Shame, Self-compassion & a Sprinkling of Other Stuff

I’ve recently had a rather short and abruptly ending period of Happymental (what my consultant labels as Hypomania). I felt the build-up for 2 weeks and then had a 2 week full-on Happymental episode. This is my shortest episode for a while but for some reason – perhaps because of its abrupt ending – the shame I have experienced as a result has been quite high.

I’ve spent a lot of money in 2 weeks (several hundred pounds at least, including credit card usage – I daren’t add it up) and although I justified the purchases at the time, some of them have been ridiculous. I feel like I’ve acted like a fool. I’m outgoing, chatty, etc anyway but my behaviour during those 2 weeks has been extreme – colleagues notice, tell me that they feel they might have to pull me off the ceiling, that they all of a sudden feel calm when seeing how I am. I have grand ideas, which seem wonderful and well-thought through at the time but make me feel silly when I’ve come down and realise how ill thought through they actually were. I’ve signed up for courses for which I cannot possibly keep up with workload wise and my lack of filter in what I say anyway has been pretty much non-existent even for me. They are just a few examples.

As a result of the above, I’m now feeling a lot of shame and I’m physically wiped out from being constantly on the go.

I feel a little uncomfortable sharing this but I’m also experiencing shame as a result of something else. Some of you who follow me on Twitter will know that I have recently applied for a fixed-term role at Rochdale CAB, which would involve me being paid for the role I currently undertake as a volunteer at Manchester CAB. It would be an ideal opportunity and they’ve even said they would be happy to consider part-time as I’m not sure full-time is wise at this stage because even 1.5 days of volunteering currently drains me. I might not even get the position but to even be able to consider applying is a massive change from even just 2 years ago when I was first assessed for the DBT programme.

Yesterday I received an email inviting me for interview for the above position and it felt exciting and hopeful but I then also started to panic – struggling to breathe type panic. I’ve not worked in a paid position since sometime in 2009 (when I was a lawyer). I’ve been too unwell. I only started volunteering at Manchester CAB at the very end of February this year and very recently increased my hours by adding another ½ day. For me, work is so important and would be a milestone in recovery, as well as make the likelihood of maintaining recovery much, much higher. Yet despite this, I panicked. I wanted to retreat and say “I’m not ready”. It would be easier to relapse into self-harm and avoidant behaviour; to play the role of a patient. To continue to ‘just’ volunteer and not attempt to go forward. I feel ashamed for having such thoughts and feelings.

In the past, shame often led to self harm in various forms, or even suicide attempts. I couldn’t live with it. My shame was unbearable and I would do anything to escape it. Now though, yes, it’s still higher than what someone else would experience but I no longer buy into it. Shame can at times be warranted but in this situation it isn’t and for me it often isn’t warranted or at least nowhere near the level I experience. I did try to manage the Happymental period well – I could have gone with it but I put in place the regimen I’ve been learning to limit the fall-out as much as possible. Unless you have experienced such episodes, you can’t begin to imagine how difficult that is and the conflict it creates within you. It’s completely understandable for someone who has been out of ‘proper employment’ for so long to panic, feel anxious and not ready and want to retreat into a relative place of safety.

Although I’ve finished therapy (and haven’t had an actual therapy session for months – my sessions over the summer were ‘check-in’ ones) I am aware that there are things I need to work on myself to continue to improve my quality of life and help in terms of happiness and relapse management. One of these areas is self-compassion.

Just writing that still makes me cringe. I am starting to change my attitude. When I first was starting to learn about self-compassion and compassionate mind therapy techniques during my individual DBT sessions, I immediately put up my defences. Self-compassion is weak. If I’m compassionate to myself, I’ll never strive, I’ll never achieve; I can’t let up on myself as that’s “being soft”. My very clever (well, sneaky)  therapist however snuck it in through my defences by helping me see that in actual fact, self-compassion is effective and she knows how I like to be effective, do what works. Little bugger. She’s right. Self-compassion is proven to improve emotional resilience and protect against incidences of problems such as depression. It allows me to deal with difficult emotions – acknowledge them and be gentle to myself (as I would anyone else) and thereby not create a whole snowball of judgments, secondary emotions and problems on top of the shame, which in the past resulted in self harm, hospitalisations, having to stop work and general loss of self and dignity. I want to be able to maintain employment and a meaningful life and to use old habits of beating myself up isn’t an effective way to achieve this.

So, instead I’m trying to use a compassionate approach – acknowledge the difficult thoughts and emotions I am experiencing, validate them and treat myself gently whilst I experience them. At the moment, that is gently reminding myself of the facts, noticing my judgments and not becoming entangled in them as though they are the facts when they aren’t, doing some guided self-compassion meditations, and taking steps to take care of myself. I’m having a lot of quiet and ‘me’ time. I love this time of the year because my boiler is now back on and I can put the hot water on to have lovely, decadent baths. I’m giving myself rest and downtime – reading novels, watching TV programmes and films I enjoy and not forcing myself into too much physical activity, which would just add to the physical exhaustion I am currently experiencing.

