We are programmed to avoid pain whatever its nature, physical or emotional. If that pain is unavoidable we cope as best we can. One of those coping mechanisms is hiding or retreating into a safe place, a comfort zone where you feel like the world can’t get you. It might not be a happy place, but any mental and physical place will fill that need in times of crisis.
During a depression episode, people like me get lost inside their head, wallowing in self-pity, and hide in bed as much as possible. I usually tend to withdraw from other people, isolating myself and hiding my feelings behind a mask. Even when I’m feeling okay, I tend to avoid new or uncomfortable activities, restricting myself to something familiar and finding “safe” places where I can be alone. When I am at work, I often try to not get noticed for anything, quietly doing my work but not striving for promotions or additional responsibility.
I guess I do this because of my many insecurities, lack of confidence and self-esteem, and my morbid fear of failure or embarrassment. Have you seen that bumper sticker “Dance like no one is watching”? I don’t dance for fear that someone may be watching, even from binoculars at a thousand yards, and laughing with their friends, or posting a video online for my eternal humiliation.
I’ve always been this way, except in the few situations where I had confidence in what I was doing. When I was in the band in high school, I was part of a cohesive group of geeks working towards a common goal, and I was able to be a leader within the group. When I was in college, I didn’t see myself as a genius, but I had the confidence that I would excel at all my classes; I was surprised that many people wanted to study with me to improve their grades.
I wish I knew how to overcome a lifetime of this programmed behavior. I’m sure it’s not impossible, but I think it would be very difficult to change my actions and challenge these deep-rooted fears and insecurities. Where would I start? I don’t know the answer, and I seriously doubt that someone else has the answers for me. I know no (legal) drugs can make me un-learn years of acting this way. Alcohol doesn’t help me change, it only intensifies my depressive personality.
Happy, well-adjusted, confident people are able to put themselves out there with seemingly little effort. They seem naturally born to bee free spirits, risk takers, outgoing and gregarious, and open to new experiences and relationships. How can they behave this way, is it something genetically programmed, something learned, or a combination of both? If that is so, I struck out on both counts; I learned passive and self-conscious behavior as a child, and the genes for mental illness were given to me at conception.
There are very few times I can feel more free to be myself, for example when I go on a baseball trip somewhere, or years ago when I would go hiking in the mountains in the West, or when I am exploring somewhere new where I don’t know anybody. Maybe these are associated with hypomanic phases when I am feeling abnormally alive. Most of the time however, the depression forces me back into that comfort zone where I’m not scared or vulnerable.