Unexpected symptoms of depression Part Three: Cowardice

“I wonder when I became so timid.”

It was years before I recognised that I had depression, before I gave my demons and tears a name and claimed them as my own, but I knew something was wrong. I was so damn scared of everything. So timid.

Not shy. I’ve always been shy. Shy is a different thing and doesn’t have to be synonymous with timidity. Despite my lifelong shyness, as a child and teenager I performed poorly yet enthusiastically in plays and musical recitals. I travelled alone and faraway. I went abroad for the first time and left home in one exciting day, seeing nothing fearful in this. I spoke to 300 teenagers in a large hall, demanding and waiting for silence without so much as a tremble. I gave presentations and delivered workshops.

But suddenly I was frightened all the time. Frightened of the big things like people dying but also of tiny ridiculous things. The thing that had prompted me to wonder when all this started was desperately stifling a sneeze because I didn’t want anyone in the street to hear me and notice me. How, at that moment, I didn’t realise I was utterly mental, I’ll never know but I did recognise that something had changed. I had become permanently scared.

After I accepted my depression, I slowly began to realise that the timidity and cowardice had arrived with my change in mood. I had panic attacks in supermarkets and airports. I was terrified of people looking at me. I melted down when even a tiny thing didn’t go to plan and caused what should have been a tiny spike in stress but instead became an insurmountable mountain. I grew hot and red at the smallest thing. My heart raced and my lungs refused to fill.

And I became a complete coward. I could try nothing new. I hid away from situations and experiences and people, cowering and weeping in a safe corner (usually under the covers of my bed, pressed against the wall). On rare occasions when I pushed myself, or for a sweet moment forgot I was a nutcase, I wouldn’t rally, I wouldn’t prove myself stronger or better. I would crumble. I once went bowling with a group of friends, put on my bowling shoes and then sat on the bench for the whole game, not once getting up, because I suddenly became terrified of making a fool of myself. I once went with a couple of friends to get my nails done and sat in the lobby because I had never done this before and was frightened of saying or doing something wrong. What that wrong could have been when all I had to do was pick a nail varnish and hold my hands out for it to be applied, I have no idea. But logic doesn’t come into it.

Now I recognise the cowardice and the timidity as a symptom. On my worst days, I pander to it and I do nothing to test it. On better days, I try to push myself. I am no longer petrified of being “seen” in the street and can sneeze if I need to without the heart quickening. I am travelling again, at least 50% of the time without panic. I try to plan carefully so I know what to expect at a new airport.

I’ve never told anyone just how pathetic I can be and why. I am quick with excuses (I’ve hurt my arm so I can’t bowl, I hate people touching my hands – the fake migraine is a favourite) and people accept them with bemusement or amusement and for once I don’t care if they laugh at me because it’s better than them knowing the truth.

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