Monday, February 24, 2014


When I finished primary school my mother enrolled me at a prestigious Catholic middle school in Medan. I don’t know how we could afford it, but my mother probably presented a ‘poor family certificate’ issued by the neighbourhood administration to the school. My primary school was much smaller and friendlier than this new school. My new schoolmates were a bit rough and the teachers were very strict and quite tough towards the students. I felt like a fish out of water. I had always been an anxious child, and this new environment drove my anxiety up the wall. Especially because I had a very severe overbite and could not close my mouth properly, and you know how cruel kids can be to somebody who looks ‘funny’. If that was not enough, my first name caused gasps and giggles whenever I had to introduce myself. I was so anxious that every single muscle on my body was tense, each tiny nerve was as taut as a guitar string.  I began to walk like a robot. I literally had to order my legs to move because all I really wanted to do was hide in the corner of the class. Everyday I got home from school totally exhausted. I went straight to bed and would wake up at 5 in the afternoon (the school finished at around 1). Every morning I dragged myself to school, and from time to time it got too much and I told my mother I did not want to go to school that day. Fortunately, she always allowed me to stay at home. I recently found out that these were symptoms of SAD (Social Anxiety Disorder).  Knowing that explains a lot.

Most of my classmates were nice enough to leave me alone. Some were even good friends to me. Some were rather mean and talked about me (as if I could not hear or could not understand them), one or two called me names in my face (one boy approached me and said, “Hey girl, you’re pretty. Like a monkey.”) I remember one incident in particular. One of my classmates – rather pretty, very good at sports, good at other subjects, very popular – imitated my walk. She did it in front of me, but without involving me. She walked like a robot and pretended to hit the wall at the far end of the class. Then she laughed and laughed with her friend. It hurt, a lot. If you say that it is silly to feel hurt because of this, then you are in the same group as my mother, who used to say, “Why are you upset? You shouldn’t be upset. Just beat them up.” That was why I stopped telling her anything. God bless my mother, she had a rough childhood and was involved in many fights. (She told me that she carried a bicycle chain around as a teenager.) I wasn’t like her but I was tough, too. I cried alone, and I still dragged my feet to school day after day after day. I managed to finish middle school without harming myself. During high school my mother found a professor of orthodontics who was able to fix my teeth (yes, it took no less than a professor). Little by little I felt better. I even managed to become a teacher and teacher trainer.  

I cannot remember what I did yesterday or last week, but I remember those incidents from 30 years ago. How come? Perhaps because I didn’t do or say anything to defend myself. Perhaps because I never told anyone. Well I am doing something about it now. And I am telling the story now. This is my therapy. I am also hoping that I can help others to identify their condition. It is not normal to be anxious all the time. It is not a weakness and it is not just your imagination. The celebrity that I read about overcame her condition through drama classes. A counsellor that I read about overcame her condition through therapy and medication. I find relief through writing. This morning when I started writing I was feeling upset. Now as I am finishing this blog I can feel the pain drifting away. Those events are no longer stored in the painful memory box. They have moved themselves to the ordinary school memory box. I am even beginning to find my classmate’s imitation of my walk amusing.
I am sure that there are a lot of good resources out there and I will certainly keep looking for other resources to help me understand more about SAD. It makes a big difference when you know that what you went through or are going through is a known and manageable condition. I still have a long way to go but I am grateful to be where I am now. I know I don’t walk or move very gracefully, but I hope I don’t walk like C-3PO anymore.