My life was chaotic towards the end of 2017. People around me urged me to turn to professionals for help to treat a stubborn depression and I finally caved in. The underlaying issue was however much deeper than we thought.
After a couple of sittings together with a counsellor she carefully told me about Avoidant Personality Disorder. However, she wasn’t in position to officially diagnose me. I went home to conduct my own research on the subject, and suddenly all the puzzle pieces of my life came together. I finally understood me. Let us start from the beginning, though.
I was always that shy kid.
Yes, you know the one I’m talking about. The one sitting in the back of the classroom with their heads hanging low, avoiding eye contact with everyone- especially the teacher!
From the tender age of 9 I was already a whole lot shyer and more withdrawn than my peers. It was noticed in school and I was relentlessly teased for how I looked, which I think made matters even worse. Afraid of conflicts and of people thinking badly of me I said nothing, I did nothing. I just bottled up as my self-esteem was shredded. The teachers were telling me I needed to speak up more in class, answer questions and participate. I was too afraid to comply, thinking I’d embarrass myself if I was to give the wrong answer, or say the wrong thing.
Up until the age of thirteen I had some friends, but I slowly started to withdraw and with that, my friends no longer got in touch either. I had a handful of people I saw in school, but they were strictly schoolfriends, or people who took pity on me for being the sad, lonely girl. I went within. Created a dream world to where I’d go when my real life was too depressing to stay in. It was my escape of sorts. I battled eating disorders for most of my teen years, and I do think the eating disorder contributed to my avoidant behaviour. In order to not get caught not eating I needed to keep people at a distance, and it became a habit of mine that I’ve continued even after the obsession with food subsided.
My teen years were nothing like the usual. I’d sit home every evening, usually locked away in my room. Much of it related to the overprotective nature of (unnamed) family members of mine. I was never allowed to go out, meet people, practise social skills and get over the shyness. At the age of 19 when I graduated high school and it was time for me to head out in the real world I knew nothing. Socially I was still thirteen years old, still afraid to speak to strangers. I avoided finding a job. Not because I was lazy or didn’t want to work. The anxiety I felt in regards to put myself out there, to possibly face rejection and embarrassment was debilitating. I just couldn’t bring myself to do it.
When I was twenty I met somebody overseas, married and moved countries, prepared to turn the page and start over. Without going into detail was the situation in my family home highly dysfunctional, and I was relieved to get away. For a while I did better. I even managed to complete two language courses with the best results in my classes, but when it came to work I was still stuck, very anxious. I couldn’t do it. When I got pregnant I was relieved. The work situation could be postponed further.
Once my son was born in 2014 I was hit with a Postpartum depression and my life crashed completely as I slowly realized I was living the wrong life for me. I’ve been trying to re-build ever since but many days are difficult, and terribly exhausting to get through. I’m spending 2018 just focusing on me (and my son), on what I want and what I need. Therapy is likely to start later this year, and I’m already on antidepressant to deal better with the social anxiety. It enables me to make important phone calls, and get things done in general.
The common signs of Avoidant Personality Disorder are:
- Easily hurt by criticism or disapproval
- No close friends
- Reluctance to become involved with people
- Avoidance of activities or occupations that involve contact with others
- Shyness in social situations out of fear of doing something wrong
- Exaggeration of potential difficulties
- Showing excessive restraint in intimate relationships
- Feeling socially inept, inferior, or unappealing to other people
- Unwilling to take risks or try new things because they may prove embarrassing
It’s important to point out that not all avoidants are the same. Not all are experiencing the exact same symptoms, or have the same coping mechanism to deal with it. Some avoidants go on to marry and have children and can manage intimate relationships with people they feel safe and secure with, while others live in complete isolation.
My personal experience is that it is an extremely crippling disorder. A fear of everything that makes life worth living. I got two alternatives. Either I isolate myself which helps with the anxiety aspect of things but instead I dig myself into a hole of depression, or I socialize and trigger overwhelming anxiety and fears. The latter is the only real option I got at this point, and hopefully with some help I can manage the anxiety and possibly get over the worst of it and gain my own independence. That’s the most crippling thing for me. That I’m completely relying on other people.
Before I end this post I want to ask everybody who relate to my story and are not yet in treatment to please reach out and get professional help. I wish I would have recognized the signs in myself ten years ago already and gotten help straight away. It could have saved me a lot of pain and misery.