The Art of Shame

I am supposed to post a piece art or writing on Wednesdays.  Luckily, I have a couple that are about the subject that has been on my mind for the last few days.  This first one is what I consider “regular”.  Not that I believe poetry should be standardized.  I call it this because I also write spoken poetry, which is a whole different ball of yarn.

Naked in Myself

Crouching here
In the dark
I hate the reason
I am here
Hidden from others
And myself
Being told
To step out of the dark
To walk out in the sun
Staying hidden is bad
Taking that first
Shaky step
Standing naked
In the crowd
Suddenly all are staring
The laughter begins
The derision
Racing back to the darkness
To my escape
No longer
Voices follow
Beating against my brain
My body
My soul
Naked in myself

I am ashamed.

This second poem is a spoken poem.  If you want to get a better feeling for it, speak it aloud.  My spoken poetry is usually written while in a hypomanic state, so you might be able to imagine how the words run together like thoughts do in that state.


trying to explain my heart my mind my soul
looks of incomprehension on your face on their faces on everyone
why can’t you listen hear understand
reaching out slapped again and again Bad dog!
just want help support love why can’t you hear me screaming
the darkness swallows me drives me tripping and stumbling over rocks
over boxes of my past present no future to see hear feel
broken into shards seeing many of me all blind all hated
the broken shards of others’ mirrors slicing and dicing my feet heart soul
jammed into my mind talking yelling screaming my inadequacies
cannot get away running working their way deeper with every step
lacerating no bandages for this not worth the time the money the
attention-seeking crazy person trying yes very trying
to change me into a mimic a mime everyone else dancing to the same
music heard and felt through the bones broken broken
ties family friends disastrous responses behaviors triggers costing
life and times no understanding no support hatred and confusion fear
what you do not know I know


Shame is something those of us with mental illnesses deal with every day.  There is a stigma attached to mental illness.  Even though it is a medical illness, many people think that we can “just get over it”.  I’ve been told, “Well, if you would just get up earlier…go get groceries…go to bed on time…etc.”  These people have no comprehension of how difficult it is to get out of bed in the morning, let alone do anything else when we are depressed.  And when we are manic, they don’t understand the anger and out of control behaviors. “Just calm down…let it go…stop spending money you can’t afford…etc.”  And when people say these things to us, they make us feel ashamed that we cannot do what they are demanding.  We feel inadequate.

Family and friends can be some of the worst perpetrators of this.  They already know where we are weak, so it is easy for them to say something that slices deep.  Most of them don’t even realize they are doing it.  They don’t think they are discounting our thoughts and feelings, but they are and it makes us feel as though we are worthless, invisible, or a child.  Whichever one is your go-to thought when someone ignores you.  Mine happens to be the worthless one and that I am a failure.  Even when I am controlled on medication, these sorts of upsets can cause real problems because I tend to have an over the top reaction regardless of where I am on the emotional spectrum.

Then there are the people who have no idea what they are talking about, but think they are being helpful or sympathetic.  “Oh yeah, I was depressed this one time, but I pulled myself up by the bootstraps and got on with my life.”  Really?  Really?  I honestly want to smack these people the most.  I never would because I have personal issues with violence, but I certainly think about it hard.  These people are not only discounting you and your experiences, they are telling you that their experience was just like yours and more important.  They get to make you twice as ashamed.

I will say that the majority of people that act this way do believe they are helping.  And they sincerely want to help or be supportive.  They just don’t know how.

So how do we deal with this?  First, I have learned over time to take a look at the relationship I have with this person.  If it is a distant relationship, then I just say thank you and never bring up the subject if I can help it. If it is someone close to me that I want to understand what is going on with me, then I sit down with them and explain what I need/want from them.  Sometimes this doesn’t work, though.  If I just cannot teach this person to handle me and the illness in a way I am comfortable with, I don’t talk about it around them unless necessary.

The second thing we have to do is let go of our feeling of shame and take responsibility instead.  Relieve yourself of the burden that comes with being ashamed.  There is nothing wrong with having an illness.  Do we blame someone for having diabetes or a heart condition?  Do we look down on them because they will be on medication for the rest of their lives?  We need to remind ourselves daily that there is nothing wrong with having a mental disorder.  I do think we have to take responsibility for our actions.  Yes, we are out of control with bipolar, but that is not an excuse to beak the law or hurt someone.  We may do these things unconsciously or without having control of ourselves, but others were harmed by our behavior.  We need to apologize and make amends when possible.  That will help us feel less guilty and ashamed about this disorder.

