Updated: Sep 29, 2020
Today, I’m just an hour off. Everything I’ve done today is just an hour behind. I thought I had a meeting with a student at 1:30, but it was at 12:30. Another meeting I thought was at 3:00 turned out to be at 2:00. I’m glad my weekly meeting with the Sailor Scouts, my high school besties, isn’t today because I might forget that too. The question I keep encountering today is not, “Why am I off today?” It’s, “Why do I feel so much shame about running late?”
To understand that, I think I should start by unpacking my attachment style. I’m avoidant, and sometimes I tell myself stories (like we all do) about how I should feel about things. My stories are designed to keep people away. They are things like, “They are too busy,” or, “Nobody has time for your problems.” My favorite one is making a comeback right now. It’s, “You don’t need anyone.” A variation is, “You can do it all by yourself.” This story has many iterations, and it is designed to isolate me from my support system and people that actually care about my well-being. Those are just stories though. I have to remind myself that they aren’t real. It’s okay to ask for help even if it seems trivial. People aren’t mind readers, and they can’t reach out—whether by phone, text, or to help with a simple task—if I don’t let them know I need something.
Can you see that shame is a component of those narratives?
I see myself as inferior to whoever I want to hang out with, whether they see me that way (they don’t) or not. [As an aside, don’t hang out with people who actually do see you or treat you as inferior to them. They are not worth your time.] I am not inferior, and my friends and colleagues don’t see me as that way. When we talk things out, we can get more data and create clearer messages about reality in our minds. My problems are things people want to talk about, and you know what? Yours are too.
Shame is big, and it is ugly. It has been with me almost my whole life, and I am totally surprised to still be experiencing manifestations of shame and doubt at my age. At least, as a millennial, therapy is less destigmatized. Even though mental health is still not openly discussed, studies in 2017 showed that over 90% of doctoral students experience at least two markers of poor mental health. A 2018 study shows a continuation of the trend, declaring the mental health of graduate students a crisis, and a 2020 study about graduate students in the pandemic shows an exacerbation of persistent problems that isolate and demean graduate students, contributing to their poor mental health. If you are a doctoral student, read The Valley of Shit by The Thesis Whisperer. He just wrote a new blog called The Valley of Deep (COVID) Shit that is also super-relatable.
I feel shame about running late because as a child, I had commitments like dance. I was told that being 15 minutes early is running late. I was raised to also believe no one wanted me there unless I was something other than me. This is hyper-over-achiever-type stuff that caused me to seek approval instead of being who I was, flaws and all (ACOA messaging). I’m nicer to myself now, bbut I still get a twinge of that story, “If you can’t be there on time and ready, they won’t be your friend anymore.” I’m starting to feel the effects of COVID as our lives haven’t returned to the “normal” they were promised to by now. Work is interesting, and isolation is affecting me since my group therapy got cancelled. What I want to leave you with is that instead of submitting to those negative stories, check them. Where do they come from? What is causing them to emerge right now? Do you have someone you can reality check with? If so, text or call and see if they have time to be there for you.
What are your top 10 stories you tell yourself? What about your top 5 negative stories and top 5 positive stories?