#FightingBack: my 12-year-old’s battle with anxiety and panic attacks
February 25, 2019 | by Matt Halfpenny
In the first of England Boxing’s series of articles on mental health as part of our #FightingBack campaign, we talk to parent Colin Hardwick.
“Being a parent is hard, but being the parent of a child with anxiety following years of bullying can break you.
My name is Colin Hardwick and Markus Hardwick is our son. Markus is 12 years old and has struggled with symptoms such as panic attacks and aggressive outbursts for as many years as I can remember.
He struggled emotionally with school and friendships and spent three years of his junior school life facing daily bullying. We saw counsellors, psychiatrists and therapists, and he was diagnosed with generalised anxiety disorder.
Around the same time as moving him to a new school we started taking him to a local boxing club, not to toughen him up but to teach him how to channel his aggression in the right direction. No one judged him there or treated him badly and he settled well. He quickly developed new skills and showed a natural talent, and moments of self-confidence began to show through.
In 2017, Markus entered the local championship in Hampshire and boxed twice to become Hampshire champion for his age and weight. During the final, his anxiety showed and it was at this point that, as his dad, I decided that I not only needed to support my son in the way any parent does, but I also needed to be there in his corner supporting him as a coach. I began my own boxing journey and became a level one England Boxing coach.
Sadly he lost out in the Southern Counties final. However, this loss only increased his desire to be a better boxer. In the last year our son has taken medication for his anxiety and we have seen positive changes.
He is now undergoing a full ADHD assessment as both his school and family feel that he displays symptoms of ADHD too. We, and he, use his quirks and traits to push him with his boxing. The anxiety symptoms become his weapon of choice when he steps in the ring. He uses his mental health issues to make him the best he can be.
Mental health problems are something that both of us as parents suffer with, so we understand first hand and as parents the impact of mental health. The negative stigma surrounding mental health will only disappear if enough people open up and talk honestly about their struggles.
Boxing for our son has provided opportunities he never thought he’d have to express himself. It’s given him friends and raised his self-esteem. He says that the feeling he gets when he steps in the ring, along with the dedication of his coaches, inspires him and gives him a purpose. He says that his coaches help inspire him to do good things.
Boxing, for us as a family, has literally changed our lives. Our son now uses his aggression and anxiety to motivate him to train hard, to exercise and stem his aggression by channelling it into a punch bag. He still faces daily battles at school where bullies still target him, but now he comes home and channels the anger in a positive way. He aspires to one day represent his country in the Olympics.
Mental health does not have to be negative. Markus now has a dream and we believe he would not be where he is without a mental health condition. He’s using his experience to go as far as he can with his boxing, and we are with him every step of the way.”