A Word on Shame

Shame Quote

As Brene Brown would say, this weekend I suffered from the worst vulnerability hangover ever. After my unfortunate Friday night experience, all I wanted to do was go and hide. I replayed the events of that night over and over and over again and could only think one thing – “Lord, have mercy.”

You see, not only did I feel bad about how things went, my mind led me to a place that went beyond embarrassment to pure shame. I totally passed over the thought of “Oh, well, maybe it will be better next time” and headed straight to “See you are not good enough. You really are a fraud. You can’t do this. You are bad.”

Brene Brown talks about these thoughts as being evidence of shame. She makes the distinction between guilt and shame. Guilt is about feeling bad for something that you did. It holds not bearing on how you think about yourself. It’s a health feeling, one that can lead to seeking forgiveness when necessary. Shame on the other hand, cuts to the quick and translates into thinking that there is something fundamentally wrong and broken with you. It moves the focus form what you did to who you are.

Shame is insidious in nature. It’s amazing how someone like me, a person who is actively working on her mental health and constantly engaged in fostering self-awareness, can be overwhelmed by this emotion. I didn’t want to leave my house. I cried on the way home and vowed stay hidden. Had I been another version of myself, the less healthy, mired in depression Roze, I would have let shame win. I actually came close. But I decided that this voice and this emotion were not going to have the last word.

Saturday rolled around and I didn’t want to get out of bed. Thank God for birthday brunch plans with a dear friend. Because I was expected to be somewhere, I dragged myself up and out. It used to be that I’d lie to cover my reason for not showing up. Not this time.

I spent most of the day out, eating with friends and getting new glasses. I kept playing events over in my head but I tried really hard to confront the shame and shut it down as it creeped up and tried to take over. On a side note – I imagine my head full of minions from Despicable Me as the agents of shame trying to take over my mind. If you could see inside of my head… They actively work – seemingly cute and attractive, trying to draw me in – to destroy me. My demons are minions.

Sunday rolled around and once again, I had a commitment I wasn’t going to break. I surely thought about it but as was the case on Saturday, a friend was expecting me to show up. So I showed up. I went to lunch with friends and finally made my way home. Before I realized it, I had spent most of the weekend outside of the house. I had bathed, dressed, engaged in conversation and soaked up a little sun. Two years ago, this would NOT have happened.

When talking to a friend who I called my depression sponsor (a la AA), she gave me an image that has been very helpful. She told me to think about my Friday experience as a pot hole, not as a cliff. I shared this with my therapist and she found this helpful as well. Here’s the truth about my life – because of how I think, my life experiences and the reality of depression and anxiety in my life, I will have pot holes. I can’t get rid of them. I will hit a moment of uncontrollable anxiety. I will enter a time of deep depression. These things will happen. What’s changed for me is how I view them. Pot holes happen quickly, have the potential to do some damage but aren’t life-ending. It used to be that everything was a cliff. I would literally fall off the face of the earth and go missing for weeks and months at a time. I needed others to rescue me from these situations.

In the place I’m in now, I recognize that pot holes will be a normal occurrence in my life. I’ve stopped asking “Why me?” when thinking about my propensity to get anxious or be depressed and started asking “What’s needed?” to deal with my reality.

The shame bug hit me hard this weekend. I stumbled into the pot hole. But I got up, slightly bruised and knowing that I’d be ok. And for that, I’m thankful.



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