3 March 2014

Flood defences

I often potter around my flat with the television on in the background to catch the latest news. Recently, Channel 4 ran a feature presenting children's accounts of the widespread flooding in the UK. 

The cameras followed various youngsters, as they talked about the circumstances in which they'd fled their homes and showed the crew around their new, temporary accommodation. 

I wasn't listening closely, though, until I heard one boy say, 'I'm just worried about everything.' My heart went out to him; he had endured so much at such an early age.

And his comment made me wonder what the long-term effects might be on him and others like him.

I don't know whether that particular boy was already an anxious child, or whether this trauma had provoked a hitherto unknown anxiety in him. It struck me, though, that this is exactly the kind of experience that might trigger OCD, which feeds on uncertainty, anxiety and fear.

As I've mentioned before, scientists have not yet identified a definitive cause of the condition, but it's thought to be the result of a combination of factors, which can include traumatic life experiences.

Seeing your family in danger could easily trigger a compulsion to protect them. Witnessing your home being engulfed in sewage might well lead to contamination fears. And simply realising the fragility of existence could provoke a need to control your environment.

Image courtesy of sakhorn38/FreeDigitalPhotos.net
My OCD is all about such control and three childhood events, where I felt very much out of control, have stuck in my memory.

When my mother took our guinea pig to the vet, but returned without him, as he'd had to be put down.

When I suffered my first migraine with intermittent loss of vision and was left alone and scared in the medical room at school, not knowing what was wrong with me.

When my sister and I were kept away from my grandmother - at her request - after she became terminally ill.

None of these situations are unusual for a child - children's lives are, by and large, out of their control - but they may have had a cumulative effect on me. Obsessive-compulsive behaviour seems to run in my family and perhaps these incidents, and others, served to build on that genetic foundation.  

Certainly, nothing I went through compares to being forced out of your home and seeing it destroyed. No amount of sandbags or barriers can protect against a flood's mental and emotional ravages, and even the most resilient child, who appears to view it as an adventure, may not be immune.

I hope people remember, in the midst of the clear-up, that physical damage is not the only kind that needs to be addressed.


Anonymous said...

Great post, and I've also wondered (and written) about trauma and the development of OCD. I think it's interesting that certain events (such as the ones you describe) might be traumatic for one child and not for another. I know my son is very sensitive and the "traumatic events" he experienced would have been no big deal to his siblings. In any case, I agree with you, we need to pay close attention to our children's mental health.

Helen Barbour said...

Thanks for the comment, ocdtalk. Certainly my sister doesn't demonstrate any obsessive-compulsive behaviours, and I would say is a more 'robust' personality than I am. No doubt, a lot of children suffer mentally in secret, when you consider, for example, suicides due to bullying. Unfortunately, some are so good at hiding their mental torments, that parents, teachers etc don't realise what is going on until it's too late.