The Power of Shame

Shame is a pit in the ground. When you’re young, if your shames are small, then the pit starts out shallow. If your shames are large, then the pit starts out deep and dark. But no matter how it starts, over the course of our lives, all of the shame we experience makes the pit bigger, deeper, and darker.

For years, I admitted to myself only the shallow shames, the ones that kept me up at night, but not the ones that kept me silent. I compartmentalized my shame, convinced myself that there was no shame in my past that I needed to face. And then one day, an issue in my marriage brought me face to face with a shame experience from my past that I had never faced before.

I started exploring shame in counseling and I started reading Brene Brown’s book, I Thought It Was Just Me: Women Reclaiming Power and Courage in a Culture of Shame. Brown writes, “Shame is the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing we are flawed and therefore unworthy of acceptance and belonging.”

Once I started talking about the experiences that made me feel shame, my feelings of shame increased exponentially. I explained it to my husband like this, I had begun by shining light onto one experience in my pit of shame, but inevitably this light uncovered other shame experiences and now I have to face them all.

At first glance, this feels like a terrible thing. I am more symptomatic, in more pain, then I was before this whole thing started. I am experiencing increased anxiety, loss of time, and out of body feelings. But I have to believe that in the end working through these shame experiences will result in becoming a healthier and more emotionally integrated person.

Brown’s brook is a crash course in shame management and developing resilience. She writes, “We cannot grow when we are in shame, and we can’t use shame to change ourselves or others.” We must process and resolve our shame in order to grow into the better versions of ourselves we all want to be.

We can help each other do that by listening compassionately and empathically to each other’s stories without letting our own fear and shame get in the way. Brown explains, “If empathy is the skill or ability to tap into our own experiences in order to connect with an experience someone is relating to us, compassion is the willingness to be open to this process.”

I encourage you to stretch your empathy muscles toward yourself and your loved ones today. The world needs more of it.

#furiouslyhappy

 

The more of us who speak up, the fewer people who will feel alone. Share this video. Read this book. Be #furiouslyhappy and #BeVocalSpeakUp

In honor of this and many other things, and as a reminder to myself that no matter what my day is like and what value society places on how I spend my time, I am accomplishing something, every post is now going to include my Knitting of the Day. So here is my knitting of the day:

The finished (not yet blocked) very first pair of (mostly matching) socks. Prickly Pear Socks knit from Regia Pairfect.

IMG_1845

And a stash-busting Chasing Rainbows (with an indeterminate recipient) knit out of various colorways of Sugar n’ Cream leftover from the last few Christmas’.

IMG_1846

What is Happiness?

This is going to sound odd.

I’ve been realizing over the last couple weeks that I’m trying to learn how to deal with not being depressed all the time. It’s really hard to explain to myself and other people that I’m depressed despite my ability to enjoy myself. I had the thought today, You’re either sick or your well. That’s not true for a lot of things, but with mental illness it seems to apply. You either have mental illness or you don’t. Right?

If that’s true, then how do I explain the laughter and enjoyment I experience every Wednesday night when I go to my knitting group? What about the weekend in Tucson from which Erik and I just returned? I don’t think I felt depressed even once during that trip.

Clearly I experience happiness in my life, however brief or temporary.

Dr. Theodore I. Rubin writes, “For me, happiness is feeling good, nothing more that. I know that feeling good, that is, feeling fairly comfortable and relatively tension-free, is no small matter and depends on the existence of many, many factors, most of which are not discernible, let alone controllable. Therefore, what I have come to view as happiness can only be sustained for limited periods of time, sporadically, and always on a relative level. Yes, even just plain feeling good is relative and cannot be perfect either in quality or duration. But illusions about happiness and ways of achieving it invariably destroy what happiness, however humanly limited, is possible” (Compassion and Self-Hate: An Alternative to Despair).

So, in other words, contentment equals happiness. But it seems to me that society has perpetuated a myth about contentment in which contentment equals complacency and therefore is to be avoided at all costs. Dr. Rubin describes the myth of happiness as the, “illusion [] that happiness is an orgastic high, a fantastic continuum of peak orgastic experiences.” When in reality, “such states of exhilaration almost always are related to depression and almost always are followed by depression.” And yet, this orgastic happiness is what we all seem to be striving for. Or is it just me?

Honestly, I don’t often think about what exactly I mean when I say, I want to be happy. I just know that I’m not. Or at least, up until now I’ve thought I wasn’t. But perhaps Dr. Rubin is right and happiness is an ethereal feeling, rather than a lasting state of being. Maybe my real goal ought to be a more frequent experience of contentment and beyond that, simply recognizing those moments of comfort and enjoyment that I do experience.

Perhaps it’s okay to only be sick some of the time. Enjoying my life does not negate my experience of mental illness. I can still say I suffer from depression and in the next breath, laugh at a joke. The world is not black and white, no matter how it may sometimes seem. I do not, in fact, have to feel depressed all the time.

Phew. What a relief.

 

Seize the Day

It is the middle of the night and I cannot sleep.

This evening I finally received a book via UPS that I have been hunting for, for months. It is out of print (it took me a while to understand this), and I don’t know why I didn’t just order it online to begin with.

The book is called Love Works Like This by Lauren Slater and I have been awaiting it’s arrival with baited breath. I love Lauren Slater. I have read Lying, Welcome to My Country, and I will certainly read anything else she comes up with. She’s brilliant. And not only is she brilliant, but I identify with her in a very substantial way. She writes words straight from my head.