Self-compassion is something new and I’m doing my usual of ‘ingesting’ as many books/articles on the topic as I possibly can because that will somehow ‘teach’ me self-compassion 🙂 By the way, If anyone has any recommendations on books on self-compassion that you’ve found helpful, please let me know. I’m sure there will be further blog topics in which I explore self- compassion in greater detail as it becomes something I am more comfortable in exploring and once I’ve read all ze bookz 🙂

 

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About Carrie Quinn

I'm a former solicitor whose life was turned upside down due to problems with my mental health. I'm now aiming towards recovery, which to me means rebuilding a meaningful life - not necessarily disorder free.
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14 Responses to Shame, Self-compassion & a Sprinkling of Other Stuff

  1. Hi there, I wanted to let you know I often feel similarly ashamed about the work situation, I think you’re doing great from following you on Twitter as well, well done for what you’ve done so far! All the best

  2. Great post Carrie – feel I should High five you. Well done! X

  3. bpnana says:

    Thanks for a great post. Your honesty and careful reflection about what you’ve been experiencing indicate that you are doing some very healthy self examination. You are pushing through whatever limits are in your way, which is quite admirable. I, too, sometimes experience the jitters when writing, especially since I’m losing my punctuation and grammar skills, due to the meds I take. I’ve had to push myself the last month, but when I read someone’s post and I compelled to comment, I do it. When I get a response from someone, which usually includes a thank you, I’ve made a connection, and it truly has changed my life in terms of feeling alone with my illness. In our world, many of us feel isolated and alone, but it’s so far from the truth. Behind the funny names are incredibly sensitive, strong, loving and lovable people. Behind the self-deprecating humor, soul baring ,and often times gut-wrenching confessions, are real people, who have a lot of compassion. We understand like no others can. You’re going in a positive direction and I think you have a bright future ahead of you. Nana xx

    • Carrie Quinn says:

      Thanks Nana for such a lovely, kind comment!
      I was a little worried about putting it out there about the potential job but it’s helped me process and address the feelings in a better way. Do you find blogging helps you in that way too?
      x

  4. What a great post, thank you for sharing. Self compassion is TOUGH!! There’s no getting away from it. And no doubt made tougher when there’s an illness trying to persuade you to do the exact opposite of what will help (I gave my non compassionate persona a name – Bitchface – she tries to help me out of a tough situation by berating me from on high about how useless and worthless I am etc etc etc). Anyway, sounds like you’re doing all the right things. Keep going! x

    • Carrie Quinn says:

      Thanks. Yes, my therapist used to say “Is that Judge Caroline speaking there?” I’m highly critical of myself but it doesn’t seem to have worked if I’m honest – I became very unwell and that definitely contributed to it or at least compounded it

  5. bpnana says:

    Sorry, I forgot to mention a book that I haven’t read, but looks interesting. I’m going to order it on Amazon. It’s called “Self-Compassion Step by Step” : The Proven Power of Being Kind to Yourself, by Kristen Neff, Ph.D. If you go to Amazon, you’ll find a lot of books on self-compassion. We could all use some of that! Regards, Nana xx

    • Carrie Quinn says:

      Thanks. I have a copy of Neff’s ‘Self Compassion: Stop Beating Yourself Up & Leave Insecurity Behind’. I’ve not yet read it all. I didn’t know she had another book, I’ll go and check it out, thanks 🙂

      I’m currently working through Christopher Germer’s book ‘The Mindful Path to Self-Compassion’. I really recommend it, especially if like me, you like a mindfulness based approach.

      • bpnana says:

        Thanks for the recommendation! Will check it out. I didn’t know there are two books either..sounds like a good one. I’ve suffered from insecurity all my life, and only now am I throwing off the shackles, so to speak. (it’s about time, I’m an older person!!) Would send you a smiley face, but I haven’t learned how to, yet. Some nice person gave me instructions, though. Maybe next time. Peace & Love to You! Nana

  6. Al says:

    Hi,

    Does your high level of competence predispose you to shame? Are you being too severe, or more to the point, unrealistic in your hindsight judgements? Thinking you, as a Cambridge graduate, a qualified lawyer, considering yourself as a special case compared to less competent people, worthy of more severe self-contrition?

    Also, would you apply those judgments to someone else with similar experiences?

    Are you taking too much responsibility for you own behaviour and conduct? I believe (as a layman) that mania is mostly biological/genetic based. Would you feel comfortable shaming someone else with a genetic disorder?

    If there is a degree of exposure to past trauma as you re-enter work, how have other people experienced trauma? What judgements do they make? ‘I should have known better.’ Sure about that?

    all the best,
    Al

  7. Al says:

    There is a chapter in “Mind over Mood” by Greenburger and Padesky that deals with shame and guilt and uses a pie chart to cover responsibility. There is a book Cognitive Therapies for trauma by Guilford publishers which is a bit (ie very) technical but I found some of the chapters interesting, though there may be more useable books now.
    Incidentally, I loved Cognitive Behaviorlal treatment for BPD by the woman herself, Marsha L. I can remember now her insight when she said that borderlines mistrust and fear praise for their competent deeds because the ability to function competently varies over time; Apparent Cmpetence she called it. Brilliant! If only the rest of mental health services could understand!

    Al

  8. Carrie Quinn says:

    Hi Al,
    Thanks for taking the time to respond.
    I’ve actually got that book hanging around somewhere so might dig it out later 🙂
    Oh gosh yes, I was queen of apparent competence! My social worker mentioned the other week how highly functioning I am despite my anxiety and yet when I am unwell (depressed) my functional abilities are at the opposite extreme.

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