An Aha! Moment

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In today’s reading of my current book, I Thought It Was Just Me by Brené Brown, I started in on the chapter of shame resilience. This is a topic that I’ve written about previously, as the concept is introduced in her book The Gifts of Imperfection, which I’ve recently finished reading. However, this is an entire chapter on the subject, not just a few pages, and therefore it covers the concept in greater detail.

In today’s reading, it discusses how shame and its by-products fear, blame, and disconnection, are on one end of what she calls the Shame Resilience Continuum. On the other end is empathy, with its by-products courage, compassion, and connection. In helping explain how the women she interviewed overcame their shame and built resilience to it (remember, her research was limited to women only, but the concepts are applicable to anyone), she wrote the following:

When I asked women to share examples of how they recovered from shame, they described situations in which they were able to talk about their shame with someone who expressed empathy. Women talked about the power of hearing someone say:

  • “I understand – I’ve been there.”
  • “That’s happened to me too.”
  • “It’s OK, you’re normal.”
  • “I understand what that’s like.”

When I read these words, I realized that I had read words like this before, and that I’ve been familiar with this concept for years. In fact, I’ve written about it before in this very blog, not quite five months ago.

Back on January 14, when I was lamenting the back-to-back losses of David Bowie and Alan Rickman, I wrote about something called the Law of Conservation of Pain and Joy, a concept introduced in a series of short stories by Spider Robinson compiled into a novel called Callahan’s Crosstime Saloon. For the full background on the book, I refer you back to my original post, linked above, but I want to quote the relevant part of what I wrote back then.

… but the overarcing principle of Callahan’s is the Law of Conservation of Pain and Joy, or more simply put, Callahan’s Law.

Callahan’s Law states that “shared pain is lessened; shared joy, increased – thus do we refute entropy.” Alternately, it’s worded to say that “Just as there are Laws of Conservation of Matter and Energy, so there are in fact Laws of Conservation of Pain and Joy. Neither can ever be created or destroyed. But one can be converted into the other.”

When I read the phrases that these women that Brown interviewed for her research above, I had a moment where everything clicked. Brown defines shame as “the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing we are flawed and therefore unworthy of acceptance and belonging.” Their recovery from shame began when they shared the pain of their shame with others – “shared pain is lessened.” It’s the same principle that I’ve known about literally my entire adult life.

Up to this point in my life I’ve hidden away my greatest shame for so long that I’ve blocked most of it out. I remember bits and pieces of it here and there, but for the most part it’s lost to time – but there’s still enough to trigger me whenever I see others experiencing what I did. In time I’m going to discuss this with my therapist – every little detail I remember – and once and for all share that pain that triggered by PTSD and subsequent perpetuation of my shame throughout my teenage years and into the greatest part of my adulthood. There are some that know parts of the story. I’ve only ever told the entire thing to my wife, and she can sympathize but not empathize, because she hasn’t experienced what I did. This is going to be an extremely difficult thing to process, but I’m hopeful that when I do, I will start to recover from my own deeply rooted shame.

I suddenly cannot wait to get deeper into this book.

One Small Step for a Man …

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… one giant leap for his mental health.

In the SCA, I’ve taken on the position of Event Support Services Coordinator for the region I live in (Texas and Oklahoma). This is a new position that I’m developing from the ground up, with practically everything involved with it a new function of our organization. While I came up with what I feel is an excellent proposal for this position, I first presented it at a time when I had a lot of energy for this job. The proposal was accepted almost a year later when I didn’t have much energy and still am struggling with daily tasks. So the end result is that I haven’t accomplished much, and had to report that to my boss.

The issue here is that my PTSD is highly triggered by reporting any sort of shortcoming or failure on my part to a person in a position of authority to me. I freeze, I get panicky, I lock up. It explains why I don’t have the most stellar employment history – I become so paranoid that I’ve screwed up to the point of being fired that I make it a self-fulfilling prophecy.

