When I started this blog over five years ago, I swore that I would never do book reviews here. I did a lot of them on my previous Polish language blogs because, as someone who reads a lot, it almost felt like I should, but I don’t think I was very good at it. And it didn’t seem to fit in with what I wanted this blog to be, at least originally. But here I am, breaking my vow and writing a book review. I feel I really need to do it with this particular book. It was supposed to be a mini review (ha, ha, ha!), but in order to make it Bibiel-style, I have decided that it WILL contain a lot of personal reflections, so consider yourselves warned.
It’s a shame I can’t share: Living with Avoidant Personality Disorder is Jake Ware’s memoir about his own experiences with avoidant personality disorder, published in February this year. Jake also has a YouTube channel dedicated to sharing his experiences and raising awareness of the disorder, which I discovered quite shortly before the book came out. As you may know, I have also been diagnosed with it and have talked about it on here many times, so you may be more or less familiar with the term and what it means. Jake has done a great job of explaining what avoidant personality disorder is in his book, but let me give you some basic definitions here, just so you know what we’re dealing with.
Avoidant Personality Disorder (AVPD) is one of the so-called Cluster C (anxious/fearful) personality disorders. It is characterised by severe, ingrained social anxiety, which is not limited to a single type of situation such as public speaking or meeting new people, or being afraid of very specific things such as blushing, but occurs in pretty much any type of social interaction, and is often accompanied by more generalised anxiety. I often say simplistically, that it is like social anxiety, only more intense, more firmly rooted in the brain, and with a few extra gimmicks. People who suffer from it also experience intense feelings of inadequacy and fear of social rejection or criticism. They therefore avoid social interaction as a way of coping with the symptoms. There is much more to AVPD than this, but these are the key features used to diagnose people with the disorder. Other common symptoms include, but are not limited to: low or non-existent self-esteem, fantasising/maladaptive daydreaming/unhealthy escapism, paranoid traits, high sensory processing sensitivity, preoccupation with what other people think of you and whether or not you are making them feel uncomfortable, inhibited emotional expression, inability to share thoughts or interests freely with others, depressive tendencies, and what I personally call a low humiliation threshold and a low cringe/embarrassment threshold. Of course, as with any mental illness, it’s important to remember that the presentation can vary from person to person and also depends on what comorbidities, if any, they have.
I’ve always found it frustrating and disheartening that there is so little information, so few resources about AVPD, especially when you compare it to other personality disorders, such as borderline personality disorder. When you think about it, this is not at all surprising given that the very nature of AVPD means that people with it often find it very difficult, if not impossible, to seek treatment, and as a result doctors rarely come into contact with it outside of textbooks, and there are very likely many people who are undiagnosed or misdiagnosed. Even if they are diagnosed, they may be very reluctant to talk openly about their struggles for fear of coming across as cringey (even if only to themselves) or just plain whiny. Even I myself, despite mentioning my AVPD a lot and writing posts from the perspective of someone with AVPD, have still not written a proper, more general, detailed post about AVPD, although I have thought about it more times than I care to admit. As a result, Most of the personal stories of AVPD I have come across come from relatively high functioning people, certainly more high functioning than myself in most respects, which in turn has often led me to wonder if what I have is really AVPD, if people with it can do things like have a responsible job that involves peopling, engage in intimate relationships, have a genuine real life friendship, or raise children. Yes, it’s still more challenging for them than for the average peep, even a very introverted but brain-healthy peep, but they can actually do it, which means that their AVPD and my AVPD must be two different pairs of rain boots, to use our Polish idiom.