Now, I am not saying I am perfect, by any means.  There are days that I walk outside and I feel like everyone is staring at and knows that I am bipolar.  There are days when I tell myself all of these things and just make myself feel lower than a mine shaft.  But trying to accept and understand our own feelings is the first step to learning to live with bipolar.  Lessening the shame we feel goes a long way toward feeling healthier.

Have any of you devised a coping technique when these situations come up?


~ by theartistryofthebipolarbrain on February 8, 2012.

7 Responses to “The Art of Shame”

  1. thank you so much, I started reading this and suddenly tears just rolled down my face , for reason it made me feel better . It also made me call my doctor ( whom I have been playing hide and seek with)
    I hate to admit that I have fallen into a somewhat depression and while it is’t full blown I better stop and go back to the beginning. I sometimes really want to believe that I am well and can handle this . After things going so well for awhile . I did what I know I shouldn’t do. I put therapy aside and canceled my appt ‘s over the past few weeks I hate when I have to go back with my head between my legs but I refuse to give up. So thank you .
    I wish my family could read this

    • Wow! That makes me feel like this blog is actually making a difference! I know how hard it is to keep up with the appointments when it feels like you are in a more regulated phase (normal is a setting on the washing machine 😉 ).They cost time and money that could be spent elsewhere when we are “feeling better”. Don’t feel bad or ashamed. I have gone off meds and stopped therapy, too. We all do at some point. We forget, too, that this a life-long illness we are dealing with. Just as a diabetic needs to be checking his sugar and seeing her doctor regularly, we do, too. So remind yourself that you are taking another step forward into your recovery by recognizing that you need to take a step back. (I know, soon we’ll be two-stepping.)

      That is one of the reasons that I gave my mother the address to this blog and I didn’t give it to my father. He is in complete denial about my condition. Which is a little comical since my step-brother is bipolar 1 and on disability. Although I do not claim to be perfect, nor even good at living with this disorder, I have been told I know how to talk. 😉 Feel free, if you, or anyone else, are comfortable with the idea, to send them to my blog without telling them about your own. The exposure of writing this honestly in front of all of my friends and family is definitely not for everyone. I will also admit that, other than certain people knowing about the blog, the name is not mine and other people in my life have no idea about this blog.

  2. Hi! Great post! Big hugs!

    I think talking about it and being open about it with the people you can trust lets go of some of the shame.

  3. It just makes me hope that I always make positive comments, and don’t cut you. *hugs* Stay strong dear one.

  4. I cannot say how much I appreciate the friendships I have managed to make over the years. The shame did make it hard for me to talk about certain things, but your openness and love made sure I didn’t feel judged.

    Thank you to my dear friends and to my new friends through this blog.

  5. Sweetie,
    Reading this tore me up. I haven’t cried this hard since last Feb. We have discussed these things before but not with the depth of feeling you poured into this blog.
    As your Mom I know that many of the things you have said apply to me, your dad and your brothers. Aba may have been the worst in his own way because he really thought every one could tough things out. Unfortunately not only he but all of us are guilty of this.
    I do hope that I am getting better at listening and not trying to tell you what to do. I know I will fail you many times over but know you are loved and cared about my more folks than I can tell you.
    One thing that all family and friends have to realize is that with mental illness like yours, you are NOT trying to get attention, you are Not making things up. In honesty, for several years I felt that way and let you know it. It has taken years but I am glad that you are who you are now and I want you to know I love you and always have and never meant to cut you.

  6. Thank you so much, Mom. Our relationship has always been a learning experience. You make the point I was trying to make in my next post. The people we love don’t always have the best reactions to us. Even though they hurt us, we sometimes have to make the choice to see past that.

    When I first told my Mom about all of this, I was speaking a foreign language that I didn’t fully comprehend to someone who not only didn’t understand my language, but didn’t believe in the language. It has taken years, but we have been reaching out to one another along the way.

    Now, I am in NO WAY advocating staying in an abusive relationship or keeping people around that are emotionally damaging or abusive. But if you find someone that you care about has a poor reaction to you discussing your illness, you might want to give them a chance to reach out to you, even if it isn’t the way you would like.

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