So it took me the better part of a week to come to the person I report to – I can’t really call him my boss, although he is the one that “hired” me to the position – and tell him that I haven’t managed to accomplish much this quarter. My health hasn’t allowed me to concentrate on the position to the point that it deserves, and admitting that was the hardest thing I’ve had to do all week. Even now, knowing that he’s okay with it and prioritizes my health over the office, I’m still panicky about having to admit I’ve fallen short.

But I didn’t check with him to see if I’ve fallen short in HIS eyes – only mine. I’m kicking myself for having to report that I haven’t lived up to my own standard for my potential. And making THAT realization is a big step.

I’m slowly calming down now. Things are returning to normal, and starting tomorrow I’ll be setting aside a little bit of time every day to accomplish something on the office. It’s a new part of my checklist, and it’s an important one. It starts showing me that I’m capable of doing a task for others instead of myself for a change.

In short, mental illness sucks, and there are days that I wish I didn’t suffer from a litany of them. Today is one of them.

Holiday Bonus and Other Musings

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This morning I awoke at 8:00, did my vitals, took my meds, and rousted my wonderful wife out of bed to indulge me for breakfast. We went for bagels. Then we came home and took a nap.

And didn’t wake back up until 12:30.

Such is the bonus of it being a holiday at my wife’s workplace, because of Independence Day on Saturday.

At some point this morning, I started having a panic attack. I don’t even remember what started it or when it was – that’s becoming more and more prevalent. I can’t remember the trigger, I think it was because we were planning to entertain later in the day and I was nervous about how the visit would go. (It wasn’t panic due to the visitor, who follows this blog, but rather the whole concept of opening our doors and being sociable.)

Before I could even start to think about it, my wife was Johnny-on-the-spot with our new weapon.

“What do you see?” she began. And like clockwork, by the time we got to the last question of the five, my panic had subsided and I was actually starting to be excited about the visit.

The visit went well, though it started to head in a direction that I couldn’t really contribute to the conversation. (The subject of fiber arts came up and while I am capable of both knitting and weaving, I tend to let my wife dominate those conversations, since she’s far more advanced in knitting, crochet, spinning, and dyeing than I am.) We even took the show on the road, grabbing a snack and then heading to the local library to see another friend (my wife’s matron of honor works as a librarian there).

When our visit ended after a nice, long time, I started in on those items on my checklist that aren’t so time-sensitive.

And then the crack outside rang like a bell.

This is a time of year that I tend to dislike, not because I’m not patriotic, but because loud noises trigger my PTSD (even though it’s not combat-related, I’m easily startled sometimes) and every Tom, Dick, and Harry has plunked down a sizable chunk of money in equal parts fireworks and beer. The two rarely are a good combination, as tomorrow night my neighbors will celebrate by lighting small explosives at random intervals throughout much of the night. It won’t surprise me in the least if the last firework goes off after midnight tomorrow.

It’s also not a favorite of our beloved cat, who really gets antsy during this time of year, and it’s all we can do to keep her calmed down during the worst of it. When the one single firecracker went off earlier tonight, the kitten jumped. I can’t imagine what it will be like for her tomorrow with everything going off all in one evening. Then again, I can imagine. I go through it too.

If I know to expect fireworks, it’s not so bad. Going to see a municipal display is fine with me, except for the part where I have to fight the crowds. I even raised money one year for my historical non-profit to put on a 20 minute long professional fireworks show, complete with custom made ground effects and shells representing our organization. I sat practically underneath them and loved the whole show.

But those random bangs and pops that go on outside my door while I’m safely inside always startle and surprise me, and while I don’t jump like the cat does, my breath always catches in my throat for just an instant every time.

Tomorrow’s going to be a long day for me. In addition to the fireworks, it’s a show night, and being “on” for three hours straight is going to be tiring.

On the plus side, it looks like we’ll be playing an online version of Cards Against Humanity during the show, so we’ll have that to distract us.

This post has been rather stream-of-consciousness. Not necessarily a bad thing. A lot of journaling is done in this manner, and as much as this is a public blog, it’s also where I go to write what’s on my mind. Some days, it’s thought-provoking. Other days, you get this mish-mash of thoughts and expressions.

I never promised I was a good writer. Just an honest one.