In 2016, I have a brief online spell as The Shame Dame, the alias I hide behind as I try to get back to writing after depression stole my voice. Back then, the thought of my personal business being out in the open terrifies me. I don’t want anyone to know major depressive disorder has caused my life to grind to a halt any more than I want to let on about how cash-strapped my household is as a result.
I’m bursting at the seams with shame, the shame of being sick, the shame of not being able to access health care, the shame of surviving on one single meal a day, the shame of being invisible in my own home, the shame of being downgraded to a housebound homemaker despite being a multilingual professional with extensive international experience… Shame is the thread running through my personal narrative. So I think I’m going to be clever and flip the script. Calling myself The Shame Dame, I hope to turn the paralyzing force of shame into little snapshots of what it means to live as I do.
But because I’m still scared of stigma, I refuse to out myself lest I should be deemed a lesser person for it. As a result, whatever I write at that time is lackluster, guarded, and stilted despite being an honest depiction of my severely reduced circumstances.
In editorial terms, my writing isn’t very relatable from behind this phony alias. What’s more, said alias is based on an even phonier premise, that there is some kind of nobility in shame.
I’m scavenging for the hope I need to keep going but instead of lending my voice to shame, I try to turn it into something it isn’t, something good. I need a miracle and am prepared to do anything to make it happen, apart from the obvious, which is being myself in public, warts and all.
The more I conceal this shame behind a brave face, the more invasive it grows so I stop writing and delete my website. Once again, I’ve failed to pull myself back upright by my bootstraps; once again, I’ve trusted I can will myself to become functional again.
But until I start writing under my own name, shame remains a hindrance.
As long as I fail to acknowledge what makes me human, my narrative keeps eluding me.
My refusal to take ownership of my particular circumstances mean that I look at my life as if it were happening to someone else. This is how I cope for the longest time, processing the gradual undoing of my mental health, of my marriage, of my identity with bemused detachment.
Poor cow, I keep thinking, what have you become? Who have you become? Why are you doing this to yourself? I’ve internalized the negative atmosphere of my household to the point that I start conflating major depressive disorder with some lifestyle choice.
When your brain and the other adult in your life keep telling you mental illness is a free pass for lazy people, you end up co-opting their thinking. Convinced that you’re inadequate in every possible way, shame intensifies, morphing into self-loathing. And you keep making excuses for everything and everyone but yourself, sinking deeper into self-doubt.
But I’m not doing this anymore.
Reclaiming my narrative from the clutches of depression and shame demands I be exacting and precise in my storytelling.
There’s freedom in naming what ails you, and I need to set myself free by tackling those topics I keep skirting around.
Because they’re embarrassing, because they’re shameful, because they’re taboo.
Reporting from the frontline of depression, hardship, and a crumbling marriage isn’t the beat I had in mind but it’s the material I’ve got.
What’s more, it’s the kind of writing women shy away from doing because we fear backlash, loss of status, shame…
If writing about depression while in the middle of it is about as impossible as writing about a failing marriage, I owe it to myself to try. After six long years, I’m still dealing with depression on my own.
And if you’re wondering how that’s even possible, so am I.
Writing without any self-censorship turns out to be the lifeline I need to get better and help others in a similar predicament feel less alone.
Of course, I’m wracked with guilt at the prospect of articulating that which seeks to remain hidden and unspoken, but how else will I ever shed shame?
How else will I ever be free?
How else will I ever reconnect with the world at large and reclaim my voice for good?
I still live in constant fear of losing it again, especially during times when there’s scant comfort be found anywhere, which used to be almost always.
And yet, I can’t help but worry about preserving the privacy of those around me.
Can radical honesty ever be disloyal?
In the summer of 2018, I understand I can no longer let my silence, my embarrassment, and my shame enable stigma. I’m done paying for its upkeep with my mental health, with my dignity, and with my future. I’ve already lost such a large chunk of my life.
Besides, who will help me if I don’t help myself? If you’ve read this far, you already know the answer was no one until it changed.
And it did because I dared speak up.