Growing up, I have always considered myself to be reserved.
Many who know me have described me, more correctly, as shy.
While I related normally with my family and close relatives, I struggled to mix and to make conversation with girls, and adult strangers.
It did not help that, in my African culture, disorders like childhood anxiety and depression are frowned upon and dismissed as western illnesses. Almost naturally, my parents thought nothing of my shyness.
They, however, began to worry when I enrolled for junior school.
I struggled to make the adjustment to school life and would cry or feign illness in the morning to avoid going to school. Suddenly finding myself within hordes of other children, gave me a serious fright.
It is only quite recently, after noticing the same traits in my own son, that I have discovered it as social anxiety disorder.
Still, after noting that my phobia for social interaction has worsened since I had started school, my mother did not see it as irregular. Even if she had, she still would not have known what to do.
When she felt moved to do something, it was to urge me to toughen up, in most cases angrily and in frustration.
At that time, there were virtually no physicians trained to treat psychological illnesses in my country.
Perhaps the greatest effect of the condition on my early school years manifested itself in my grades.
In grade 1 and 2, there is little to test pupils for academic skills. Teachers often take a liking to the participative and more outgoing learners and grade these higher.
As a result of this, i scored very lowly in grade 1 and 2.
My grades picked dramatically in grade 3 as we were introduced to more subjects.
These subjects, which challenged our cognitive capacities, exposed my high IQ which had been masked by my shyness. As the years went by, my teachers became more understanding of my ‘character’ and treated me with consideration.
The fact that I quickly gained popularity for my artistic talents did not totally soothe my anxiety with social interaction.
I had a beautiful handwriting and teachers, and learners alike would drool at my work, remarking how I wrote even better than adults. The teacher responsible for the Art club literally had to drag me to the club.
I excelled there and quickly became his top student.
I remember being asked to help him with the signage at the school entrance.
Despite this, I remained painfully shy. Going into high school, though still shy, I excelled both academically and in sport.
I wasn’t the best, but I still made it into the school football and volleyball teams.
The one big challenge that lay in wait for me in high school were girls.
With puberty setting in, everyone of my peers was talking about dating.
Others would ask girls out and get scolded and turned down but would keep trying. Some seemed to have the freedom of the school, changing girls at the rate of socks.
I wasn’t that bad looking but was so shy and so conscious of my looks that I could never bring myself to ask a girl out. It’s not even that girls didn’t fancy me.
Some would even throw themselves at me. At the end, i remember only having one girlfriend.
I passed my final examinations and proceeded to college where I studied advertising. I aced my course and got a job in retail.
Though I learnt to live with my condition, I have struggled with making friendships, and mingling at social gatherings.
I had a few girlfriends but I did not stay in the dating game for long.
I married my first serious girlfriend and the lord has since blessed us with two beautiful children, a boy, and a girl.
Curiously, I have noticed in my son, though not as serious nor pronounced, some traits of childhood anxiety.
And yes, my wife thinks my son takes after me.
I am just glad I am here to help him along.