It comes, in a small swell of acid that eats away at my soul. Email heading: Garage sale volunteers needed Saturday!
I can’t. I need to do the grocery shopping, and I am actually proud of myself for being able to do that. It’s an improvement over some other weeks. And I am ashamed of not being able to help, for thinking of myself before someone else, for feeling proud of myself for doing something so basic!
A burning flame that starts somewhere deep and low inside me, building to a roaring fire that burns brightly on my face: “How about after the lecture and concert, we all go for drinks!”
I can’t. I am too ashamed … and scared … to admit that I’m going to skip the lecture, and miss the concert, and even if I was awake that late to go for drinks, I can’t drink on the meds I’m on right now, and I never have been able to safely drink… and… it doesn’t matter….
A rising tide in the back of my throat, that several hard swallows will never clear away: A blogpost making a point about a different subject that reads “I try to learn, and I note the unavoidable self-obsession (sorry but yes) that can result from dealing with some kind of hideously challenging life circumstance, day in and day out…. That brand of self-centeredness and constant self-advocacy is a natural by-product to simply trying to function, to stay in your lane, and the alternative is simply to collapse.” (M for Musicology, “Mad Studies and Advocacy,” which by the way is a good read.)
I am that person. Am I guilty of being selfish? Of self-advocating constantly? If I ask for an extension on my paper, am I abusing my current conditions? I’m too ashamed to even consider it now. I can be so tired I throw up a few more times, and finish with the rest of the class … that’s really ok.
A feeling behind my eyes, a hundred helpful little shoe-making elves, driving in prickly tiny nails: A memo… please update your new program advisor on your progress, timetable to completion, applications for grants, etc.
I haven’t even updated my dissertation advisor for a long time now… I’m too ashamed to tell him I haven’t done anything of substance, so I keep putting off updating him until I have something, and… and… gulp… it’s been months… and… oh hell, I’m never going to have the nerve to email him, let alone talk to him, and I’ll never again be able to meet his eyes… crumbs…
A vacuum, a world of no oxygen, and no substance; nothing to fill my aching lungs as I gasp, nothing to hold onto: being asked if I really need all of those meds, if I can’t just handle it? Will I actually die? Like how big of a chance of dying are we really talking about?
And I am instantly ashamed that I can’t hack it, somehow, and so ashamed that actually dying can be much preferable to continuing … and then simply empty, pushed beyond shame to someplace else too dark for sorrow.
A bottomless chasm, a cyclone ripping me apart from inside, a well filled with nothing but dark, viscous, and vicious guilt: the deepest, most sorrowful, anxiety-ridden, and horrendous shame of all, the damage done to my friends and family. Hours taken off from school or work, mental turmoil, expensive travel, never-ending phone calls… all that and everything else I, through my “illness” for lack of a better word, have caused them.
I… can’t. To damage those I hold most dear. I.
Let’s be clear. Everyone has things to be ashamed of, things they’ve done. But this? These injuries, illnesses? Is this honestly something I could control, that I would invite? That I would wish on an enemy, even? No. No. It is not. When my actions are genuinely lazy, selfish, and absurd, then I should be ashamed. When I am wallowing needlessly in self-pity, then yes, I should be ashamed. If I allow my own self-interest to influence my scholarship unduly, then oh yes, I should be ashamed.
Sickness in and of itself is not “wrong or foolish behavior.” It is not a loss of esteem. You are not worth less as a human being, no one is… you have value and always inherently will. Do not be ashamed.
This is now, this is what is, and this state of being demands these adaptations, these restrictions, this assistance. Every day I face down my shame, sometimes a pointless, idiotic shame as well I know, over that which I cannot change to face with courage what I can: emailing my advisor, answering questions graciously, continuing to work, however slowly, on a project. Some days I succeed more than others. And I try to remember, to pray… let me run the race with endurance.
That is the truth of my shame.