Recently, I was speaking with one of my female cousins about the days of our childhood and our teenage years. We spoke about the closeness that we all shared with one another even though we were from a large extended family. Part of the conversation dealt with the proverbial five feet of snow that we had to trudge through in order to get to school and the odor of snowsuits that smelled like a wet dog. During the chat, we quantum leapt to the days of our skating on mill ponds, sliding down closed-off streets, and skiing through family-owned woods. We revisited the sandy beaches of our youths that included baby oil tanning lotion, red-hooded sweatshirts, and lazy days of summer. We also commented on how we ever survived without calculators, cell phones, computers, and anything else that had to do with technology. We reminisced about transistor radios, rock and roll, car hops, and curfews that were the orders of those days.
However, during the pleasantries of the conversation, the subject of how the name Giammarco would be called each morning over the high school P.A. system and how several of us would respond with trepidation as to what infraction one of us might have committed with the culprit always being-- she.
My cousin had a habit of going in one door of the school in the morning and shortly after, escaping through another and to her freedom for the day. She was a quiet and shy girl and nothing close to being a trouble-maker; nevertheless, she was consistently in detention because of bunking school (being truant). As we talked about her shyness as well as her inability to speak during class and fear of being chosen to do so, I suggested that it sounded as if she might have had some social anxiety. To which she added that she had been diagnosed with the condition about ten years previously. She related how painful it was for her to go through many years without treatment for a disorder that was not well known about at the time when she was young.
My cousin’s revelation got me to thinking about how a number of children (adults too) might be experiencing the same type or similar disorder that she had suffered for most of her life. For some, negative behaviors that would be described as disorderly, disobedient, oppositional, or attention deficient might actually be coping mechanisms or presenting symptoms for social anxiety disorder. Persistent symptoms that should be looked at and addressed by a professional when speaking about the latter are those such as anxiety, fear, irritability or panic (to name but a few). Simply labeling a behavior without delving into why it is there has the potential to lead to inadequate treatment, no treatment, or the wrong treatment for a disorder that can be treated.
The recent version of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM-5) renamed the disorder of social phobia to that of social anxiety disorder. Although identifying the disorder needs to meet criteria set forth in the DSM-5, one does not have to experience symptoms at a profound or excessive level in order to be diagnosed. If there is any question about whether a child or an adult might be experiencing some type of anxious behavior when around others or in social situations such as school, the subject needs to be addressed so that one can receive help.
My cousin is a vibrant woman who has enjoyed a long-term marriage, children, and now grandchildren. She has a wonderful sense of humor, which I love sharing with her. For those of us who are in education and/or healing professions, enlightenment comes in many forms. For me, it was with reliving the past with my cousin that insight for the present was found.