by Jennifer Sey
I’ve been a tad ponderous lately. Perhaps it is turning 40. Perhaps it is just having kids that are old enough to ask: “Are you sad mommy? You seem a little down.” Perhaps it is merely a normal cadence in life; there are times for enjoying, there are times for self-reflection. Regardless of the why, I’ve come to a truly new insight about myself.
I’ve come to understand that shame triggers sadness, even depression, of pretty significant proportions in me. This has been a light bulb moment of the tallest order, one that officially materialized when I read Ayelet Waldman’s essay “Rocket” from her book, “Bad Mother”. In this piece she acknowledged the utter self-reproach incited by choosing to terminate a pregnancy in which there was potentially something wrong with the baby. She chose herself over the unborn child.
For me, shame brought on by choosing myself over anyone else, incites the absolute depths of despair. It sends me into a swirling spiral of doom. It knots my stomach, clenches my jaw and generates an anxiety of such intense energy it could clean my house in seconds flat (and does on occasion). It chokes me in a manner that makes it hard not to cry at inopportune moments. When shame hits, tears threaten to invade the most placid and unassuming moments.
It has taken me many years to understand this about myself, but it has been present since I was conscious. I felt shame in the first grade when my new class sat in a semi-circle and I read the words out loud that the teacher wrote on the blackboard, without having to string the letters together in rudimentary fashion. I quickly became aware, when I heard my voice and mine alone, that not another child in the room could read yet. I wished that I could’ve sucked the words back in my mouth. It seemed boastful – as if I was trying to make the other kids feel badly - to have made sense of the letters on the board. I blushed and tears, inexplicable to my new teacher, poured from my eyes.
In the fifth grade, I was caught cheating on a test. I slyly (or so I thought) gave someone else the answers, currying favor for just a lick of popularity. I was not very slick in the breaking the rules department and was called out and scolded by the teacher. “We’ll need to tell your mother.” I nodded sick with worry that my dedicated stay-at-home mom would feel like a horrible parent for having such a dishonest child. I was shocked when I received no punishment.