The Shame Game

**Hi there. My name is Kelly Gallagher. I'm a 25-year-old mental health blogger from Pittsburgh, PA. I have suffered from anxiety disorders and depression since I was nine years old. And a wrath of eating disorders in my young adult life. In March of 2016, I made a plan to end my life and nearly went through with it. But thanks to incredible therapists and mental health experts, group therapy, and an amazing support group, I've been able to come out the other side more excited to live than ever. Roughly 6 months after a I got out of group, a high school acquaintance committed suicide on Valentines day. And even though I hadn't truly spoken to him since we were sophomores in high school, my heart completely broke that day. I wept for him, for his family, his friends, and for his future that could have been. I sat and reflected upon the situation and my heart slowly began to mend as I realized how truly thankful I was that I never went through with my own plan. And that my friends and family never had to weep over me in the same way. That day I wrote my first blog post called Why Asking For Help Is So Hard. That tragic day made me realize why the mental health fight is so important and why I couldn't just sit back in silence. I needed to speak out and create a safe dialogue around such a touchy subject. I needed to be vulnerable and share my experiences - every ugly detail. My goals are to help the loved ones of those with mental illness understand us a little better. And to show sufferers that they aren't alone. And I know how hard it can be to believe you aren't alone because mental illness is so isolating. I want to validate them. I want to love them. I want them to know there is always hope. And that there is always a light burning somewhere inside them. May is Mental Health Awareness Month, and instead of rehashing "just another mental health blog" I wanted to take a moment to discuss an emotion that's been on the rise lately. The emotion I believe completely destroys mental health. Shame**

 

Shame.

 

It's not exactly the most ideal emotion to sit with. Your face starts to feel hot and begins to flush with embarrassment. Your eyes dart to the floor, hoping to avoid eye contact with anyone and everyone in the room. You start to slump as you feel your chest tighten. You feel the want to shrink. To hide. To disappear. Maybe even to die in that moment.

 

Shame is an emotion no one wants to feel, yet it is something we all have felt at one time or another. Maybe you felt it back in school that time you were picked last in gym class. Maybe you felt shame when you answered a question wrong in class. Or felt it crush you when your own crush declined your invitation to a school dance or a date to the movies. Maybe you used to get into trouble - heck maybe you still do. Shame is a natural part of the human experience. And I'm not sure about you, but for me at least, there aren't many worse feelings than disappointing or not being enough for someone you respect and care about.

 

For an emotion that no one really likes to feel, we as a society place a lot of shame on a lot of different people. And sorry guys, but a lot of that shame get's placed on women (yes I acknowledge men get shamed as well, but for the sake of this blog and Willow Layne's theme of empowering those that identify as women, I'm focusing on us). This shame is often a bit of a double standard. And as a 25, almost 26-year-old woman, it often feels like we can't freaking win.

 

Off the bat and probably the most cliché example, we get shamed for our sexuality. We shame those we consider "too slutty" and "asking for it", yet also get shame those we deem to be "too prude" and "uptight". It doesn't matter the clothes we choose to wear or what our intentions are. We are immediately judged. We shame women for "their number" - whether it's on the lower or higher end of the scale. We literally call the walk after a night of consensual sexual activity a "walk of shame". Which is stupid because sex is nothing to be ashamed of...

 

We are shamed for being "too natural." We are told we look sick and tired when our faces aren't caked with concealer and our hair isn't full of product. We are viewed as unprofessional and are told we'd get taken more seriously if we'd put effort into our appearance. Yet, the term "glam-shaming" recently became a trend - relaying shame to those who do prioritize their appearance. We are told "this is an office, not a brothel" when our lips are one shade too red. We are ironically told we'd get taken more seriously if we focused on our work as much as our makeup routine... 

 

Yet when we focus on our careers, continual learning, and side hustles, we are shamed for working too hard and for being too career driven. We are shamed for being "bossy bosses" and trying to make something of ourselves. We are given side eyes and gossip when we try to climb the promotional ladder. These same boss women are then shamed for seemingly valuing a career over relationships or settling down to raise a family. 

 

But the woman that chooses settling down and raising a family over a career gets shamed right back. Society tells her that she is "too young" and is "making a mistake". She is labeled as weak, dumb, and a fool. She is judged for wanting to be a mother over a career woman. She is shamed for not having enough ambition to have a career in the first place. Then there's the poor woman who tries to do both. She's shamed for not taking enough time off to be with her child, saying she's not a good mother. But if she takes too long of a maternity leave or postpones rejoining the workforce for a year or two, she's deemed as lazy...

 

We are shamed for our body types; for literally having a body in the first place. Those that are naturally thin (or heck, even work for it, because we are allowed to want that) are left comments to eat a cheeseburger. Those that are curvy are told to get some self-control. It doesn't matter the size of our chests, asses, stomachs, and thighs - they're all shamed the same. We are even shamed for the amount of body hair we have. It seems as someone is always shaming us, telling us we need to conform to societies standards of ideal beauty...

