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 🙂