One of the weird side effects that is not often discussed is the shame that comes with injury or chronic illness. Not just with a TBI, but with any injury or illness. You feel shame for being such. Some of it real, some of it imagined, but it’s still there often, if not all the time.
It’s the shame of not being a normal part of society (even though I’m unsure there is a “normal” part of society). For some it’s the shame of not being able to work. Or being able to physically pleasure your significant other. Or the shame of only being able to contribute minimally to ones household. Or being a younger person who needs to make use of a scooter in a grocery store or a handicapped plate or placard. There’s potential shame everywhere, with every action and inaction.There’s immense shame involved in the world around us and I haven’t even gotten into what takes place on social media, which is it’s own mind field that SEEMS to mostly involve two parties; those who use it to complain and try to game the system and those who attempt to shame everyone with disabilities as though they’re the first. It’s very much like online political discussions in that way. The loudest get the attention while those in the middle seeking the nuance and truth are drowned out.
But it’s also not the reality. Most people who’re injured or ill simply want to live life. And they want to do it without the shame. I’m in that boat. As a matter of fact so is Shawna with her illness. But still, interestingly enough, we’ve rarely discussed the shame we feel and even when it’s been done, it’s mostly in passing. In-fact, she didn’t know I was writing this post. And honestly, I didn’t even make the connection that we hadn’t really discussed it until now, as the words flowed form my finger tips.
I feel shame due to my injury often. As a man, it’s difficult to be in a position where naps are often needed daily. Where I’ve gone through multiple jobs and am not currently the bread winner. Where I cry, at times near uncontrollably, due to an emotional situation. There are things that fall within my own definition of masculinity that I simply cannot adhere too. And that breeds a shame that’s incredibly hard to reconcile mentally.There is seemingly shame everywhere. Of course, it’s more prevalent if you’re looking for it but it’s also one of those things in life that has the ability to creep into the psyche out of nowhere and can be crippling when unprepared.
So how do we navigate it?
First, we admit that it exists. Just like any problem, not acknowledging it isn’t just unhelpful, it actively hinders. So, the shame exists. And now that we admit that we can move onto the next step:
Identify the who, what, when, where, and how.
This part of the process will take time; significant time in-fact. Many increasingly personal questions, and the necessity to bore into parts of emotional and mental state than is comfortable for most. For many, if not the majority, having a counselor help with this will be greatly beneficial and cut down on the time it takes to run through the process considerably.
Third, we work to understand that everyone is going through something and the concept of normal is more abstract idea than specific reality.
When we take this to heart it’s much easier to reduce our own shame because we acknowledge that everyone struggles with something. That our struggles are different but not necessarily any better or worse than those of others. That we can learn from one another and adapt those lessons to fit what we need. And as we do, the shame of our own limitation(s) will begin to reduce.
We recognize and understand that social media is not real life.
This is a huge one. People use social media like a highlight real. I’m guilty of it at times and I actively try not to be. In consuming such, we begin to believe that others live grandiose and perfect lives that never involve struggle and strife. But the reality is, it’s simply not the case. Some don’t post their negatives because they’re chasing likes while some only post negative for the same reason. Some don’t post struggle because they’re trying to be overly positive. And still others don’t post struggles because they fear, you guessed it, shame. No one wants to be shamed, never mind publicly and to open oneself up to such is incredibly stressful.
Shame is an emotion most will feel at some point and others will feel often. We have the ability to navigate and work both with and around it but it must be acknowledge and made real. My shames are mine and yours are yours but by discussing them, by writing about them, we have the ability to let others know they’re not alone. And when we’re not alone, we have more strength, more ability, to tell ourselves that it’s OK to be have pieces of ourselves that are broken. That just because we sometimes need some duct tape and tie wraps to hold ourselves together it doesn’t mean that we’re not whole.
Because if you’re alive and you’re progressing forward, through the pain, through the discomfort, through the mental mind field that is injury and illness, you’re not shame; You’re Admiration.