FDR said that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself. As someone who runs pretty high on the anxiety spectrum, that doesn’t bode well for me. In simpler terms, I’m screwed.
I know I often reference, rather offhandedly, my “anxieties”, and the last time I did it, I stopped myself and thought, so what are they, really? What am I so anxious about? I decided to meditate on it. The first thing that came to my mind was shame. I hate that shame is my knee-jerk, go-to emotion. I wish I knew what to do about it, wish I could change it, wish I felt more sure of myself, wish I weren’t so ashamed of everything. Certainly the level of shame varies day to day and over the years I’ve simply gotten used to living with some amount of it. But I’m never fully free of it. In fact, now that I think of it, I can’t really imagine life without it. I do wonder what the secondary gains are? There has to be something I get from not letting go of shame. But more on that in another post.
The problem with shame is that the painful negative feelings are about my self, my being, my essence. Whereas with an emotion like guilt, often closely associated with shame, the feelings are about an act, feeling badly about something I’ve done. Not something I am. Great, so now I’m ashamed of my shame. Add that to the list of my neurosis. The shame thing plays out most prominently (or at least the loudest) in my fear of looking, or being perceived as, foolish, stupid, always fearing I’m wrong or bad. This fear is ingrained in me. I call it anticipatory shame. First of all, it was a very clear message from my mother that if “so-and-so really knew me, they wouldn’t like me”. It was said to me so many times about so many people, I learned to anticipate and assume it to be true. Secondly, growing up with a mentally ill parent, I’ve always had this deep-seated fear of being compared to or viewed as like her. The thought of being seen as even a little “off”, sends waves of panic-filled shame through me. The funny thing is, in many ways I act out in the world as if that is not at all the case. By way of example… I’ve done this thing to my body that by many accounts leaves me quite out there on the potentially foolish spectrum. Bathing suits, much to my chagrin, have not gotten less complicated. People are more rather than less confused and perplexed by me. Yet, I don’t feel shame or foolish about the surgery or how it has changed my body or how I present in the world. Even though I’ve left myself in this nowhere land between male and female, I’m feeling quite calm and un-anxious about it, even a little confident actually. And make no mistake, bizrate is not happy about that. Unless I can check only one box, either male or female, they will not let me rate products (such as kitchen utensils, fireplace tools or hats – though what my gender has to do with any of those things I cannot imagine). I am out there in many ways in the world that appear as if I have no care at all about how I am perceived. I take up new challenges, try new things, act the clown – putting on a pair of hockey skates for the first time in my life at the age of 45 may have appeared to border on the ridiculous by some standards, but that didn’t stop me.
The reality is that my neurosis range from the breathe into a paper bag trepidation of mild distress to painful, almost paralyzing angst. And thankfully, more of the former. And dare I say it, most of my anticipatory shame is not rooted in any reality. Ram Dass talks often about the metamorphosis of what he calls his neurosis. He says, paraphrased of course, that he got his PhD in psychiatry, went to therapists and gurus and swamis, meditated, chanted, prayed and pilgrimaged, and in the end he maintained every single one of the neurosis he started with. Instead of being the overwhelming monsters they started out as however, he says that his neurosis are now like, quote, little shmoos who come for tea. What a refreshing concept. Though I can’t quite imagine enjoying tea (or any other beverage for that matter) with any of my maladjusted absurdities. I guess the goal is for my shame (and all my other neurosis) to be a curious twinge rather than a cataclysmic concussion. Everything in my life points to the benefits of living this way. I wish I could relax into it, trust it more often. Because when I do, things seem to work out quite well.
For those of you who have been following my apparel anguish… I have found an outfit to wear to the bat mitzvah service. ~cue heralding angels~ And it happened like this: Several people suggested I check out Banana Republic as a place to get the kind of Ellen-esque outfit I might feel comfortable in. So, as the saying goes, I put on my big boi panties and went to a nearby Banana Republic. I stood just inside the doorway for a minute and let myself breathe. I scanned the clothing hanging on the walls and on displays and began to seek out a salesperson. In my mind I skipped over the skinny fasionista and the metro-man, more for the energy I felt from them than anything else. I slowly approached a third salesperson. She saw me coming, smiled and asked if she could help me. Though my voice shook and caught a bit, I looked her right in the eyes and surged into, “I’m afraid there isn’t enough ativan to get me through this. I haven’t been shopping in 25 years. I have no fashion sense. And I don’t even know what gender I am. I have no idea what to wear or how to dress.” Or something equally not poetic or politically correct. Her smile sparkled through her eyes and she said, “I do believe I’m up to this task. Shall we?” And with that, she offered me her elbow and escorted me to a dressing room. For the next two hours she brought in items of clothing and gave me advice, ideas, encouragement and most importantly, laughed with me. She called over Dion for his advice and at some points even other shoppers in the fitting room put in their two cents. The whole encounter wasn’t quite raucous but it was definitely filled with joyous frivolity and light-hearted acceptance and kindness. I ended up with a pair of grey men’s pants and a black women’s jacket/blazer. These I will wear with a white shirt and Doc Marten wingtips. And I will feel just fine.