genetics to how our children’s personalities develop is ridiculous.

I am who I am because of the life choices I have made, because of the people I have had around me and the environments I have grown up in, not because the genetics of my mother and father determined that I was going to be that way.

The only thing I can blame my parents for is my large forehead and minuscule height. Now that is genetics!

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