If I had to describe what life was like as a child living with an anxiety disorder, it would be: “It was like having a hangover every day.”

Mina Mistry Investigates

Mina Mistry Investigates

My childhood was picture perfect until I was about eight. My family moved around between England, Saudi Arabia and Nigeria before finally settling in Spain. I remember the first couple of years being fairly stable and prosperous, with my Dad still working abroad and my mum running the house.

Dad came home from his last contract in the Middle East in 1990 when the Gulf conflict broke out. This marked the beginning of the end; everything started disintegrating at this point. I was ten years old at the time.

My parents began scrambling for work and money, and routines and tempers became frayed. You could cut the atmosphere with a knife around birthdays and Christmases.

At ten years old, keeping a diary had taken on a whole different meaning: writing in it was something that had to be done every day, so when mealtimes and bedtimes were starting to fall by the wayside, it was a consistent piece of routine to cling onto.

I have since spoken to a lot of people who have had similar experiences and, in most cases,, we can agree that there’s a point of inflection: a moment at which children pass from being the family’s main concern to becoming an additional problem.

When not having any friends or anyone to talk to started to become an issue, I opened up one of my horse and pony magazines and wrote to everyone in the pen-pals section. I did the same thing with all the magazines I had at home and I ended up with seventy-two pen pals.

When I needed someone to talk to, I’d just write. I’d write to organise my thoughts, to share my sorrows with my diary and to plan my actions. Being averse to confrontation, I’d often write letters to people to tell them how I felt; that custom persisted well into my adult life and I still write long letters and emails when I have an important personal matter to deal with.

I still keep diaries, make lists and plan things on paper: somehow an idea looks different when you see it written down.

I know that times have changed, and that social media tries to fill the gap left by distant families and pen pals, but not having these resources at that time was a blessing. I gained a strong sense of self reliance and I was able to discuss my cringiest thoughts with myself or with a pen-pal at the opposite end of the world. I may have felt vulnerable, but I didn’t feel exposed.

The psychological benefits from using social media pale in comparison to keeping a diary and writing letters, and I think that this is something we should be very aware of as we raise children in the digital age while they deal with their own private issues.