Lord knows I have plenty to do right now. But I’ve got feelings clogging up the works so here I am, doing what I know best, and writing them into the internet void so I can clear the clog and maybe get something done. I’ve got a thick case of re-awoken shame slimming everything I touch. Shame’s like that. It pollutes everything until it’s been faced and treated.
And I only know of two ways to really remove shame. The first is highly, strongly not recommended. Suicide. Shame is what causes suicide. The second option is the one that I’ve had success with: turn a brilliant spot light on it, drag it out into view and talk about it. Shame needs silence to do it’s putrefying, slimy work of dragging us into the void and corrupting our souls. So here I am. Trying to delicately write about something deeply personal in a place literally everyone can read about my nastiest monster. But I’ve also learned usually these terrifying dark basements just need someone to scrape together the courage to go first and once someone does that there’s a whole community who also have all the same fears and then it’s not so bad. So here I am.
I’ve always had both literally and metaphorically thin skin. Too sensitive to everything.
The blessing of this is that even mosquitoes have a really hard time biting me. I always know if there’s fruit flies or gnats or spiders or random bits of cat fur in the air. And I feel the world’s pain in my own heart. I get to love across all the boundaries of race and religion and nationality because of this thin skin. Which is really cool. I have great friends who are nothing at all like me. It makes me open-minded and open-hearted. It makes me really good at accepting and loving people how they are, for who they are.
But the curse of this is that my whole being is one raw, exposed nerve ending. Things that are “just jokes” can cut me all the way through. And at this time of year the cold, dry air is enough to peel my skin off. And most of the moisturizers just irritate it even more. I’ve had chemical burns from hypo-allergenic sunscreen. I wake up three or four times a night scratching my ankles. I slather on lanolin before bed and still my hands crack open and bleed.
So there are a lot of “normal” things I just can’t do or have to do very, very carefully. Mostly lipstick is OK and some kinds even help fight the terrible cracking and splitting. But makeup and perfume can be sketchy. I can spend $20 dollars on a product that’s supposed to be gentle for sensitive skin, use it once OK, use it twice OK, think I’m in the clear, use it a third time and end up covered in itchy hives. I quit shaving my legs years ago. First I kept trying different products, different creams, different razors, different lotions, different methods. And eventually I just gave up. Come to find out I have whole bald patches where hair won’t grow because the skin has been damaged by so much scratching and pealing and flaking. Mostly shampoo is OK if I use just one drop and rinse my hair quickly. Sometimes I use baby soap.
Over the years I’ve mostly made peace with this, accepted it as reality, learned to wear soft clothes that cover and protect my body. And mostly I’m old enough just not to care.
But sometimes, something rubs me the wrong way and I feel totally worthless and useless and ugly. I feel like I’m not a “real woman” and not “normal” and “too sensitive.” And because I’ve lived my whole like in a toxic waste dump of body shaming and beauty standards and bizarre expectations It Really Hurts. And the whole shame complex gets activated. And here I am. Feeling like I can never be good enough, like I’m defective and broken and horrible.
I have a Facebook reminder that keeps popping up about being invited to one of those makeups parties. I hate those. Because I already know that whatever they’re selling is just going to make me sick. I have a huge fight with someone I love dearly because I can’t explain how much of a problem this is for me and he doesn’t understand. And I hate it because I already feel so much shame about my failure to get anywhere near the standards for What Women Should Be. I have a calendar full of things to do and my heart is in a billion pieces watching the political situation. And I hate it because I can’t focus on anything while I feel the aching feet of 5,000 desperate refugees walking thousands of miles to try to find safety. And even more I hate being told so often that I’m too sensitive, that I should be able to take a joke, that I should just change the way God made me.
I’m constantly reminded that I’m wrong, unnatural, abnormal, shameful. And today, at this moment, all this is right in my face, right here dripping down my back like cold egg, clinging to my hair like old spiderweb. And I feel ashamed of feeling ashamed.
And all the Not Good Enoughs are piled on thick and deep. Not a good enough mother. My kid’s in trouble at school and ran up $120 in fines. Not a good enough student. I got a paper back with a Rewrite grade. Not a good enough writer. No one wants to comment on or share my posts. Not a good enough housekeeper. There’s a funny smell in the bathroom. Not a good enough woman. My legs are a little fuzzy. Not a good enough human. My heart is always on my sleeve.
And recently I’ve been well-reminded about how all this is simple and normal for most people. And I just kinda want to curl up in a little ball in a dark cave and never show my face again. Because I’m not most people and I’m not normal and it isn’t simple for me.
And that’s just how I feel right now. And feelings don’t give a crap about arguments against them. Feelings just hang around like closet-skeletons until they’ve been faced and felt and can wonder off on their own.
It would take a whole book to really write about all the ways I learned shame, all the ways it was taught to me, inflicted on me, used to lure me into dark and evil places. So I won’t do that in this post. But shame is one of those horrid things that loves to go around and around, to bring up all of the most awful moments and memories and use them to prove itself. I remember being 4 years old and sick and being shamed because I didn’t make it to the toilet in time. And all similar moments for the last 35 years. They’re all right here with me, looking over my shoulder begging me not to write about them, to take their hands and let them lead me to the pits of hell.
Trying to protect my thin skin, my sensitivity, sometimes makes me angry and aggressive and cruel. (I once over-heard an adult call teenage me harsh and aggressive. More words that have lingered like shards of glass in my heart, cutting and tearing). It’s too easy to take all the sharp words directed my way, all the times I’ve been blamed and shamed, and turn them back, amplified. It’s one of those survival skills that only works temporarily. I once knocked a kid’s teeth out with my library book (we were both 6 and they were baby teeth) because she shamed me for knowing to many numbers and too much math. Because lashing out was the only way I knew to deal with it. And of course, I got suspended and shamed for the incident.
And I want to be clear that I don’t write this because I want suggestions or solutions. All I really want is to feel like I’m OK just exactly how I am. And no one can give me that. I would like to request that maybe we all try to be a little more thoughtful about each other. I’m sure everyone on this planet also has something they struggle with, something they’ve been shamed for, something they are sensitive over, something they want a little understanding and compassion with. And I’m sure of this because my heart is sensitive to it. No one of us can ever really know someone else’s challenges and struggles. I don’t really want to find a way to be normal, that’s the shame talking; I really want to find a way to turn my own pain into something productive, something that can make a difference, something that lets someone else know they aren’t alone, something the reminds us all to be kind and not place impossible expectations on one another.
Because that’s really where shame comes from, it comes from not being able to meet expectations. It’s all those Not Good Enoughs. It’s knowing that we aren’t “normal” or “natural.” We start out as tiny little humans and don’t meet the standard and get shamed. And then we’re slightly bigger humans and that shame gets stuck inside our souls so when we don’t meet our own expectations we shame ourselves. And then we’re even bigger humans and someone else doesn’t meet our expectations so we shame them because they aren’t “normal” by our standards. And it’s certainly not normal to drag your basket of dirty shame and hang it up online where the world can see it. But that’s exactly what I’m doing.
Here I am, getting ready to hit the publish button, getting ready to just tell the whole damn world a little piece of just how deficient and defective I am, getting ready to admit to having one of those feelings we’re not supposed to ever admit to (Hey, look! Another reason to be ashamed!).