It’s weird how we don’t remember much, or anything about our very early childhood. This is known as Childhood Amnesia. My very first memory is walking in my father’s garden and looking down the stairwell that led down to the basement door. My second earliest memory is planting an apple tree in our front yard with my mother. This was about 1965, I would have been about 3 years old
I have two other early memories that are stronger, and probably about a year later. I remember sitting on my bed with my mother beside me, complaining about things not being good anymore, that I wasn’t happy anymore. When asked when “good” was, I told her that it was when we lived in the first house, when we planted the tree in the front yard. Probably some other things as well, but I remember talking about the tree.
The second memory, related to that one, was going to a child psychologist. I remember walking in and noticing that I couldn’t see through the frosted windows on either side of the door. I asked my mother about this, and she said, “Some people don’t want to be seen at this kind of doctor.” I was sent in to talk to the psychologist alone, and I remember that there was a big pile of toys in the corner of his office. Being a very precocious kid, and knowing about the Vietnam war, and the peace movement, I decided not to play with the toy guns. I knew what kind of doctor this was and didn’t want to appear violent. I was surprised when he could read me and told me that it was OK to play wth the guns.
Next, I remember going for a second appointment, this time for family therapy. My mother was there, my sister was there, but my father was not. When the psychologist asked, “Where is his father?”, my mother replied, “He doesn’t believe in this sort of thing.”
I’m not sure what the psychologist told my mother, or what went on between my parents, but we never went back. 35 years later, when I asked my mother about this, she denied all knowledge of it. I asked my sister, and she didn’t remember, but at 18 months younger than me, she was probably too young to remember. Childhood amnesia again.
It’s interesting that out of my first four memories, two of them revolved around depression. Depression dogged me from then on in my life, coming and going, just like the manias that started when I was 19 years old. I sometimes wonder what would have happened if my parents had pursued therapy for me at that young age. Perhaps nothing good, back then psychiatry had some very negative thoughts about mental illness and the family. People were told that the best thing they could do for their mentally ill family member was to leave and never come back.
It was this sort of blame that family members received from the medical profession that led to the formation of NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) in 1979 when I was 17 years old. I didn’t learn about NAMI until I was about 40 years old. NAMI has done a lot of good for me since then and I volunteer with NAMI.
There is a good documentary about the subject of blaming parents for their children’s mental health issues, especially schizophrenia. It’s called When Medicine Got it Wrong I saw it some years ago at a NAMI event and remember it well.
Do you have any early memories you’d like to share? Or thoughts on medicine getting it wrong? Let us know in the comments!