Disorderly Personality

by Heather Loeb

In 2019 I entered an inpatient program at the Menninger Clinic in Houston. I was having some issues to say the least, including suicidal ideation, severe depression and I was mis-using some of my medication. I guess the better word would be abusing.

Going into the program I had already been diagnosed with Major Depressive Disorder (MDD) and generalized anxiety disorder (GAD). After six weeks of intensive testing, therapy and meetings with doctors, I was able to return home, but I had a new diagnosis to my already growing list – Avoidant Personality Disorder. I had never heard of it and I didn’t know anyone else with a personality disorder so I was feeling like a “legit” crazy person, if there ever was such a thing.

I’d spent years being diagnosed with depression, dysthemia, an anxiety disorder and I was even misdiagnosed as Bipolar II. I knew next to nothing about Avoidant Personality Disorder (AVPD) but I soon learned. It’s a disorder characterized by social discomfort and avoidance of interpersonal contact. According to the Mayo Clinic, someone who has AVPD avoids intimate and social contact with others.

When I read this, I thought, “Wow, this is me.” I think it’s apparent to those who know me well know I’m no extrovert. And while I do have friends, it is rare for me to be around a lot of people and not at all uncommon for me to cancel plans (usually due to anxiety). But as I continued reading, something struck a nerve. My paperwork stated that people with this condition may be extremely shy, fear ridicule and be overly concerned with looking foolish. That they – I – could have an inferiority complex. Yes, I’m sensitive and don’t respond to rejection well but isn’t that everybody?

Apparently not.

As I continued learning, I read that these folks have low self esteem and here’s the kicker – it’s common for people to avoid work, social and school activities for fear of rejection. I was constantly missing school and later work. And it always caused problems.

According to WebMD, a person with Avoidant Personality Disorder may be afraid to speak up for fear of saying the wrong thing, blushing, stammering or otherwise getting embarrassed. That they may also spend a great deal of time anxiously studying those around for signs of approval or rejection.

I know my diagnosis doesn’t define me, so I try not to get upset when I revisit my paperwork. But sometimes I do get upset and that’s ok. Yes, I have “mental problems” but who doesn’t?

But it is important to me not to be “extremely shy” and so scared of rejection. It’s more important to me because my children are watching me, and I would hate for either of them to be painfully shy, to miss out on things only to create a world of isolation and loneliness.

So, I’m (trying) to step up. Kids’ birthday parties? We’re there. Encouraging my children to say hi to others, even adults? Yes. Teaching them to be confident and strong? We’re working on that, too.

No parent wants their children to repeat their mistakes but I hope both my children pick up on some of my attributes that weren’t in my Menninger paperwork – my empathy, resilience, creativity and generosity (that I already see blossoming in my oldest).

Again, my diagnosis does not define me and how I live my life. If anything, it helps me live life more fully and with having more empathy. And that’s ok with me.

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