I was thinking about this one day in January when I had what I call an AVPD flare-up (feeling much worse AVPD symptom-wise than my baseline) and I thought that maybe with AVPD it’s like many other conditions that they’re more like a spectrum, think of how there’s so-called high-functioning and low-functioning depression, or high-functioning and low-functioning autism. I’ve also heard of high and low functioning Narcissistic Personality Disorder, and Borderline Personality Disorder (although in the case of the latter, the high functioning type seems to be better known as quiet BPD). So if other personality disorders work this way, it seems logical that AVPD does too. I’m not going to discuss the (un)helpfulness of labelling conditions as high or low functioning, which, as someone who also has persistent depressive disorder, often colloquially referred to as high-functioning depression, I’m certainly aware of. That’s way beyond the scope of this post. It led me to google “low-functioning AVPD”/”low-functioning avoidant personality disorder” (in quotes), which yielded very few results, but one of them was Jake’s channel, where he describes his condition as such. I ended up watching every single one of his videos. With a few exceptions, mostly simply due to the fact that we are two different people with very different external circumstances, our AVPD experiences felt incredibly similar. Which, as sad as it was to hear that someone else was dealing with pretty much the same shit as me, was also extremely uplifting to find out. Enough, in fact, to help me out of the stinky rabbit hole I’d been stuck in. So when I found out that Jake was about to release a book all about AVPD, I was really excited. I read it a whole month after it was released, though, because apparently I hadn’t been on YouTube for over a month 😀 I think this book really deserves some recognition, if not for anything else, then at least for all the courage it must have taken Jake to open up, both on his channel and in the book. I mean, as someone with AVPD, I would know. I can’t even think about talking to the camera about my AVPD without feeling more or less like I’m standing in stilettos on the edge of an icy cliff, just after a spin on a merry-go-round and about to fall into the deep, freezing sea. Also, as I said, it’s the first real book about AVPD I’ve read, and a pretty in-depth one, from a perspective very similar to mine, so it seems only logical that I should write a review so that hopefully more people will read it and become aware of what AVPD is and feels like, as it seems to be aimed primarily at people without AVPD who want to understand it better.
The book opens with a poignant introduction that gives a brief but very candid account of what it’s really like to live with AVPD. Jake writes about the constant self-loathing and self-doubt, unconsciously analysing people for clues to what they might be thinking about you, constantly analysing your own behaviour, dwelling on all the things you did wrong in the past, never mind that no one else remembers or even cares, etc.
In the next chapter, the author introduces himself and explains AVPD in a more general, but still very detailed way. He talks not only about his own AVPD, but also about what he has learnt from other people with AVPD through his channel. He explains what AVPD is in a very clear and descriptive way. He also writes about what AVPD is not, which I think could also be very helpful to many, because I see it so often that people confuse avoidant personality disorder with avoidant attachment style, when they are two completely different things. So for that reason alone I hope a lot of people will read this book. Already here, it touches on a lot of interesting things that are rarely mentioned when talking about AVPD, such as the very likely correlation of AVPD with being a so-called HSP (highly sensitive person), which I honestly didn’t know prior to finding Jake’s channel, or how a lot of AVPD folks, including himself, which is evident throughout the book, have a tendency to use a lot of sarcasm and weird self-deprecating humour as a sort of coping strategy when socialising.
Later in the book, Jake writes about his life in more detail, focusing on the signs of developing AVPD and what might have caused it. I was already familiar with some of this from his YouTube channel, where he talks about how his symptoms developed over time, but it was still interesting to read his life story in more detail. At the same time, reading these chapters was a surprisingly emotional experience for me. Perhaps because, although my childhood, family and schools were quite different from Jake’s, I am also a Gen Z, so for both of us our AVPD-related experiences to date have largely been with the education system, and the regular people on here know how much I hate the education system, regardless of country, I think. I felt for Jake right from the start when he described how he tried to hide from his mum and school staff to avoid going to preschool. I guess it reminded me of my own similar attempts – locking myself in the loo to avoid going to school, or going out on the snow-covered balcony in the middle of the night, barefoot and in my pyjamas, to get sick and not have to go to school the next day. People here often idealise American schools based on pop culture, but from what I’ve read in Jake’s book, I feel that for an anxious student, they must be even worse than our Polish ones. Perhaps part of the reason it was so emotional was that it was the first book I’ve ever read about AVPD, so even though I was more or less familiar with his life story, I couldn’t help but compare the severity of my AVPD to his. Whenever something made me feel that in some way my symptoms were less severe than Jake’s, my inner monologue would go something like this: “And you think you have AVPD? Look what real AVPD is like, you little pathetic fake Bibiel!” If mine seemed more severe, my brain would go: “You’re such a freaky, broken Bibiel that even people with AVPD can deal with life better than you” 😀 Eventually I rationally accepted that everyone’s limitations and struggles will obviously be different, even with the same condition and more or less similar presentation, but it was still pretty rough.
