I’ve been meaning to write this post for weeks, but I haven’t because in all honestly, that Iceberg of Sanity I talked about in the last blog post is not even on the horizon and we’ve had some pretty stormy days on The Sea of Depression lately. Normally my depression gets worse as the weather gets warmer, but usually it’s not this bad until June or so, and normally it doesn’t last this long, or at least hasn’t in the past decade or more. So this will be an interesting summer to say the least.
But in the month of February, I finished reading a lovely book by Brene Brown titled Daring Greatly. Some of you may have heard of it.
Brene is a foremost researcher on shame and vulnerability, and the book is about how vital vulnerability is to our productivity and happiness. If you struggle feeling good about yourself, expressing your emotions, connecting with others, and allowing people to see how imperfect you are, I recommend this book with the same fervor I would recommend eating in order to stay alive.
In the book, Brene defines shame as a mentality that, in essence, disconnects us from everyone and prevents us from creating meaningful, lasting relationships. It is the thing that tells us we aren’t good enough, we don’t deserve love. It comes about because we experienced something negative and dwelt on it until it became ingrained in our hearts and minds.
And fyi, guilt is not shame. Guilt is a very good thing. It is like the pain you feel when you touch something hot – it warns you not to do that thing again. Guilt says “I did something bad.” Shame says “I am bad.” The semantics here are life. A perfectly acceptable person can do a stupid thing every so often (daily) and still be perfectly acceptable. A bad person is bad and has diminished worth.
Reading this book and being able to see what shame really was opened my eyes to the fact that my life is riddled with shame. I mean, if shame was movie car crashes, my life is TheFast and The Furious franchise.
The key, as Brene Brown explains, to dealing with shame, is talking about it. Just like the meme I shared in the last post (I know, it was decades ago). You’re only as sick as your secrets. Once you gives words to your shame, it shrinks. It loses power. And when you express it enough, eventually it will lose its hold on you altogether. You’d be surprised by how quickly that happens.
So as I just finished watching 10 Things I Hate About You, and binge-eating a pile of Easter candy (which, by the way, feels like death when you’ve only eaten sugar on three days out of the past six weeks, one of those days being yesterday), I think it’s time to talk about something I’ve been ashamed of for a little over twenty years now:
I think I’m a hopeless romantic.
That label has a very negative image associated with it in my mind. It is a person, usually female, so obsessed with finding love that they conform and mold themselves into whatever they think the object of their desire wants them to be, who falls for anyone who gives them enough attention, who is swept away by sweet words, fancy parties, diamonds and flowers…
And even though I do love those things, it was that conformity that drove me away, that pathetic need to have someone love you so badly that you’d sell your soul for it. Even though as I matured I realized that was not always, in fact it was hardly the case, but the shame was already deeply rooted, and I shunned a lot of things, people, and activities that could’ve been good and wonderful because I wanted to crush the hopeless romantic inside of me.
But I clung to stories with romance that had women who…weren’t pathetic. Women who thought for themselves, fought for what they wanted, challenged social norms, and didn’t let just any man with the right words or face or amount of money sweep them away.
Hence 10 Things I Hate About You. And Wicked. And Mulan. And Little Women. And Aida. And Anne of Green Gables. And the Amy and Rory story line in Doctor Who (or Rose and the Doctor, for that matter). And The Hunger Games. And Beauty and the Beast. And Harry Potter. And certain story lines of The Lord of the Rings.
AND NOT TWILIGHT OR CINDERELLA. Or a slough of other “chick flicks” and “rom-coms” where the woman hardly qualifies as a main character instead of a plot device.
The essence of being a hopeless romantic, as I’ve discovered, is the desire to love someone so completely, and be loved so completely in return, that you would give up your immortal Elvish state to be with them, or fight the brainwashing and torture of a corrupt government to protect them, or to let them go to defend their helpless father without knowing if they’d ever return. And this desire is so deep and unshakable that you can’t just have a casual, ordinary relationship. Which means that the usual, thoughtless gifts and gestures aren’t good enough, and that you won’t just follow someone because they pay attention to you. They have to prove their worth with the gold of loyalty and dedication. They have to fight demons and monsters to get to you. Because that’s what you’ll do for them – it’s what you are doing for them every day you suffer without them.
I’ve held on to all those stories of strong women finding the most incredible love because I was desperate to believe that I would be able to find that same incredible love. I need to have hope that someday I’ll be Gilbert Blythed by a friend who has loved me for years and never knew how to tell me, or that I’d change the way some man sees the world simply by being my headstrong, resilient self, and he’d give up his bid for the Pharaoh of all Egypt for me. I need to believe such things can happen, because otherwise, what is love? What is love if not sweet security and acceptance laced in pain and sacrifice? (Honestly, tell me, because it might help me stop being a hopeless romantic and actually form a healthy attachment).
In logical reality, I know this is ridiculous. I mean, I laughed through The Sorrows of Young Werther, yet I feel it anyway. And that has made me ashamed for 2/3 of my life. But I think it’s time for me to accept that part of myself.
In retrospect, I can see that this hopeless romantic thing has colored and influenced hundreds of my decisions over my adult life. Anyone who knows me well at all probably knew the truth within days, even though I couldn’t admit it to myself. Well, now I am.
Hi. My name is Laura, and I’m a hopeless romantic. And I want nothing more than someone to say “always” to me, and mean it.
(Oh, and back to the original message of this post – if you feel shame and it contributes to depression, PLEASE talk to someone about it. If there is someone who triggered the shame, do your best to talk to them about it. Maybe you’d have to work up to it, but it is an incredibly healing experience.)