I’ve been sitting with this for a couple of weeks now, trying to process it. I got a copy of the full report from the neuropsychologist I saw last year, whose statements eventually qualified me for disability.
Long story short (it was like an 11-page report), he diagnosed me with avoidant personality disorder. Personality disorders are generally considered difficult to treat, but at least avoidant personality disorder (or AvPD) is part of the Cluster C personality disorders. Cluster B tends to include more dramatic and erratic behaviors, while Cluster C is more anxious and fearful. Maybe I’m just trying to put a positive spin on it, but the Cluster C disorders seem mostly to only harm the individuals who have them, while the Cluster Bs are more likely to negatively affect others.
Do I believe that these labels make a difference? Maybe, in terms of being a starting point for knowing how to find help. But according to my research, there’s not much difference between social anxiety (which I know I have) and avoidant personality disorder.
I have friends, but in general, they’re people I’ve known for many years. I don’t have to wonder whether or not I can trust them. But I also don’t let myself get too close to new people easily, and I’m still “friends” with people I hold at arms’ length because I already know that they are addicted to gossip and drama and therefore cannot be fully trusted.
Do “normal” people feel more comfortable knowing that their “friends” might be gossiping about them behind their backs? If so, I’m definitely abnormal. I don’t want to be gossiped about and I didn’t feel good about myself on the occasions which I’ve done it. I have a pretty high bar for what lets me trust someone and once lost, it’s hard to regain. Maybe that’s indicative of a personality disorder; I don’t know.
Similarly, the diagnosis also makes me revisit some of my experiences, including the job I had to leave last year due to my health. Was it as socially horrible of an environment as I perceived it to be, or was I just too sensitive and imagining rejection where there was none?
Supposedly, some of the hallmarks of AvPD are low self-esteem, feelings of inferiority, and intense fear of rejection. I’m not sure how many of those apply to me. I think my self-esteem has improved a lot and I don’t think I’m too affected by feelings of inferiority. But I do know that I definitely fear rejection, which has held me back more than words can express when it comes to my career as a freelance writer. I know that I can’t bring myself to even approach new clients because of how much I fear rejection, despite the years of experience I have that make me more than qualified to do so.
Avoidant personality disorder also has a couple of traits that I think fit me. One is a history of being bullied. Another is having had emotionally neglectful parents, which I definitely did. (But if this is really such a contributing factor, why did I develop this, while my sister did not?) And another is that it’s more likely to develop if you had significant physical changes after an illness, which I did. In that regard, I know that I still have the most work to do on my self-esteem: I still feel like my weight inherently makes me less worthy to be liked.
I’ve seen comparisons of AvPD to PTSD, which is very often how I feel. I think that’s part of why my husband’s cancer diagnosis has rocked me to my foundation: he’s my safe person that I can count on being there. I feel that I will ultimately be okay without him, but I also don’t know how I could avoid being completely alone for the rest of my life.
But ultimately, again I ask if there’s any value to having this diagnosis, or if it’s significantly different from social anxiety. I don’t believe that people are defined by their diagnoses, so I shouldn’t be, either.