I could also relate to the somatic signs of Jake’s anxiety – constant nausea, stomachaches, headaches, what not. – He also writes in detail about his experiences with various extra-curricular activities he took part in, including marching band, which was particularly difficult for him, and for me to read about because I could literally feel all the yucky feelings and got a lot of memories of my own. At one point, it actually made me cry a little bit, and you guys probably know that I’m not an easy cryer when it comes to empathising with someone or feeling moved by something. Of course, there’s also a lot of focus on his family, particularly his parents, as he believes that it was largely the never-ending conflict between them that he and his siblings were dragged into, and their very specific expectations that he couldn’t meet, that contributed to his anxiety eventually turning into full-blown AVPD. This was also very sad to read, but in this case because for the most part, I do not have similar family experiences, so I always feel for people who have been less fortunate than me in this regard.
As I mentioned earlier, it’s a common problem for people with AVPD that they are really afraid to share their interests with others for fear of being judged, criticised or stereotyped based on them. Personally, I think I deal with this less than many other people whose AVPD stories I’ve read or heard. I can be quite apprehensive and self-conscious about sharing my interests with people, especially in-depth, and I can also be very afraid of their reactions. Oddly enough (or maybe not), the more strongly I feel about something, the more I’m afraid to share it, so one of the things I’m particularly apprehensive of is talking to others about my faza people. If someone says something vaguely resembling criticism about my faza peep or their music, I feel as if they said it about me, or sometimes like they did something almost sacrilegious, and it really makes me cringe. … But at the same time, I LOVE sharing my interests with people and if I could, I would go on and on and on about them. Especially – yes – my faza people. It’s so fun and exciting, and I feel like the thrill is stronger than the fear for me, though of course it depends on the situation and with whom. Maybe it’s because I generally find it a lot harder to bottle up the happy stuff than the difficult stuff. Seriously though, just a few weeks ago my Dad suddenly wanted to listen to my current faza peep’s – Gwilym’s – music with me, just out of curiosity I guess. Normally I have to plan these things in advance, what to show a person when, what to say, how to handle it emotionally without showing my brain state etc, but this was so sudden that I got a mini-shock. We did listen to Gwil for quite a while and it was fun and he seemed to like his music even though he doesn’t know anything about folk music and doesn’t understand a word of Welsh, so he couldn’t appreciate his music properly, but I couldn’t settle for hours afterwards. I couldn’t sleep, I was buzzing with so much anxious, shaky energy, mulling over everything that had happened and wondering what my Dad could have been thinking every single second of that hour. My heart was racing the whole time, and when I looked at my Apple Watch, my pulse rate during the time I spent with Dad went up to 140 at one point. And it was just my own Father! 😀 But as I said, despite the anxiety, I generally feel able to share my interests with others and to enjoy doing it more or less, which is why I find it heartbreaking that many others with the same disorder, including Jake, find it much more difficult. Jake has quite a few interests, some relatively niche, which he writes about in his book and how he would love to share them with like-minded people, but at the same time it feels impossible.
Jake had to drop out of college after one semester because of increasing anxiety, as well as depression that he’d already developed by that time, and he couldn’t get a job after that. He felt very suicidal, and his parents didn’t really understand what was going on. Eventually he found a psychologist who used CBT, and in the book he describes his experiences with this therapeutic modality, which I found really validating because now I know I’m not the only person with AVPD for whom it didn’t work. My first therapist, the one I worked with for years as a child and who eventually helped me get a diagnosis, worked mostly with CBT, although her approach was rather integrative, and then when she dumped me, my next therapist’s approach was very much rooted in CBT. I never really felt that it helped me in any meaningful way. And CBT is supposed to be like the default therapeutic approach for AVPD. Which makes perfect sense if you think of it as social anxiety plus, except in practice I don’t think thatt’s really what it is. As Jake writes in his book, it was not the insight into his thoughts and beliefs that he needed, because he already had it. I think most of us with AVPD have it, perhaps too much of it. But I suppose that’s another problem that comes from the fact that there is so little research into the disorder. Admittedly, when I later tried psychodynamic therapy, it didn’t work for me either, in fact I think it made me worse, but I’m not sure whether the problem was with the therapy, or the therapist and me clashing big time, though the latter certainly must have played some part. It was also through that psychologist that Jake was first diagnosed with social anxiety disorder.
