by emily Dickinson
This summer I did something shocking. I crossed a boundary with a guy who was dating my close friend. We’ve talked it out to death, and I think I can understand how it happened, but that’s not the point. The bottom line is; it wasn’t okay...but I did it.
Brené Brown talks about guilt as pertaining to our behaviour, and shame as pertaining to ourselves/ who we are. I felt incredibly guilty because my actions were impulsive, selfish and completely not within the realm of my moral standards.
What was much worse, though, was the shame. I wondered: am I really a bad person? How could I do this to someone I love? Weeks after I was still thinking: what if she realizes who I really am and can’t be friends with me?
I told this friend immediately after it happened, and her forgiveness and understanding was both a relief and a trigger for more shame. I felt like I no longer deserved her as a friend. It is only through the love and understanding of adult female friendship (and time!) that I have been able to build myself back up to a place where I feel I am deserving and not bad.
On that note, here’s my piece on shame.
I spend most of my life in a cycle of too anxious to function/anxious but functional/ doing well/a bit depressed/ too depressed to function. I don’t think many people realize this about me. When I tell someone I have anxiety after I’ve known them for a while, they’re shocked. You? But you seem so chill! Anyone who spends a lot of time with me will laugh at the prospect of me being chill...but hey, I’m good at playing the socially-acceptable human being game.
When I’m really depressed, I feel isolated. I feel like my anxiety and just who I am is a burden on people. I tend to shut off and isolate myself because I don’t want to make people uncomfortable. I definitely retreat from my social circle, but home is a bit harder. I live with my sister, and I feel most ashamed of my mental state around her. I see her as incredibly functional, successful, smart and “together.” We look identical, and I often feel like she’s the better/not crazy version of me. When I’m depressed or anxious, I hide from her, because I want to be the kind of big sister that she can look up to. It comes off as mean, or that I don’t want to be around her, and I know that. The thought of her not knowing how to approach me makes me feel more ashamed.
When I’m in that state, the only person I feel I can be myself with is my mom. She’s incredibly supportive, but I quickly fall into dependency mode. It’s like I need to hear her voice or I won’t be able to function, but also, there’s nothing she can say or do to help. I feel embarrassed that at 27, I still have this dependency on my mother. I also feel ashamed that she has to deal with her adult child acting like a 4-year-old. Sometimes I think that she really wishes I was more like my sister. Then I feel ashamed that I let myself even think that- of course she doesn’t. It’s like I can’t understand how she could love me. It’s a bit of a cycle.
Most of my anxiety is a by-product of OCD, which has been a big source of shame in my life. Because of the nature of the disorder (which I have, but was undiagnosed until I was 19) most of my childhood was characterized by the thought that I was a bad person. OCD, objectively, is an interesting disorder because the stereotype of it is kind of comical, like people who just have to keep checking things, washing their hands, or flicking light switches. Those things certainly exist (and trust me, they drive you fucking insane), but these physical obsessions exist because the disorder tells you: if you do that, then it’ll stop what’s going on in your brain.
Obsessive thoughts aren’t nice ones. They’re usually sexual, disturbing, even illegal. Think of the most horrible things that a person could do: Rape? Murder? Yeah. Those were my thoughts growing up. These horriffic images just kept going over and over in my mind until I was convinced that I was a bad person living in a good person’s body.
I felt guilty and shameful interacting with people in my family because I felt like I was a fraud. This probably started when I was around 13 and was really, really intense up until my 20s.
Whenever I look at pictures from teenagehood, I can remember exactly what I was obsessing about in that particular moment. With these thoughts came extreme anxiety, severe body dysmorphia, and depression. When I finally started seeing a therapist in my second year of university, I realized that I was dealing with something chemical that I had no control over.
My therapist knew what I was obsessing about without me having to tell her. These things were textbook. She even asked if I was terrified of snakes (I was.) That was part of it, too. I was around 20, and for the first time, not feeling completely guilty for everything going on in my brain. It was really freeing to find out that I wasn’t alone.
I have a pretty good handle on OCD these days. I mostly don’t think about it (which is a miracle for someone who’s obsessive.) Sometimes, when I’m going through a particularly anxious or depressed time, I’ll be hit with it harder. I remember a time at my mom’s house a couple of years ago where the obsessive thought patterns were so bad, I had to take a Valium and sleep through the entire day. Sometimes, that’s what you have to do. And there shouldn’t be any shame in that.
Although I’m past the worst of the OCD phase, a lot of the thought patterns of shame and self-loathing still kick around. It’s sad, but I’m realizing that it’s kind of my base for facing the world. The events of Summer17 (can I suggest a sequel to Drake?) acted as a catalyst to show me that I’m easily thrown back into the thought that I am a bad person in a good person’s body surrounded by amazing people who think I’m good but really if they knew who I was really underneath it all they’d hate me.
Through reading the submissions sent to BBW, through talking it out with almost every single person in my life, and through the unconditional love and support between us here running BBW… I realize that sharing what we’re ashamed of (and supporting each other in that vulnerability) is literally the most important step in women rising the fuck up.
I’m so committed to this movement. Let’s do it together.
So much love (to you and to me!)