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The Shame Series: Bi-Polar and Shame: Part One

It’s amazing how learning to write a decent story takes you into the depths of yourself. In one class, the teacher said that too many novels are shallow because the author starts to feel uncomfortable with his/her own emotions and therefore backs-off in the writing process. It’s tough to put your own vulnerabilities on the page. And, as any writer will admit, every character has some element of self.

Today’s class focused on writing deep emotions or emotional layers. Basically, a situation creates a primary emotion but pretty soon, secondary emotions are triggered. One of these secondary emotions might be shame. [God, I hate that word!]

Before I go further, let’s get on the same page with a definition of shame:

  • Guilt = I’ve DONE something bad.
  • Shame = I AM something bad.

The Diagnosis and Shame

Just the label bi-polar is shaming – to me, at least. It’s a pronouncement that I don’t operate in the world like “normal” people [normal people are those who don’t let emotions get out of proportion with reality and who therefore don’t act in ways that make for more chaos]. How can I be told I over-react, that my emotions are crazy or wrong, and not feel shame? Where guilt is based on something I might have done, shame is based on the person I am. Since I don’t decide how to feel (at least initially), then my over-reaction is SHAMING. I am “bad” because I over-react and then over- or under-act.

For me shame doesn’t come from outside self – no one makes me feel shame, I do that all by myself.

Currently, I am not on any medication. Let me digress here and say that I’m not against medication and will go back to that if it’s necessary. But, for right now, I’ve been able to structure my life to handle my bi-polar symptoms without that. But, when I did take medication, I hated that pink pill. It was like tangible proof that I AM BAD. It’s shame in a one-centimeter disc. There were times when I’d stare at it and feel the shame crawl up my back and into my mind. When that happened, I’d over-react and get to ride on the guilt train because of something I DID that was bad.

The Trains

Make sure you understand this: I’m SHAMED to be bi-polar and when I decide to wallow in that, I react in contrary ways and then I’m GUILTY which leads me to add more weight to the SHAME train. A potential never-ending ride. I know some people who have never been able to get off this train. Luckily – thankfully – I’ve had excellent support via my husband, my kids, my faithful friends and the mental health community to 1) identify when I’m on the train and 2) pull the brakes. Sometimes this takes a minute. Sometimes it takes me weeks.

How I Identify My Train Ticket

First, let me state that I must recognize this train ride. If someone points it out for me – no matter how well-meaning – all they do is pile on the weight. You see, when someone shows me I’m crazy, all I can see is MY BADNESS. When my husband says, “Honey, you’re over-reacting.” Or, “Honey, you shouldn’t feel that way.” All I hear is “Honey, you are BAD for who you are.” Remember, I can’t control the emotion so if it’s bad, it must be ME that’s bad. Right?

So, what do I do? Amusingly enough, my writing class today explained that we react to shame in three ways:

  • Project the shame on someone else
  • Emotional substitution (i.e., anger, criticism)
  • Numb or escape

Another source said it this way:

  • Moving Away by withdrawing, hiding, silencing ourselves, and keeping secrets [numb or escape]
  • Moving Toward by seeking to appease and please [emotional substitution]
  • Moving Against by trying to gain power over others, by being aggressive, and by using shame to fight shame [projection and emotional substitution]

I do them all – sometimes all three at once!

Recognized But Not Resolved

I am able to recognize when I’ve boarded the SHAME train. And, I can usually identify which coping method I’m utilizing. Still, I board the train on a regular basis. Over the next several weeks, I’m going make a conscious effort to understand this more –shutdown the train once and for all. Is that possible? I have no idea. Do we continue to layer on shame? I want to understand this better. I believe it will help me accept bi-polar is something I HAVE as opposed to something I AM?

The teacher added this: “But here’s the thing – most people don’t bother thinking their way out.” I’m asking you to start thinking your way out with me. How do you respond to shame? What’s your go-to coping mechanism? What is the source of your shame? Do you admit you experience shame (we all do, don’t we?)?

Next week I’ll address the problem that’s also the solution. Or maybe it’s the solution that’s also the problem. Trains go in circles and this is one of my go-to mechanisms.

Courageous?

One last thought, when I copied Brene Brown’s web address for the resources, she had this quote:

Courage is contagious. Every time we choose courage, we make everyone around us a little better and the world a little braver.

Be courageous with me – how does YOUR shame impact you and those that you love? Are you willing to identify and address? Do you want to stop the train?

NEXT WEEK: I have asked my husband to write a blog -- a look at bi-polar through his eyes. He edits all my blogs and always leaves me comments. I thought it'd be nice for you and yours to see how he "copes" loving and supporting someone like me. Should be a treat for all of us!

Resources:

http://ibpf.org/blog/unnecessary-burden-bipolar-disorder-and-sense-guilt

Beyond Basics: The Intermediate Writer’s Toolbox: https://beyondbasics.lisahallwilson.com

Anything by Brene Brown: https://brenebrown.com

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