Shame. Just seeing the word makes me cringe.
I’ve been mentally suffering again, and I struggle to know what it is that brings me down into the darkness. I’ve written about it before, as some sort of cycling mood disorder or depression that hits me for a few days. I have figured out that shame is at the root of this, and I think I actually suffered a shame attack. (my word – to liken it to a heart attack or asthma attack)
I revisited Brene Brown and her ideas on vulnerability and shame.
This time I came away with the notion that guilt and shame are related, but completely different. Brene posits that guilt is healthy, it is an agent for change and action.
GUILT=”I hurt your feelings, I did something bad, I feel guilty, I apologize and feel better”
SHAME-“I hurt your feelings, I AM bad, I feel shame, I apologize and feel worthless”
Shame allows us to internalize the bad, be one with the bad, in an endless cycle of self hate. I’m starting to figure out some of my triggers for shame attacks, I think. Triggered by success. Triggered by the kindness of others. Go figure.
I used to think I was such an introvert that any social interaction wore me out and gave me need to hide in a dysfunctional stupor for a few days. I am now starting to think that is only partially correct. Yes, I do need alone time to recharge, but that implies a healthy recovery process. Not me hiding from my own brain, dodging my own painful thoughts – thoughts of self loathing and giving up on life itself. I must ride the waves of self destruction, drifting aimlessly until I spot the horizon. Thankfully I have been through this enough times to know that I will spot that horizon, so it is more a matter of distracting myself than actually nurturing myself on those days. Finding some way to ignore the putrid lies my brain feeds to me, hateful lies full of shame and disgust.
I had a lovely time at my public art demonstration. I was mindfully present and felt joyous. Hubby was amazing helping me get organized and make the schedule work with kid events too. Many of my new friends came to watch me draw and I felt loved. Many, many strangers complimented my work. I felt proud of my accomplishment. All in all it was a great experience.
So why the shame attack the next day? I’m not exactly sure of the mechanism, but I think to simplify it a bit, my inner self does not believe art is a worthy way to spend my time, and even deeper than that, I think I am afraid I don’t deserve the compliments – that I am not actually talented.
Now this was a juried show, meaning I had to submit a sketch and plan to be invited to participate, and it was limited to a small number of artists. They gave me a spot central to the festival and said they were so happy to have me. All of those people complimenting my work were not just being kind. Rational thoughts should say that someone thinks I am in fact talented. I do think I am talented, and I was proud – hugely proud of myself that day. It felt great to interact with the crowd, answer questions, and hear their surprise and admiration.
It was the next day I was filled with doubt. The next day I could barely get up out of bed, I wasn’t sure why though. The dark thoughts are so powerful and confusing, like being tossed about in a tornado. See, the shame is not so direct, it is all encompassing and does not tell me why it is there, and so I am left guessing about why my brain has chosen to torture me yet again. I’ll list some of the thoughts I had in my negative tape the next day.
“Why did you choose something so complicated to draw? The others were done in half the time”
“You should have spent more time talking with your friends or the crowd, it was rude to keep drawing”
“You looked fat in the photos. When did you get so fat? Why didn’t you exercise more before this event?”
“You forgot your business cards on purpose – you don’t actually want success”
“The kids were tired and whining, why do you keep dragging them along to your events?”
“You wanted to be with your friends, out drinking, and not with your kids – you are a terrible mom – a terrible person”
“Why do you need so much attention?”
“Why can’t you finish any framed art? Why do you only do these art shows with nothing to keep or sell?”
“What’s the point? It’s all meaningless”
“They didn’t pay you enough, why did you work so hard? Don’t you have any self-respect?”
“You’ll never make it as an artist”
“You wore yourself out doing something silly for yourself and now you are useless to your family.”
“You’ll never learn. You’re so stupid”
“Everyone just humors you”
“All you do is waste time. You’re wasting your entire life. No need to continue life if you’re just going to waste it”
I chose TV and video games, and alcohol, to drown out these thoughts. These activities numbed the pain, silenced those thoughts, but actually made me feel worse about everything as I prove to myself that I am a pathetic waste. I avoided my family, doing only what needed to be done to feed them. Luckily they can all dress themselves now and mostly played outside. Extra shame when their friend comes inside and sees me not dressed at 2pm, hair not brushed, dishes not washed, floors not swept, and playing games. I couldn’t even pretend to work, the games were obvious, and I had no extra energy for pretense.
The good news is, the attack only lasted 1 day. Yesterday. Today felt more like recovery and recharging instead of survival. I still zoned out with alcohol and games, but I also got moving and did some chores in between levels – because I wanted to, not out of guilt. I was able to think and plan and make a nice dinner, so Hubby could have one thing less to worry about. Yesterday I could not rub two thoughts together in any helpful way. I barely remember it, it’s all hazy. What a strange brain I have.
Today the thoughts were gentle, encouraging, and no hate. And as my inner bully quieted, the tears weren’t waiting to fall today. Here are some of today’s thoughts.
“Yesterday was hard, but it is over now.”
“I could do one load of dishes, that would be really helpful”
“You’ve been through much worse, this is no big deal”
“Your family loves you and understands”
“I can wash some towels, we’ll all appreciate that at bath time tonight”
“I can vacuum those dust bunnies real quick”
“I really had fun drawing, I wonder if I should do it again next year? I’ve learned so much about composition, it keeps getting easier”
“I’d like to enter an art competition, I wonder if I can find the time to meet the deadline?”
“This game has beautiful graphics, it would be fun to sketch some of these scenes”
“I’ve never been to Venice, I hope I can travel the world more some day”
“I wonder what we’ll do in that meeting at work tomorrow?”
So shame has left, and hope has returned. Again. This cycle is exhausting, but at least I am still learning, and I think, still headed in the right direction. I do wonder if there is any way to stop the shame attack before it starts? I’m surely going to try.