“I shouldn’t have to do this”. This is a thought which goes around my head on a regular basis. “I should be able to walk five miles” “ I should be able to eat as much sugar as I can without throwing a tantrum” “I should be able to go without eating” “I hate being interrupted by my constant need to go to the toilet”. I have been brought to tears before, by needing the toilet for the third time in twenty minutes. Not because I was worried that there was something wrong with me (I drink a LOT of green tea) but because I couldn’t do what I wanted to do, I had to go to the toilet instead.
If I wanted to feel comfortable, I had to hang out on the loo until that little voice in my head telling me that I needed a wee shut up and let me get on with things. I feel similarly when I get hungry, or tired, or overwhelmed. Instead of listening to myself, I get angry at myself. I’m angry that my body has physical needs, or that my mind has mental needs. I feel weak and ‘needy’ for… needing. Food. The toilet. Some space. I feel ashamed of myself for having these needs. I feel as if nobody else has them, or at least, that nobody else gets as worked up over them as I do. You need the toilet? Go to the toilet! Easy as. You’re hungry? There’s a cure for that, it’s called ‘food’.
Sometimes I feel as though I’m my own Sim character with all my needs bars flashing and me, the player, is saying ‘No, it’s too much hassle to look after you, you always want something, and I can’t cope.’
Why am I self-shaming for having needs?
Sometimes I wonder if it’s a part of having poor mental health, and poor physical health and the stigma which goes along with that. Self-care becomes self-shame, because self-care is something that people with disabilities and mental health issues have to do – people who live with anxiety issues, pain problems, depression, abuse survivors. The self-care narrative is based around people who have a problem in the first place – a problem which is seen as shameful, and which others believe makes them weak. Anyone who needs self-care, must have something ‘wrong’ with them. ‘Normal’ people don’t need to make a special point out of self-care, because they already know how to look after themselves, to go to the toilet without making a big personal deal out of it, to manage their emotions, to eat when they’re hungry. They’ve never been abused, or been made to feel worthless. It’s implied that learning to look after yourself is shameful, because you should have learnt that when you were young. What you went through which made you forget how to do this, or feel that you weren’t worth looking after, must have been a shameful thing which happened to you, according to the people who mock those who need to look out for themselves.
In recognising my needs, I also recognise the cause of these needs – poor mental health, certain physical issues – and I remember being shamed or mocked for these in the past. So when I attempt to care for myself, a process which takes time and energy and introspection, I feel annoyed because I ‘shouldn’t have’ to spend my time and energy in getting through something which doesn’t happen to everyone else. At least, that is how I see it.
The shame which other people have piled on to me becomes shame which I internalise. Every time I drop something, or stumble, or really should eat something healthy (for me, because sugar exacerbates my depression and anxiety) and don’t, is a moment that I hear other people’s voices in my head disguised as my voice. I hear ‘What use are you?’ and ‘What is the point?’ and ‘You can’t even feed yourself’ and ‘Why should anyone care about you?’ except it’s all Me and I. What use am I? I can’t even feed myself. Why should anyone care about me?
All because I need to walk slowly, or less. All because I hit a plate with the side of my hand and make a loud noise which startled me. All because I can’t find my pass-case. All because I can’t bring myself to boil some water for pasta. All because I haven’t done the washing-up for a couple of days. All because I get overwhelmed by daily repetitive tasks.
I don’t want to do this anymore. I don’t want to be in need of self-care, and then shame myself for needing it. It stops the self-care being so effective, and it’s such a waste of time and energy. (Which is exactly what my self-shaming voice is trying to tell me that self-care is doing. Weird, huh?)
So how do I get over this? How do I get from recognising a need, performing self-care and self-shaming at the same time, to just recognising a need and performing self-care? Where can I put the shame? How can I make it go away?
I don’t know how to do this – or I would be doing it, and I’d be writing about that. At the moment, I generally end up either ignoring my needs so as not to start the cycle, which isn’t great, or starting the cycle of self-shame and having a massive argument with myself culminating in self-harm or tears. This isn’t much fun either.
Does anyone else have an experience with self-shaming? Not only over self-care, but anything. How do you cope? How do you break the cycle? Has anyone sought medical advice about this? Please, share your stories here.