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On Shame

June 27, 2019

 

As women, we have a lot of shame that permeates our everyday life: shame in our appearance, shame in our interactions with others, shame from our past, shame from not living up to others' - or society's - expectations. Personally, I have a lot of shame related to my mental health. 

 

Recently, I went back on medication for anxiety. This was after a change in careers in November 2017, the build-up to and eventual unbelievably stressful deployment of my partner and all the ensuing crap that comes with it, health issues for some family members, planning a wedding alone 3,000 miles away from my family and entire bridal party, and the general stress that comes with being a human in this world. 

 

Through it all, I was fine. I've been in and out of therapy since I was young, so I went back into therapy, knowing this was a stressful period. As someone with ADHD, I thrive on routines, so I carefully crafted a few: work from 7 a.m. - 3:30 p.m. (yes, my job is amazing), work out, walk the dog, make dinner or go out with friends, come home, go to bed. It wasn't terribly exciting, but it worked for me. 

 

When my now-husband returned from his eight-month deployment at the end of February, my carefully crafted routines were blown to hell, and made me realize that I, in fact, was not fine. 

 

With my routines gone, with more time on my hands to simply sit and be (since I now had someone to help with the house and the dog and the wedding planning), I realized that the stress of everything I had gone through in the last few years had built up to the point where I needed help. I was a lit fuse ready for a spark. So, here I am, back on medication for my anxiety and seeing my therapist regularly.

 

Of my friend group, I'm the one that checks in. I make sure you're okay. I'm the ear to bend, the shoulder on which to cry, the "life coach," as I've been coined by more than a few people. I'm the open book, the one that you can be 100 percent authentic and genuine with, because I will always be 100 percent authentic and genuine with you. But for some reason, I had so much shame surrounding just how badly I was feeling. 

 

If you've never had anxiety, this is what it feels like: I wake up in the morning with a racing heart. I'll ball my fist and rub my chest and breathe deeply, move, do some stretches or dance and sing, and that gets me into a better frame of mind. All this time, my mind is racing. It's like a stock ticker in Times Square but instead of numbers, it's a list of everything I have to do for the day, everything I messed up this week, everything that could go wrong. I get in the car and sing show tunes or listen to podcasts to try and distract myself. I get to work and, because I love my job, I'm okay. I get back in the car, the stock ticker starts up again, and by the time I'm laying in bed, my heart starts racing again. I can usually quiet it down, but sometimes, I just can't. That's when the panic attack comes. 

 

For the last few months, this is what every day has felt like. Yet I told no one, until recently. I "dealt with it" by simply not dealing with it at all. Why? Because I have this job I love, an incredible support system and my partner had just returned from deployment. Every day, I was told how happy I must be, how great I must feel. And I was happy, and I did feel great. But I also felt lost and flustered and uncomfortable and unsure and nervous. How awful was I that even after my fiance returned home, I struggled? Why couldn't I just get it together? I had years of therapy; I could control this. 

 

Except I couldn't. It took a panic attack and a few friends reaching out for me to speak my truth: "I'm struggling and I need help."

 

So, here I am, back on medication and back in therapy. 

 

And if we're being perfectly honest, I feel like a bit of a failure, despite the fact that I know so many people who also need help controlling the neurotransmitters in their brains. I feel like somehow, I lost. I still can't "get it together" enough to just be "normal."

 

But I'm starting to realize that the shame I've been carrying has nothing to do with me and has everything to do with society's expectations of what "normal" is. I'll never be "normal;" My brain just isn't wired that way. So maybe, my normal is where I'm at right now. I need to live as fully and authentically as I can, without shame, give power to my truth and know that there's power in not feeling so alone. 

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