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Confessions of a Coward

I am sitting down in a subway platform, waiting for a train.

Then it happens. A woman comes down and sits beside me. I surreptitiously glance at her hand. There is no wedding ring there.

I take a deep breath. Relax. Think. Focus. What can I infer about her? We are in a downtown station, she is dressed business style, is likely an office worker or manager. I steal a glance at her, she is reading a computer printout, done in Microsoft Excel.

All right, I tell myself, say something. Anything. How hard can it be? I have a functioning larynx, vocal cords, and tongue. At my own office people sometimes complain they can't get me to shut up.

The woman is still reading the printout. If she has noticed me looking at her she gives no sign. I toy with various opening lines....the weather? computing? subways? dampness? what's on TV tonight?...but all remain locked inside my skull.

What am I thinking? What am I feeling? Not the classic symptoms of anxiety; my heart is not pounding, my hands are not sweating, I feel no nausea or any physical discomfort. Nothing, that is, except for muteness. Something in me refuses to allow the lips to speak.

Anger curdles within me, rage and shame and self-loathing. This is a woman sitting beside me, not an ogre. The worst she can do is ignore me. She might, on the other hand, actually talk to me. What success is there without risk? I think these things, feel these things, feel more and more disgusted with myself. But I still do not open my mouth.

I take more deep breaths. This is ridiculous. Minutes pass by and still I say nothing. Finally the train rumbles into the station and we both get up and enter it. I make a point of using a different door than she. Yet another opportunity lost. So it goes.

Soc-phob, Nov. 23, 1998.