Sunday, April 15, 2018

Nothing To Fear But Fear Itself

I have a 27-year-old nephew, Jonathan, who still lives at home with his parents.  Sadly, this is not so uncommon nowadays.  It seems our society has made it harder than ever before for young people to savor their first taste of independence, what with high post-secondary education costs creating onerous student debt burdens coupled with low-paying, precarious student jobs or, even worse, internships that offer no monetary payment whatsoever.

Jon, however, has no student debt, because he never continued his education beyond high school graduation.  It's not that he lacks the mental aptitude for college or even university study.  Indeed, he's a bright young man, whose marks in high school were good enough to put him on the honors list.  And it's not that he lacks the financial means to cover the cost of tuition and books.  His parents, while not overtly affluent, are a comfortable upper-middle-class couple who helped to finance Jon's older brother's post-secondary education and would happily do the same for Jon as well, if only he were willing to enroll.  But he isn't.

Instead, he lives in his parents' home, spending his leisure time playing computer video games.  He does not pay rent, because he has no job and therefore no income.  At this point, dear reader, you're  probably picturing a lazy, overweight freeloader.  If so, your mental image of Jon is incorrect.  In fact, he happily helps out around the house doing chores and odd jobs and he has been known to do volunteer work in the community.  But he refuses to seek gainful employment because nothing suits him.  There's always some reason for not applying for any given job; it's too far away and he has no means of transportation or he's unqualified or he just plain isn't interested in doing the type of work required.  He suffers from irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and this provides a ready excuse for avoiding employment.  He may not have ready access to a bathroom or his boss might get irritated with him taking too many bathroom breaks.

He has lots of talent.  He's handy enough to be able to fix things and do simple home renovations and repairs, yet he eschews building on his knowledge of plumbing or carpentry or any other area of specialization in the field of home renovation or repair.  He's much more PC-literate than the average person and has built his own custom home PC, yet he would never consider joining the "Geek Squad" or taking a job as a computer technician.  And he's a born comedian.  He can mimic anyone or any accent.  He has a keen memory for movie lines and catch phrases.  Yet, when his older brother recently explored the idea of making him Master of Ceremonies. at his up-coming wedding, Jon flatly refused.  Public speaking is out of the question.

He has never had a girlfriend, although he's reasonably attractive and extremely physically fit.  He works out constantly.  Yet, he's not gay; he has never had a boyfriend either.  He has a wonderful sense of humor and an engaging personality.  

He's devoutly religious (Christian) and is somewhat prone to preaching.  But he readily admits that the root of his religious faith is a fear of eternal damnation.  He doesn't practice his faith out of a love for God, but rather out of a fear of the fires of hell.

And therein lies the key word that defines Jon.  Fear.  He's afraid to try anything new.  He is extremely averse to change, to the point where he wears the same type of shirt and pants every single day.  He's normally unwilling to try anything new or novel; hence the avoidance of post-secondary education and all forms of employment.  A friend of his father's recently got him a job working in a warehouse.  He didn't last a day.  Before the day was out, he had what can only be described as a panic attack and had to be sent home.

And yet, there have been rays of hope.  A couple of summers ago, he spent time in an indigenous community, spreading God's word among the young indigenous people there.  The local kids gave him good-natured nick names such as "Army Pants" (because of the camouflage pants that he constantly wears) and "Milk With Ears". At one point, he actually petted a wild wolf and came away with hands still attached to the end of both wrists.  He genuinely seemed to enjoy that experience, yet he has never seen fit to repeat or follow up on it.

Almost everyone who knows Jon, especially his family, gets frustrated with his unwillingness to try anything new.  His parents, his brother, his grandmother and, yes, even his uncle, are constantly trying to think of ways to "fix" him.  But it's not that easy.  While I'm no psychologist, I strongly suspect that Jon's fears and anxieties are the result of a mental illness or abnormality.

Mental illness is still largely misunderstood in our society.  Many people believe that everyone has complete control over their emotions and that, for example, not being depressed or afraid is simply a matter of deciding not to feel that way. The reality is, those suffering from any form of mental illness can no more make it stop than a person suffering from the flu can make their runny nose or watery eyes stop.  In both cases, there are treatments and medications that may help, but it's impossible to just wish the condition away.

So, maybe what Jon needs is counseling.  Doubtless that would help.  The problem is, he's no more willing to speak to a professional counselor any more than he is willing to try anything else new; at least, not in person.  But he does interact with others on-line.  He plays on-line computer games and, the rare times that he has actually applied for jobs, it has always been via on-line applications; never in person.

So perhaps on-line counseling is the answer.  That too is available nowadays.  I have recently exchanged e-mails with an online counseling web site known as  One of their representatives stumbled upon this blog and apparently though enough of my writing to suggest that we might provide links between the two sites.  Having not used betterhelp's services myself, and not yet knowing anyone who has, I can't yet provide any sort of testimonial for them but I've at least explored the site and the counseling service they offer sounds interesting.  Now if I can only convince Jon to give it a try.

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