shameA couple of disorienting things happened this weekend. Friday, I failed a quiz. Saturday, I missed a day of meditation. This could be it for me, folks!

The quiz was a stupid little 5-question, multiple-choice blip after a 2+ hour online software training course. It didn’t address (she says, not defensively at all) the things I found useful in the training and I didn’t read the questions closely and I didn’t think it mattered. I got a zero. A goose egg, my 6th grade teacher would say. I have never received a 0 in my life. Even when I was cutting Honors Geometry for weeks at a time to hang out at the lake and smoke pot, I would still put out a few week-one-level theorems on every test for at least a handful of points. And that was decades ago. I graduated at the top of my class for three different college degrees. I don’t fail.

The quiz really doesn’t matter. I took the course to learn the material, period. But I feel like I’ve let someone down, and I can’t even say who. My supervisor? My employer? They have no reason to care. But I don’t get the certificate to put up in my cubicle now (it’s difficult to even type that: I can feel you judging me), and that is not the only thing that makes me ashamed. Truly. I am fucking ashamed. All day Friday, I kept having waves of dread. You know the way you feel after a dream where you’ve killed or deeply betrayed someone? That visceral memory of “wait, what the fuck did I do?” But instead of the realization that, “oh, right, I skewered Ben on a rapier in that war on that exoplanet,” with the quiz, there was no relief. Realizing what planted the seed of dread did not remove the dread. I can’t reason it away.

Why the fuck not? It’s not as simple as a compulsion to achieve: it is the slow but persistent undercurrent of belief that there is something fundamentally wrong with me. It took an insanely large number of years before I recognized this shame shit for what it was, but when I did, soooo many things I do made so much more sense. If you’re lucky enough not to suffer from this mental illness, here’s the simplest explanation: shame-filled humans believe that the bad things that happen to them are all their fault, while the good things are some kind of strange luck that they probably don’t deserve (basically the opposite of the typical perspective of privileged white Americans). Lifelong shame typically comes from childhood trauma or psychological manipulation. (I’ll take a little from each bin, thanks.)

I honestly don’t think it has that much impact on my day-to-day life, but when I start freaking out about something this petty, and then freaking out about the freaking out, it helps to know where it’s coming from. It helps to create some distance. I do occasionally recognize it in less obvious moments, too, if I pay close attention. When my dog misbehaves on a walk and I get angry at her, it’s almost always because someone is nearby, because I feel ashamed for not having trained her better. Or when I buy a chocolate bar after deciding to give up sugar for the week, and hide it because I failed to be sufficiently committed, again: that’s shame, baby.

The really fucked up thing is that I don’t believe in any of this shit. I know I’m the product of my environment, internal and external. I know that I am doing the best (and the worst) I can at every moment. I know there is no such thing as inherent worthlessness or worthiness. And I know none of this pettiness matters, and that in buying into the game I only make myself miserable. But I can’t talk myself out of that haunting feeling that I have failed. It will pass with time. My brain’s not so fucked up that I’ll hang onto this blip forever. And meditation should help me to keep removing myself a little more from that judging fucker in my head.

But I didn’t meditate yesterday. For the first time in exactly 271 days, it completely slipped my mind. When it hit me this morning, I came very close to logging into my meditation app and entering a 10 minute lie for last night, just to keep my streak going. Oh my god. How pathetic can I be? The shame … the shame….

So I feel crappy today. From both of those things, from eating badly this week, from the gray weather and the size of my to-do list. But mostly just … I don’t know the ending to that sentence, but I believe there is one. The problem is, even if I figure it out, that doesn’t make it go away. For now, I just wait to feel better. And I will. Probably tomorrow. Don’t cry for me, Argentina. It’s just life.


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