how the shame seesaw has been running my mental health

last friday I set my alarms for yet another early saturday and closed my eyes and lay down to sleep and God told me to open my laptop and write instead. I was tired when I scribbled down the rough draft of this, and I’m tired again now, so I hope this makes sense.

I’m angry. and I’m not accustomed to being angry, but that’s where I’m at right now- thinking and praying and getting angry.

I’m angry because in the past couple of weeks, I did my taxes and mailed letters and bought wedding gifts and prepped meals and paid rent and sent important emails. and I found myself thinking, “I’m crushing this adulthood thing.” two weeks ago I could hardly tell you what it feels like to be trapped by my own dark thoughts. two weeks ago I was clear-headed as can be.

but all I have to do is read a couple of pages back in my journal to know that there are other days when I can hardly say what light feels like.

this is the see-saw where I often find myself.

I wake up one morning and I think about breakfast instead of what I hate about my body and I do yoga and I read the scriptures and I sing in the shower and I get myself to work early so I have time to ask the lady at the desk about her dog.

and a week later, I’m curled up in my bed, with my arms wrapped around my head, trying to block out the spiraling accusations of inadequacy and incapability, and I am crying at the phrase “I’ll see you tomorrow” because tomorrow sounds like a curse and not a gift, and I’m thinking that I should just end all this pain now.

up and down. fully in one camp, and then so quickly back in the other.

but that’s not even what I’m angry about.

what has angered me is the way that I’ve realized these two extremes lead me to see myself.

when I’m doing well I can be so proud. the whole, “I’m crushing adulthood” thing is so easy to joke about and carry like a badge of honor. with it comes a sense of worth, of contribution, of capability.

and on the other end…that’s where the shame comes in.

when I walk the scenic route home from work so that I can cry myself out and not be seen, when opening my inbox pulls me into a panic like a pit of quicksand, when I can’t seem to get out of bed or redirect my thoughts away from the kind that would kill me so I can even be kind of productive at work- on those days, I feel as though I am worth nothing- because I am able to do nothing.

I look at myself and amidst the frenzy of hateful things I have to say about what I see, the weightiest and often truest-feeling thought that strikes me is, “you are worthless.”

“all you did today was survive,” say my thoughts. “and barely. is that supposed to be impressive? push through and find a way to actually contribute.” and on the days when I do, the days when I am productive and I do all of the adult-y things, I feel this sweet relief that I’m not, in fact, worthless, because look at me, I’m working a full-time job and a part-time job and even have some hobbies and friends on the side, so, yes, my life has meaning.

how messed up is that? I’m learning to see those thought patterns for the bullshit they are. I actually thought I was kicking the notion that my worth is tied to what I am able to accomplish. I’ve made some strides, for sure. I guess I just didn’t realize how deeply embedded the belief was. down to my mental foundations, apparently.

even the thought, “you’re stronger than this” sounds like something a friend would say, but somehow comes with the implicit understanding that depression is “winning” when I’m not able to perform the tasks that make me “useful”- i.e. valuable.

this is my kitchen and I love it and it is where I feel most rested and most at peace.

if guilt tells you what you’ve done, but shame tells you that what you’ve done is who you are, then I think I’ve been listening to shame all too often, telling me that when I let someone down, when I can’t show up, when I get sick and call out, when I’m imperfect, that I’m a failure. and depression and anxiety set the stage for those moments of “failure” so well, don’t they?

but if any of those thoughts are true, where is the finish line? where is the time to rest, without surrendering your value?

psalm 3 says that even when we are pursued by enemies, we can lie down and sleep, and wake again, because it is the Lord that sustains us, and not our own efforts.

at this point I’m tired of writing about being a mess. partly because I worry every time I press “publish” that you’re rolling your eyes and thinking how it isn’t cute anymore that I’m still struggling with simple ideas.

but you’ve all been incredibly kind so far, and I hope this isn’t a burden I’m handing you, but an encouragement- a reminder that you are more than what you do.

forgive me if I’ve mentioned this before, but in his seminar “Everything Is Spiritual”, Rob Bell talks about how God gave us the sabbath – a designated day of worship and rest, of doing nothing that could make us feel accomplished – to remind us that we are human beings, and not human doings. our value comes from the fact that we bear the image of God and not from the things we do. in light of that, I’d venture to say that shame doesn’t get to tell us who we are. that depression doesn’t get to tell who we are, that anxiety doesn’t get to tell us who we are, that addiction doesn’t get to tell us who we are, that disordered eating patterns don’t get to tell us who we are.

I guess if anyone has the authority to tell me that I’m not defined by what I can get done, it’s the person who created me.