She firmly believes in the chemistry of mental illness – that it can be helped tremendously with psycho-pharmaceuticals and also, in not blaming her mental illness on her mother. And so, as soon as the book arrived, I cracked it open and didn’t stop reading until I got to the last chapter and realized I wasn’t ready for the book to be over yet, which meant I had to stop reading.

I have been so interested in finding Love Works Like This ever since I discovered that she wrote this book about her personal experience with pregnancy and child birth. You see, Lauren Slater has had mental illness most of her life. She describes her life as having spent a decade in the hospital. She was first hospitalized at the age of 14, the last time at the age of 24, and very nearly at the beginning of her pregnancy when she went off her meds.

Now, there is a certain amount of interest on my part, because I have always wondered about having a child. I love children, have always loved children, and have always been, if I may say so, rather good with children.

The main problem, of course, is that I have also been cursed with these genes; Mental Illness and Addiction on both sides of my family tree with deep roots in both. I have one relative that committed suicide, another that has attempted, and it would surprise me not in the least if there are more of them that have as well.

Every time I have thought of myself as a mother, I have wondered about the curse I could be laying on my child. I would not wish my mental life on anyone, not anyone. And how could I possibly roll the dice on a child? Because as much as I have loved the children in my life, I know that I would love my child so much desperately more. And I know that as much as it breaks my heart to see any person, children especially, in emotional pain, to see my own child suffer with chronic mental illness and know that my genes were the cause, would be excruciating.

But more than all that, reading Lauren Slater’s book has reminded me, at a point when I very much needed reminding, that what I want more than anything else is to live a life worth living. I want to do whatever I have to do to get better sooner rather than later, so that should I decide to have a child, I will be living a life worth living when I do.

Erik and I have been discussing the hospital for weeks. There are treatment programs all over the country, but in Albuquerque there are only crisis intervention programs. I am not an imminent threat to myself or others. This is not what we’re looking for. We are looking for something more residential, more practical – something life changing. And of course, something for which our insurance will pay. Why is this so hard?

I want to get better. So. Cart me way. Next week. Tomorrow. Right now. Take me to some place where I can face my demons once and for all; where I can learn to handle the catatonia that my doorbell induces; where I can have “down” days that don’t mean I’m looking for the closest tall ledge; where I can face the people in my life who have treated me poorly and not feel angry or abandoned or alone.

I want to seize the day, every day.

And just this moment, I don’t know how.


Picture

Business and Illness

As I launch into my new business Social Structure Marketing and cross my name with my husband’s name and the business name, it occurs to me that my blogging activity will more than likely cause problems for our business. I could try to find a way around this – go underground with my blog, use a pseudonym for blogging, or new social media accounts, but that would completely undermine the point of Begin Anew.

Mental Illness does not make me incapable of contributing to the world and it does not reflect poorly on my husband. If anything, the fact that we are in a loving, stable relationship shows his devotion, commitment, responsibility, and integrity.

In a book of short stories called Hidden Lives: Coming Out on Mental Illness, Jill Sadowsky writes, “We turned to friends and family for support, but it appeared that although we knew Doron was ill, to most of the world he was crazy, undeserving of much attention. Our thirteen-year-old daughter summed it up: ‘If Doron’s body were hurting, people would send gifts, but because it is his mind, they throw bricks.'” (from “The Last Call”)

The point is, now that we seek to build a business, we will not hide away my problems. People with mental illness are all around you, they manage your portfolio, teach your children, fix your car, do your taxes, clean your houses, design your websites, and manage your social media presence. Being in business does not rid me of depression or anxiety and we will not pretend that it does.

For more information about our services at Social Structure Marketing, please visit our facebook page or visit our Website.

Picture

Man’s Search for Meaning

Picture

I am reading Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl at the recommendation of a friend. I came across a line Frankl quoted from a poem by Rainer Maria Rilke, “How much suffering there is to get through!” and decided to take a look at the whole poem. I tried to find a translation for the whole poem, with no luck, but easily found the original. So, I took my rusty German skills and came up with a rough translation that I do not endorse! And I admit, I have taken some liberties. If anyone has an “official” translation or a better grasp of the sentence structure, idioms, etc. and would like to suggest corrections to the translation, please comment.

From Rainer Maria Rilke’s “Poems in the Night”

Here is the original German:

Ist Schmerz, sobald an eine neue Schicht
die Pflugschar reicht, die sicher eingesetzte,
ist Schmerz nicht gut? Und welches ist der letzte,
der uns in allen Schmerzen unterbricht?

Wieviel ist aufzuleiden. Wann war Zeit,
das andre, leichtere Gefühl zu leisten?
Und doch erkenn ich, besser als die meisten
einst Auferstehenden, die Seligkeit.

Here is my translation:

Is pain, when it is unavoidable,
is pain not good?
What in the end gives reprieve
to those of us in pain?

How much suffering there is to get through.
When was time the easier to manage?
And after all I see,
better than most rising, someday,
from the dead
is bliss, now.

This translation is written through the eyes of having read the first half of Man’s Search for Meaning, which has a strong influence on how I translated this poem. Frankl writes, “When a man finds that it is his destiny to suffer, he will have to accept his suffering as his task; his single and unique task. He will have to acknowledge the fact that even in suffering he is unique and alone in the universe. No one can relieve him of his suffering or suffer in his place. His unique opportunity lies in the way in which he bears his burden.”

Frankl and Rilke both seem to be saying that it is better to manage one’s suffering well now, than to collapse under its weight and possibly never escape it. This idea has made me thoughtful and yet I wonder what bliss can be found in suffering like Frankl’s? Have you read Man’s Search for Meaning? What say you?

I have more to read. I am curious.