Call me crazy

Patsy Cline performing Crazy, 1961

Crazy, I’m crazy for feeling so lonely. I’m crazy, crazy for feeling so blue.

Written by Willie Nelson and performed by Patsy Cline, Crazy is one of my all-time favorite songs. Hearing Cline effortlessly jump from a high note to a low note, the raw emotion and tone of her voice give me goosebumps every time. I also love the sentimental melody and lazy, unhurried tempo of the song.

It was the spring of 1999. I was finishing my third year of college and things were not going well. I was definitely feeling lonely and blue, maybe a bit crazy, too.

Academically speaking, I was doing great. The books side of school had always been easy for me. That didn’t change in college. I made the Dean’s list every semester and was studying under a fabulous flute professor who taught me so much about performance improvement. I enjoyed the classes I was taking, unless we had to do group activities. The very thought sent me into a panic attack.

Every subject that I was interested in and excelled at (music, foreign languages, history) would have led to a teaching career or something that involved a lot of interaction with people, which I knew I wasn’t cut out for. I didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life after graduation and was amassing student loan debt by the day. I had come too far to quit or start over, but was utterly lost about which path to take.

Overall, I was unhappy. Something was wrong but I didn’t know what, so I started researching medical possibilities. WebMD was in its infancy at the time, but I found a condition that I thought seemed to fit me best: avoidant personality disorder.

People with avoidant personality disorder:

  • are overly sensitive and easily hurt by criticism or disapproval (check)
  • have few, if any, close friends and are reluctant to become involved with others unless they are certain of being liked (check)
  • experience extreme anxiety and fear in social settings and relationships, leading them to avoid activities or jobs that involve being with others (check)
  • tend to be shy, awkward, and self-conscious in social situations due to a fear of doing something wrong or being embarrassed (check)
  • seldom try anything new or take chances (check)
  • have a poor self-image and see themselves as inadequate and unappealing (check)

I called the student health center on campus and asked to see someone. When I got to my appointment, a therapist started asking me questions. Before I could even open my mouth, I started crying the ugliest of all ugly cries. I lost all sense of composure and couldn’t arrange my thoughts into coherent sentences in order to explain what was wrong. The therapist had initially thought that group therapy might help me, but clearly that wasn’t going to be an option. I never went back or told anyone else about this until now.

I don’t look back on my college years with fondness. Everyone had said that college would be the greatest time in my life, but for me it was absolutely the worst. The thought that everything after college was supposed to go downhill was extremely depressing. How could things get any worse? With thoughts like this, it was hard to be optimistic about the future. I was extremely afraid no one would ever hire me and I wouldn’t be able to support myself.

Although autism is now classified as a neurodevelopmental disorder, it has a long association with mental illness. The term autism was first used in the early 20th century and was regarded as a symptom of schizophrenia, rather than its own condition. Many people on the autism spectrum have at least one co-existing mental disorder; some scientists have estimated this number is as high as 70%. Some are initially diagnosed with depression, anxiety, or ADHD, for example, before it’s determined that they also fit the criteria for autism spectrum disorder.

I have never been formally diagnosed with a psychological or mental disorder. Do I have one? I don’t know, but I have struggled with depression, anxiety, and panic attacks. And I do believe it’s only logical that psychiatric issues are likely to sprout in the fertile soil of dealing with the effects of autism. The mental health of someone who has difficulty making friends, who doesn’t know how to go up to someone and start a conversation, or who tries to interact with others by telling them that female mosquitoes always buzz in the key of G (did you know that?) is probably going to suffer greatly from the effects of social isolation and ostracization.

So go ahead and call me crazy. Or weird. Or strange. Or anti-s0cial. I’m not offended by any of those terms. Characteristics that we have no control over are nothing to be embarrassed about. Just don’t tell that to my twenty-year-old self. She wouldn’t have believed you.

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