- Posted by Neal O'Farrell
- On July 21, 2020
- 0 Comments
- anxiety, avoidantpersonality, mentalhealth, mentalillness, socialanxiety
Not right in the head, the doctor said, though not in so many words. Banjaxed at birth I always thought, said my mother with a kind resignation.
That’s how I imagined the appointment would go, the day my mother would take me to a head doctor to once and for all try to figure out what the feck was wrong with me.
But it never happened. It was just a thought, maybe even a dream, and yet they were both absolutely right. It wasn’t until I was in my thirties that a doctor brought up what he called social affective disorder, and a couple of decades later another doctor got even bolder, calling it social anxiety with avoidant personality.
As he described the condition aloud, like a judge with a list of charges, I sank deeper into my seat. It was as though he’d been watching me, closely, from the inside, for all those years.
I knew there was something odd about me, banjaxed, since I was a young teenager. It came across, to me and to others, as a weird kind of shyness and awkwardness, then to discomfort and some other odd nameless feelings. But by my mid-teens I knew it had to be something more complex.
I wasn’t shy, at least not on the inside, and I was pretty convinced of that. Except around girls. In everything else, I was pretty fearless, and often getting in trouble for it. Like the time a friend dared me to try to shoot a mirror in a bathroom of a neighbor’s house, with my air rifle, through the closed bathroom window, without breaking the window.
I did, it worked, and I lost my air rifle as punishment. Or the many times, when babysitting for neighbors, my love for driving, my absence of any impulse control, and my inability to sit still for more than a few minutes would often result in me taking some car or other on a wild joyride around the neighborhood.
Until that one day I arrived back to find their dinner date had ended early and there they were, the entire family, standing at the front door. All waiting for me and an explanation. And of course, their car back. I think I was fourteen the last time it happened.
I think much of my rebellion, as tame as it was, came from frustration. That frustration came from confusion, from not being able to explain to anyone why I felt so odd, behaved so oddly, because I couldn’t explain it to myself.
I fell back to the only explanation available to a prepubescent boy in a devoutly Catholic family and in a devoutly Catholic country. It was sin. Simple as that. It had to be. All signs pointed. I was being punished for my sinful thoughts, although from discussions and confessions with some of my schoolfriends my thoughts at that time seemed far tamer, far less sinful. Veering much more towards venial than unrepented mortal and supposedly very normal for a boy who just didn’t want to be shy around girls.
And my punishment was a kind of shame and guilt that manifested itself in my complete inability to be comfortable or relaxed around any people. Even family. Feelings of not worthy of being there, of not belonging, of not having a right to be a part of anything. All because of something that was definitely me but not my fault. Unless. Sin?
And all resulting in a final desperate act of impulsive defiance, anger, and frustration. At the age of seventeen I sneaked out of the house on a frosty March morning and ran, returning about six months later after hitchhiking across Europe and into Morocco.
I hoped, or at least thought later, that it might cleanse me of my sins and guilt and demons. That If I couldn’t outrun them at least I might be able to out-walk them. Yet there I was, on a warm October evening, once again arriving back at a front door to explain myself. This time a long-haired bearded hippy kid with a collection of knives, a Spanish guitar, an entirely different view of the world, and a book full of stories.
Oh, yes. And still in the company of those same demons. There ever since, forty years later, some with names now but none ever facing the threat of eviction. Until now. Time to unwrap, expose, and exorcise my tenants.