Later, Jake describes his difficulties with AVPD fantasising/intrusive thoughts. I think it’s really interesting how it seems to have nothing to do with the disorder and yet so many of us experience it. It looks different for everyone and in his book Jake describes what it looks like for him. What I found particularly interesting was that he started experiencing it as an adult. As someone who’s always had very vivid fantasies, I used to think you just had to be born with a brain like that.
Jake then writes about his journey to finally being diagnosed. If not social anxiety, what could it be? Like me, he considered autism and it turned out not to be that either. Eventually he found out about AVPD and decided, again like me, to seek an official diagnosis for the sake of his family, to help them understand what he was going through, why he acted the way he did, why many things were so much harder for him than they were for them, and so on. Which unfortunately, but expectedly, didn’t have the intended effect. He also describes the whole evaluation process, which, although I think it looks different depending on where you get evaluated, might be helpful for people considering it to have a basic idea of what it’s more or less like.
The final part of the book is mostly dedicated to people who do not have AVPD to help them understand those who do, or who are very socially anxious. However, as someone with AVPD I also found it valuable and I think many others with the disorder will too. It is very well written and well thought out. The advice is broken down into different sections for different types of relationships, from strangers to people you care about. The last and longest section is particularly insightful and encouraging for people with and without AVPD. It contains a lot of very practical, honest advice and covers a lot of different things quite comprehensively, even though it’s only one chapter. I think it could be a hugely helpful resource for anyone in a deeper relationship with someone with AVPD. I’ve come across articles about relationships with AVPD in the mix in the past, but they barely scratched the surface and felt quite generic and clichéd compared to this.
The book ends on a positive, if bittersweet, note. Jake is still in the process of finding the right therapy and medication, and gradually improving his life, which I really hope he will one day succeed with, as much as possible. But what I think is most important is that he’s already taken the first steps, quite big steps I think, by opening himself up to people as much as he has. It’s easy to write a book if you’ve managed to overcome something. But I think it really takes courage to write a book about something that you’re still dealing with and will probably struggle with in one way or another for the rest of your life.
Jake’s writing is really good stylistically, as far as I can tell as a non-native. It’s very honest and raw, reflective and vulnerable, warm and engaging, sprinkled with some dry, sarcastic humour, which is always a good seasoning to balance things out when you’re writing about shit.
I think I could recommend this book to pretty much anyone. Those who don’t have AVPD and want to understand it better, those with AVPD who want to read about someone else’s experience, anyone interested in psychology and how the brain works. Just, everyone should read this book. While reading it, I found myself thinking that I would like to translate it and give it to my non-English speaking Mum to read, which in turn made me think that it would be good for parents in general to read this book, especially parents of children who have any kind of social anxiety, or parents who are socially anxious themselves; in other words, parents whose children have any chance of developing AVPD in the future, so that they know what it looks like and can spot the potential signs early on and do something, because most of the time parents CAN do something.
Gosh, this is long! So, what do I say in conclusion…? Well, I probably shouldn’t say this was a great book or anything like that, because honestly, this was a really hard read emotionally, as I said, the first part anyway. It was depressing, nauseating, and inducing violent second-hand cringe fits, although of course none of this is in any way a fault of the book itself. I’m very proud of Jake for writing it, very happy that it exists, very grateful that I got to read it, and very hopeful that a lot of other people will do it too.
Official thanks to the author for providing me with a DRM-free copy of the book 😀
It’s a Shame I Can’t Share is available on Amazon. You can visit Jake Ware’s Youtube channel (Jake – AVPD) to learn more about him, and avoidant personality disorder.