Shame On Me

I’m having a difficult time writing this blog. I’ve been very depressed lately and when I’m depressed, it makes thinking and following a train of thought a bit difficult. It’s hard for me to share with others that I’m depressed, although it is written all over my face. I can’t hide it, but I hardly ever talk about it. Why? Because it’s something that I’ve struggled with since childhood and because I feel selfish when I’m depressed. Because so many people have it worse than me and they aren’t depressed. To me, depression is just me being selfish and whiny. It’s best if I keep it to myself. Besides, no one cares anyway, right?

I’ve been reading Brené Brown lately and what she has written on shame speaks to me loud and clear. Through her research, she has defined shame as “the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing we are flawed and therefore unworthy of acceptance and belonging.” I don’t talk much about my depression, because I’m ashamed. I grew up with a mentally ill mother and her illness always came first. If I showed any negative emotion, I was made to feel ashamed. After all, Mom had it worse than I did and poor Dad had to work so hard to take care of us kids. I should just be a good girl and stay quiet.

So I stayed quiet, but my body and facial expressions couldn’t (and can’t to this day) hide my true feelings. I was mocked, made fun of, and told to quit pouting, which only made me feel worse. I was told to smile. Fake it till you make it. My face cannot tell a lie, though. I’d make a terrible poker player.

Depression sucks. Not only do I feel like someone put a heavy, wet wool blanket over me, but I feel ashamed of the fact that I feel that way. I was thinking that it’s a chicken and egg thing, but I really think that shame is the main reason for my depression, not the other way around. I was taught to be ashamed of my feelings, yet I couldn’t help but feel. That meant something must be something wrong with me. My feelings weren’t acceptable by my family, therefore I was unacceptable to my family. If we aren’t accepted by those who are supposed to love us unconditionally, how can we feel accepted and worthy in the world at large?

This feeling of unworthiness led me to reject love from anyone because if they loved me, there must be something wrong with them, right? That was my reasoning anyway and that’s why I’ve never really had a long-term relationship. And of course, there’s shame in that. What kind of loser doesn’t get married and have kids? I’m an old maid, a spinster. Words to describe an unwanted woman.

I’ve also never been able to figure out what I wanted to do with my life. Shouldn’t I at least have some great career that I can use as an excuse for never finding love? I went to college right after high school. I started out in business, switched to psychology, and then to English Lit. I went to three universities, before finally getting suspended from Colorado State for poor grades. I decided to give up on school, because I didn’t have any direction. What the hell was I going to do with an English degree anyway?

I decided that since I sucked with people, I’d try working with plants. I worked in nurseries and garden centers for a while, but I didn’t make much money. I thought getting a two-year degree in horticulture would help my money-making prospects. It did not. I muddled around with that for a few years then decided to get my bachelor’s because I was tired of my Dad mocking me for the fact that everyone had a degree but me. I thought I’d try Environmental Studies. I was a tree-hugging hippie after all, so why not. I would save the planet. Well, it turns out that rather than a focus on activism and tree-hugging, it was a science-based program, but since I had already started, I forged ahead and got my bachelor’s.

The first job I got after graduation was in an “environmental lab,” which had nothing to do with saving the planet. In fact, the lab was about as far from environmentally friendly as it could get. We overloaded the landfill with massive amounts of plastic bottles that were used for sampling and we used exorbitant amounts of energy running all those instruments and making sure the temperature in the building was an uncomfortable 65 degrees.

Once I got fired from that job, I thought, “I’m going to do something completely different.” You see, I’ve been seeing a therapist for several years, trying to get past all the layers of shame and not-enoughness down to who I really am. I finally admitted that my soul loved art and that’s what I truly wanted to do. I had been looking for “love” in all the wrong places. I like science. I enjoy knowing scientific fact, but I hate doing science. I love plants, but I don’t love the back breaking labor of gardening. I love making things. I love photography. I love drawing and painting and writing. I love graphic design and coming up with ideas to execute. I spent hours and hours working on my assignments and never once complained. It was heaven.

I was also working for an herbal manufacturing business and I thought that I was going to get to practice my newfound love of graphic design and marketing, but that is where my dreams started fading. She wasn’t really ready to let anyone else handle the promotion of the business, even though she wasn’t doing it herself either. So I quit, thinking that it was a sign to really pursue my own dreams instead of try to help someone else achieve theirs. I wanted to go to school full-time so I could learn faster and perhaps start doing some side jobs. I thought the money would come through if that was the right thing to do. It didn’t. I couldn’t even find a job that would allow me the time to take classes, so it appears school is out. Besides, they didn’t offer any classes I needed to take this quarter. Maybe I was wrong. When you want something, the universe conspires to help you get it, right? It felt instead like the universe was slamming doors on my dreams.

So now I’m back to shame. I can’t get hired for any job that pays a decent wage. I had to take a call center job and I feel as if the universe just punched me in the gut. I don’t understand. Did I do something wrong? Or is it like I’ve always feared? I am the universe’s punching bag. The cosmic joke. I feel like Charlie Brown trying to kick the football and the universe is Lucy pulling the ball away so that I fall on my ass every time I try. I don’t understand what I’ve done to deserve this. Maybe I was right. I am unworthy.

I’m trying to find a way to have faith. I’m trying to believe that the universe has something really awesome set up for me and this is part of it. All I have to do is be okay with where I am right now and accept that what is, is. All I have to do is stop resisting it and it will get easier, right?  I do have faith in the universe. I know how it works. I’m just not sure it will work for me.

Brené Brown says that to diminish shame, we must name it. We have to call it out. Shame loves to stay hidden so it can whisper in our ears the things that make us feel small. That’s why I’m telling you all this. Not because I want your pity. I don’t. I’d rather you not know any of these things at all, because I’m embarrassed to be a middle aged woman who’s self-worth hasn’t improved since junior high. However, I hope that by being honest and calling out my shame, it will have less of a hold on me and I’ll be free to allow myself the worthiness that all of us deserve just by being born.


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