So I’ve been telling myself that the first post I would write after making this blog public would be about how that decision affects my career prospects. I still plan to write that post, but a lot has happened since the blog became public last week. First off, thank you to all of you amazing people who reached out to me, thanked me, and told me your own stories. Your support is heartening, and admittedly a bit overwhelming for reasons you’ll hopefully see later in this post. Your stories were heartfelt and vulnerable. I plan to respond to each of you when I can. However, the “a lot that happened” to which I referred actually only peripherally has to do with making this blog public.
The treatment for my illness is multi-faceted, involving pharmaceuticals, decent sleep habits, good nutrition and exercise, and therapy. I see a fantastic therapist based here in the Gorge. Initially, when I started seeing him, I wasn’t sure why I was there. I didn’t really have any goals for therapy, as I was feeling pretty damn good when I decided to start seeing him. Really, I was just going to a therapist because I thought that I “should”, given my condition. I was pretty close to deciding not to see him, actually. But as I started opening up, I saw how truly insightful he is and how helpful his perspective can be. He gave me some great advice recently that I’d like to share, though it requires a bit of backstory first.
I’ve referenced my assholish observer several times, that somewhat removed part of myself that constantly criticizes what I do and who I am. He feels a little like he’s the personification of my disease, belittling me so as to make me weak to dysthymia’s ravages. But I had an extremely difficult revelation last week: that part of myself isn’t really a separate “diseased” part of myself that I thought he was. He’s me. The actual me. You know, that person I’ve been trying to discover now that I’m healing.
This revelation came as a result of some things in my personal life that sapped my confidence. I constantly feel inadequate. My colleagues in my community and the library profession seem to have a fairly high opinion of me and what I do. I do not. I’m always thinking that I’m not getting enough done, that I’m doing substandard work, that I don’t keep up enough, that I’m letting people down. There’s a fear that lives with me continually that people will find out these things and realize me for the fraud that I am.
Last week, those feelings of inadequacy were brought to the fore of my personal life in a way that I’m not sure they ever had before. I’ve pretty much always felt inadequate socially. But I’ve never really confronted those feelings head on and stared at them so directly in the face as I did last week. This confrontation made me feel like there was no way that I could be a decent human being, a loving romantic partner, a good role model or parental figure in a child’s life, or even a halfway decent friend. That was the “real” me thinking those thoughts, not my companion asshole.
The culmination of this came when my partner and I were talking through some things. We decided to stop at a restaurant and sat in a quiet corner to chat. In the course of our discussion, when I realized just how inadequate I truly felt, I broke down crying in her arms. I’m not sure I can adequately express how shocking this event is for me. In my adult life, I cry very rarely. I cry around other people even less than that. And I literally had never cried in a public place before during my adult life. Ever. And there were people at the restaurant aside from my partner whom I knew, and who likely could see me. I probably could have stopped the tears, but I didn’t care. For some reason, I didn’t feel ashamed about it. I needed to cry at the feeling of my own inadequacy.
So that was part of my realization: that I had a deep-seated feeling of inadequacy. The rest of it came one night while laying with my partner. We were discussing some of what had happened and what we’d been thinking. Because she’s truly the most caring person in the universe, she said that I was “perfect the way you are”, which caused yet another breakdown. But hey, at least it wasn’t in a public restaurant this time, right? That was the moment when it donned on me that that person who hated me so much, who constantly criticized me, wasn’t some removed, diseased part of myself. It was me.
Which brings me back to therapy. I talked through all of these things with my therapist. He said several amazing things. When I told him about my breakdown in the restaurant, his first word after I told him was “congratulations!” That affirmation meant so much to me. But after he heard everything, he told me the issue: a deep underlying shame that I let control me. And once he said it, I instantly recognized its truth. He recommended that I look into a research professor in social work named Brené Brown. He suggested that I read her latest book, Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead. He also suggested that I check out her two TED talks, in particular her first talk from 2010 called “The Power of Vulnerability”.
This talk was a revelation. I have done so many things over the last several months that have made me extremely vulnerable: admitting the extent of my illness, tackling planning a large work-related conference that I have no experience doing, entering a new relationship with an intense emotional connection and acceptance the likes of which I’ve never experienced before, potentially becoming a larger part of a child’s life in a way that’s foreign to me, writing this blog, seeing a therapist, making the blog public. All that vulnerability digs up my shame, and it’s overwhelming, though in a good way, I think. Brown’s talk, together with all of these recent life events, made me see just how weak I thought vulnerability was.
I don’t know from whence this shame comes. Perhaps it’s from my childhood. Perhaps it relates to my failed relationships. Perhaps it’s me internalizing all of the self-hatred that dysthymia levels at me, because that assholish observer is still there (even if I now know that he’s not really my harshest critic). More likely, it’s some combination of all of these things and more. As Brown mentions in her second TED talk, I have plenty of well-deserved guilt for my actions, guilt meaning that “I did something bad”, according to Brown. But for years I’ve considered those actions as meaning “I’m bad”. That’s shame. It’s going to take me a while to accept that my mistakes don’t make me a terrible human being, but I’m going to try. I may not be perfect, but as a very dear woman told me recently, maybe, just maybe, I’m perfect the way I am.