So, then, now what?
The doubts and the fears I have about sharing my writing are still here – they’ve never left, and so they’ve gotta be dealt with before I can move forward. In therapy (and yes, I go to therapy and yes, that’s one of the things I’ve been reluctant to share), my doctor/therapist/all-around-cool-guy Brian encourages me to “follow the fears as far as you can” – to get to the root, to the end of the line. This process was new for me, and so the first time we did it, I think it took me about two weeks to finally get to the root of the issue I was struggling with. At the time, I was terribly afraid of being rejected by someone important to me, and after our session my homework was to follow this fear – so, if this person were to say “you know what Jen, I don’t like you, I am rejecting you” (or whatever worst-case scenario I could create) – I would simply ask myself: “Ok, then what?”
Well, then I’d be really sad and I might feel badly about myself.
“Ok, then you’d be really sad and might feel badly about yourself. Then what?”
Then … I might be sad for a long time.
“Ok, then you might be sad for a long time. Then what?”
Then … that would be pretty shitty.
“Ok, so that would be pretty shitty. Then what?”
(And you can see how frustrating this became after a while.)
But here’s the solution – the answer key to my homework: For most of the things I struggle with, following them down to the very end of the road always ends up with the same final answer: “And then, I will be ok. I am ok.”
So I’m putting it out there – this is my shame list, the things I sometimes write about, yet am hesitant to share. Because I’m afraid of what might happen – what I might lose. But what could be gained if I chose, instead, to name them, to unpack them, and to bring them into the light?
Shame Thing 1: I used to be very overweight and I’m not anymore. I am ashamed of having been overweight because I still haven’t forgiven myself for having allowed it to happen. But I’m also learning how to show compassion to myself – my earlier self – who was struggling and in pain and was simply trying to comfort and protect herself in the only way she’d learned how. It is ok.
Shame Thing 2: I lost weight and am now at a healthy weight for my body, but I still don’t always feel good about myself and I’m still not “fixed.” I’m still working through some issues, and most of the time, I am fine and happy despite them, and I live a good life and laugh and have adventures. When the monsters come screaming to the surface, I deal with them. The way I look at it is that everyone’s got their demons to wrestle with, and maybe this is mine. That is ok.
Shame Thing 3: I have depression and anxiety that I am being treated for with weekly therapy, medication, and other holistic approaches. Part of this for me is genetic. While I am mostly ok with talking about this, there is still some residual shame that, I think, comes along with the stigma that still surrounds having a “mental illness.” Actually, I just connected the dots for myself last week while watching a commercial – there was some kind of statistic given that a large percentage of people suffer from mental illness. I turned to my wife and said, “Honey, am I mentally ill?” And she said yes. (And that was kind of funny.) Of course, it’s not funny, but I don’t think it’s something that shouldn’t be openly discussed, either. I mean, what depression really looks like for me is this: sometimes I am deeply sad, or apathetic, hopeless, feeling worthless. This can stretch out for days or even for weeks. With anxiety, it’s more about living with a constant, simmering dread that’s not attached to any specific incident. When something occurs that would trigger anxiety in a “normal” person, for me, it can skyrocket. My heart races and my face flushes and sometimes, when it’s really bad, I’ll have a panic attack – for me, that just means sobbing so hard that I have trouble breathing (I’m a hot mess). But really, is any of this something I need to feel ashamed of? Nah. It happens to millions of other people, too. I didn’t cause it and it is not my fault. But I do worry – will people write me off as “crazy?” Maybe. But even so … it will be ok.
Shame Thing 4: I am bisexual, and I am married to a woman who is also 16 years older than me. And the truth is that I am not ashamed of any of those things at all. I have never felt ashamed and I will never feel ashamed because I am attracted to someone or because I love someone. Because that is the stupidest thing ever. The concern I have over this one comes mostly from fear over having to deal with people who may not agree with my “lifestyle” (again, that is the stupidest thing ever because my “lifestyle” is pretty much sleeping and eating and going to work and going to get coffee and other such objectionable events). Basically, I am all about harmony and unity and I loathe conflict and just don’t want to get into battles with people who think I’m a terrible person. I was in a class this week and had a hard time saying “my wife” – NOT because I’m ashamed of her, but because I worried it might create awkward tension among a group of people I needed to spend a lot of time working with. It’s like constantly making the decision of whether to come out or not: do I come out to the airport shuttle driver who asked me whether my husband and I have any children? Do I come out to the old lady in the supermarket who complements my wedding ring and asks me what my husband does for work? It’s a constant state of awkward, and sometimes it spills over in my writing, too. But I will lean into the awkward. It will be ok.
So, now you know my secret shames – well, they’re not so secret anymore. I hope you will read on despite them. Or maybe, in part, because of them.