The Harassed Loner

The Harassed Loner.

Sylvia was in her 20s and was an orphan from a very young age. Her maternal aunt, Meg, brought her up together with her own two kids. Meg and her husband were hardworking and they just managed to service their household expenses with their monthly income. Sylvia became an added burden to them. Sylvia’s upbringing, unfortunately, was fraught with partiality and prejudice towards her by her adoptive family. She was made to realize that she was the odd one out whenever important family issues were discussed, from the choice of school after the important elementary school exam to the sum of weekly allowances given to the children, from family outings during the holiday breaks to new clothes and accessories. Sylvia was simply treated as a nonentity. She learnt to accept these conditions silently as her lot in life and repressed her feelings and opinions at home. She used to be more vocal when she was younger, and these would be met with various punishments and deductions of her meal allowances; some days at school, she would skip meals, as she did not have enough pocket money.

After she completed her high school, she began working at a factory. Soon after, she left home and rented a room, sharing it with three other girls from Malaysia who were her co-workers. She seldom participated in the activities that her three other roommates engaged in and kept very much to herself. She never talked about her family, nor voiced any opinions on issues that her colleagues would discuss. She quietly went about her work, lunched on her own, and avoided any conversation or relationship with others. The only person who Sylvia would call her friend, Josephine, was also an employee in the company but worked in a different department. Jo got to know Sylvia when they met one afternoon sitting at a lunch table at a coffee shop. As usual, Jo started the conversation, and soon they were sharing the same table at different eateries over their lunch hour.

At her first two days’ annual company outing over the year-end in Malaysia, Sylvia shared a room with Jo and another girl, Cynthia. Cynthia was an out-going carefree personality and was the life wire in any group. One evening, while they were chitchatting in their room, Cynthia’s curiosity got the better of her and she delved into an interrogative mode enquiring on Sylvia’s background. As usual, Sylvia divulged little information. Cynthia pressed in with her questions. At some point, Sylvia became very quiet and began losing eye contact. Cynthia in her flippant way asked whether she trusted them with her secrets! All of a sudden, Sylvia went hysterical and screamed, and ran off into the dark bathroom. In shock, both Jo and Cynthia ran after her and found Sylvia hiding in a corner. They turned the light on to see better but Sylvia’s shrieks made them switched the light off. She moaned and groaned. Jo attempted to get near her, but Sylvia pushed her away and her screams deterred her getting closer again. After ten minutes as they waited outside the bathroom door, Sylvia walked out. She looked at them and as if surprised to find them at the door, asked, “Why are you both standing at the door?” Sylvia was amnesic on what had just happened.

Weeks later, Jo brought Sylvia for counselling, although Sylvia was not a willing client. As we explored and explained the processes that possibly contributed to her earlier dissociated hysterical episode, for which she had no conscious knowledge of, Sylvia began to lower her guard. From her own memory, she confessed that the episode was not the only one as she had been told when she was with her family that it had recurred on several occasions in the past, but she had very sketchy memories of any of them.