 

We are shamed for the way we nourish our bodies. We are shamed whether we order the salad or the fries. Do you consume a lot of meat? You are served guilt with a side of unwarranted sexual commentary. Maybe, God forbid, you're vegan. You'll get an extra "but how do you get protein?!" comment with that tofu-shame-sandwich. Maybe you can't digest dairy or gluten, or maybe you just choose not to consume it. Maybe you're keto, paleo, vegetarian, or pescatarian. Or maybe you're somewhere in between diets/lifestyles. It doesn't matter. You're served shame on every end with a bullshit cherry on top...

 

We are shamed for not smiling enough. For being too sensitive. For have emotions and expressing them. Or on the other hand, being "too cold" and not empathetic enough. We are shamed for breaking down. We are shamed for having it too together. We are shamed for the register of our voice. For being too high maintenance and full of drama. For being chill to the point that there’s something wrong with us. We are shamed for being too proper and not letting loose. Then shamed for not being "lady-like" enough when we do. We are shamed for having too many guy friends. Shamed for being friends with exes. Shamed and "red-flagged" if we aren't friends with any of our exes. Shamed for wanting to be single. Shamed for wanting to be in a relationship...

 

Shame.
Shame.
Shame.
Shame.
Shame.

 

Sheesh, just writing down those examples was exhausting. 

 

Friends. It's time we stop playing the shame game. And it's time we start validating, empathizing with, and loving each other.

 

As part of my mental health recovery journey this year, I've been calling 2018 my year of healing. I've been focusing on healing my body from the years of disordered abuse. Healing my relationships with my loved ones from the times I was a total asshole - yes I was suffering and not okay, but I was still an asshole. Healing my mind, taking the medications and self care measures I need. Most importantly I've been healing my relationship with myself. The way I talk to and about myself. The way I view myself. My self-worth and inner confidence. All of it.

 

And in trying to fully appreciate myself, I've been focusing more on my character than my appearance. Yes there are days I go "full glam" but that's normally for important events and those days are rare. Most days it's a bit of concealer and some mascara and I'm out the door. With that I'm also focusing on my values and needs as a human. I'm placing priority on how I take care of myself. I'm eating well, working out to help with stress and anxiety, using creativity as an outlet, and making sure I'm not stretching myself too thin.

 

And it seems like everyone has an opinion on the way I'm taking care of myself. I can't tell you the amount of shame people have been placing on me. And I know that people aren't doing it to be spiteful or mean. I think a lot of it is coming from a genuine place of caring, but it's the tone of their message that gets twisted.

 

"It just looks like you don't care anymore. It's not interfering in the quality of your work or anything. But people are starting to talk. Are you sure you're okay?" 

 

"You're awfully vocal about mental illness. You should probably tone it down if you ever want to make anything of yourself. People aren't going to want to work with or hire you."

 

"You normally dress in pants and oversized sweaters and now you're suddenly in shorter skirts...did you and your boyfriend break up? Are you looking for attention? You know the younger men in this office can be ruthless. What's going on?"

 

"You're doing so much. You can't possibly be keeping it together well. You need to stop trying so hard. Trust me, it's impossible to have it all."

 

"Are you still losing weight? That dress is definitely big on you. I notice all you eat are fruits and vegetables. No wonder you aren't looking as well as you should be. Maybe try eating more protein and your glow will come back the way it used to."

 

And as well intentioned as those comments may be, some days that judgment and shame win. I end my days thinking less about myself than I did when I woke up. Which is the complete opposite of what I'm trying to accomplish with my inner dialogue. Thankfully I'm creating my own self-care routine that keeps me in check and helps to cope with the shame I may be sitting with.

 

So I guess as I try to close this out, I feel the need to say that no one is perfect. Every single one of us fails occasionally. We all have moments when we aren't okay. We need to stop telling others how they should be and focus on our own shit. And I know this can be difficult, especially when we are trying to come from a place of love. I know have trouble with shaming and judging just like everyone else. But I'm trying my best to be better. I try to remind myself of that ugly emotion and the way my skin crawls when I'm sitting with it. And I remind myself that shaming has never solved any kind of problem. Ever.

 

As you go throughout this mental health awareness month, maybe try reflecting on the way you talk to others. Instead of shaming someone about a failure or disappointment, try validation instead. Take a step back and remember that you have no idea what they are going through. Even if it’s a friend, you still don't know their entire story. You have not lived in their shoes or seen life through their eyes. You have no idea how their brain processes information or how certain experiences have shaped them. Even changed them.

 

If it's something that doesn't affect you. Don't say anything. Heck, unless someone is making choices detrimental to their wellbeing, don't say anything. Shame is a gateway to negative self-talk. It results in isolation and a disconnect with the world around us. It interferes with our perception to change. With our entire perception of ourselves. It cultivates broken behavior. And it feeds and thrives on self worth, dwindling it down so there's almost nothing left. Please don't feed this monster even further. 

 

And if you are feeling shame. I want you to know that you are worth so much more than the words trying to tear you down. You are not broken. You are not alone. You are incredible and beautiful and I know you are doing the very best you can with the cards you have been dealt. You are loved and I hope you can remember that all the times shame tells you that you are not.

 

I love you.

 

#keeprecovering #keepfighting #keepliving


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