Thursday, September 8, 2011

Shame Spiral.

My dear friend who for the purposes of this blog we'll call "The Mermaid", talks about the Shame Spiral. Like it's spelled with capital letters. Like it's larger than you and me. Because in the moment, it certainly feels that way.

It's that feeling she gets when her baggage relating to all of her imperfections or perceived imperfections or deep wounds from the past rises up like the tide to try to swallow her alive and drag her out to sea with the rest of the debris. By the time it's around her ankles she feels that she will drown, and then of course the panic sets in. Sometimes that means I get a phone call, which is fine with me really, because as a previous commenter posted: misery loves company and frankly I can often relate.

Yes, I have my various "issues" but I've always been willing to jump in and take challenges and push myself, and have always felt like I was ready to climb the next mountain, because WHY would anyone waste their time with MOLEHILLS. And I'm tenacious...I think it's a result of ADHD actually...even before I was diagnosed I was aware of how easy it was to start and not finish things, and I developed a serious complex about it and it made me feel really lame, so I developed an almost compulsive need to finish everything I started.

Then I attempted my Iron Man Are You Fucking Kidding Me-athlon of 2010...quick recap for the first time reader: I finished grad school, ran a small business, held down a paralegal job, met my now-husband after swearing for 34 years that I would never get married, moved in with him and his children, planned and executed a wedding for 300 guests, got a dog...and got asswhipped by the worst migraine vertigo that my neurologists had likely ever seen. So there I was disabled to varying degrees for...a while. Certainly longer than I ever had been before.

And let me tell you...if I had baggage before about worrying about not finishing things...let me tell you...that hit me in May of last year, a year and a half ago, and I'm still not only literally recovering from the whole thing in that my brain still isn't 100% of what it used to be. It was like recovering from a concussion really...and interestingly since my mother was going through recovering from a mild concussion at the time, it was interesting to note parallels. But I finally just realized tonight, as my husband asked me to make the kids lunches tonight instead of tomorrow morning and I had a minor meltdown...that I am carrying a giant suitcase full of shame with me these days.

Shame is a charged word. Shame is a word that I'm not even sure I can say out loud right now. It's so provocative to me right now that I'm actually trying to get up the nerve to say it out loud because I've clearly really hit on something and I think it's something that's holding me back...or at least something I need to move through in order to continue recovering from that whole experience.

I am ashamed that I have limitations. I am ashamed that I spent most of last year unable to engage regularly in my family's morning routine because it triggered illness on my body. I am ashamed that even now I have to be very careful about how I regulate my activities and my energy to make sure that I'm not pushing myself too hard. I am ashamed that though it would be more helpful to my husband for me to make the lunches at night instead of the morning (it's a long story), I just can't do it right now. And it's like Kate Bush wrote "when you can't tell your sister, when you can't tell the priest, 'cause it's so deep you don't think that you can speak about anyone".

I am ashamed that the coping strategy I have used for years of pushing myself tenaciously through to the finish line in nearly any situation I've seen fit to challenge myself to...can now cognitively and physically disable me.

I do not pity myself...but I AM afraid, and I AM ashamed.

The lunches are just a metaphor. They were my way of dipping my toe into the routine, with the hope of being able to take on more as the school year progressed. Sonny isn't trying to make me feel bad...he's just trying to make a morning happen in a stress-free way. But to my shame suitcase it sounds like "it's still not enough". And it hurts.

To add a layer of the possibly ridiculous but true, I am also ashamed of being ashamed...a classic Shame Spiral. Because then you are ashamed that you're ashamed of your shame...a barber pole of unending shame, rising up in your soul (at least I still have a sense of humor when I'm miserable).

So yeah, my ankles are steeped and I'm carrying a shame suitcase barber pole thing. And worse, I'm mixing some really clanky metaphors (what's new). I'm kind of glad that I that maybe I'm can start unpacking that piece of baggage. I can see the lock's a bit sticky on this one though...

On being and feeling: Awesome

Today many of my friends are circulating this admittedly terrific post online, about how everyone should wake up full of awesome. You know, loving being you...enjoying yourself...feeling good in your's the post: Waking up full of awesome

Awesome, just like you used to be, every day! It talks about how when we were all five, we woke up feeling awesome and we should try to tap back into that feeling now. As much as I love this idea...and seriously, I DO strive for that feeling every day with mixed results...this was not how I felt as a child.

I did not have mean parents. In fact I had a whole extended family of people who ADORED me. And in many ways I feel like my birth marked a transition for my extended family, at least on one side...where some of the dysfunctions of the present were allowed to become the dysfunctions of the past (not all of them...but some of them). It was a time in American history (the mid 70s) when people started to take interest in their "feelings" and the importance of those feelings, and what those feelings told them about how they fit into their families and their world. When I was 5 we moved away from our home state, 3,000 miles...I still had warm and meaningful connection to that family but we had additional distance from some of the "quirks".

I was a cute, pigtailed, smart little girl, and I daresay, fairly awesome. And I didn't take no shit, nosiree...I wasn't one of those pushy, flashy little girls, but when people pushed me, man, I wasn't budgin'. "No flies on that kid" they said. I was just very confident about my convictions. Nothing wrong with a little girl who feels confident about her convictions.

But even as a young child, I had two distinct sensations: I often felt like a grownup trapped in a child's body. Perhaps blame my family and 7 years of only child status, but I was treated like a person, not a child. And on some level I always looked forward to being a grown up, because the "other" status of children felt very wrong to me. It made interacting with people awkward, because I didn't really identify with a lot of other "kids" and many grown ups were not able or willing to treat me like a grown up because duh, I was a child.

My other companion was what I now know was anxiety.

ADHD was not such an "issue" for me when I was 5. I was in kindergarten. I fucking loved grilled cheese sandwiches. I watched Iron Sides with my mother when I came home from school. I had a blue bedroom and spent much of my free time dancing in my room to Disney records. My teacher found me entertaining enough, and my parents thought I was the shit. I wasn't running around the mind had space to wander. My mother made me a Cookie Monster cake for my birthday. I tried to grow an orange tree in my backyard from seeds (this was doomed to fail in the Seattle climate, my mother told me, but whatevs). THIS, was all certifiably awesome.

But I did worry. About ghosts. I worried a lot about ghosts. I worried about "savage killer bees" coming to America to sting us all to death. My teacher's name was Mrs. Savage and I was just stunned that she had anything to do with these horrifying bees. And when I went to other people houses I sometimes got a sick feeling in my core, all up and down the center of my torso, a crushing feeling that made me unspeakably sad inside. And when that happened, suddenly everything looked different. Children know sadness too, and children know anxiety. Even when nobody did anything "bad" to them, the spectrum of their emotions and sensations is incredibly complex and they can "feel" so much more than they can even understand.

I now know that mental health pros call that"everything looked different" feeling depersonalization...that state of feeling detached from your surroundings in a way that, if you don't understand what's happening, can be terrifying. Now, when I feel it, I know what it is and can divert myself away from a panic attack. Then, I just pretended it wasn't happening and desperately, achingly waited to go home, or for the feeling to pass, whichever came first.

As I grew older, my relationship with anxiety became more complex, and my anxiety load was often just too much to harbor, so it expressed itself quietly in many ways. Usually little "OCD" tics...clearing my throat...brushing one foot briefly on the ground each time I stepped. Picking at my skin. Counting and ordering things. Categorizing things (pages and pages and pages of lists of alphabetized names for horses, anyone?). Sometimes it expressed itself loudly: temper tantrums. And sometimes I was a passive aggressive little shit. Every night when I went to bed, I was afraid of ghosts in a very intense way (and I apparently had visual migraine phenomena as a child...which did nothing to discourage my belief). As I got older, I controlled my food intake in a very unhealthy way. I refused to use public restrooms...I washed my hands dozens and dozens of times per day. I REALLY worried about what people thought. I was terrified of letting people down. As of course with ADHD a real player by the time I got to high school, keeping up with what I thought I needed to do in order to not let people down was a huge challenge. I constantly overcommitted myself, always slightly underachieved, and always, always felt like I was letting someone down, even when it was just myself I was perhaps letting down the most. I was extremely self-critical, even as a small child.

My mother noticed these things, and being a social worker and a smart person, she did help me to learn about some good ways to deal with these things. And I cannot tell you how grateful I am that she did. I am also, and this may be hard to believe, grateful that she did not rush to medicate or define me, because I had the chance to learn to deal with daily life, unvarnished. My parents did NOT push me to get perfect grades, they supported me in becoming a well-rounded person, even if that allowed me the rope to hang myself with overcommittment, lol. That in itself was pretty awesome, really.

Back to awesome, here I am getting all heavy about a cute blog post about being awesome. It's just challenging to separate anything about my experience from that anxiety. It was really always there in some way. Does it make me less awesome? No. But it's presence won't allow me to go "yeah, everything was fucking sunshine and rainbows awesome!".

Even though NOW I feel more awesome more of the time than when I was a child, I STILL feel like I am searching for awesome. And some days it's easy to find that sweet spot. Some days it's not.