TIL that I have a substantial amount of shame all knotted up with my disability.

Shame. Photo by maureenml0521.

A disclaimer, before I tell the story: this came about because of a disappointment. Because I know that a couple of my colleagues follow me on social media and read this blog, I want to make my purpose for writing this post very clear.  This realization came about because of a disappointment. It’s a disappointment that was not intended in the slightest, a disappointment that I had the ability to turn around, a disappointment that I don’t blame on anybody because it’s just a thing that happened.  What I want to explore here is not the sequence of events, but my own internal response to them, the affect that I have felt and some of the sources of that pain. But to get to that, I kind of have to tell the story.


Last week, I was asked to help write a proposal. So I poured time and energy into it, and I had a lot of fun working on it, and I thought it was a kickass document. The sales team thought it was pretty kickass, too, because they not only said so publicly a few times (yay!), but they invited me to the presentation with the client.  I was so touched by this gesture. I hadn’t been invited to anything like this here before. How exciting–and flattering–that they wanted to include me!

Here’s where the disability piece comes in. I have vertigo. I have vertigo every day, severe enough that it causes me to fall, severe enough that I am on the edge of vomiting at least once a day, severe enough that I can count the number of times I’ve driven in the last three months on one hand.

My partner drives our commute for me, and when I need to get to something offsite, I figure out the ride piece. Last Thursday I visited this client with a coworker, and earlier this week I’d asked about whether people were coming back to the office after the meeting, and I’d mentioned the “Okay, I’ll ride with you” thing a couple of times. I know nobody really picked up the signals, and I don’t blame anybody for that. People are oafs. Well-intentioned, but oafs. We are clumsy, and we try our best, but we bumble around navigating our own stuff and don’t always notice other people’s struggles. We step on their toes, and we bump into them, and we sometimes hurt them even though we don’t mean to. It’s just what we are.

It’s about a 20-minute drive to this client’s location, so we generally like to leave about 30 minutes early. I looked up from the task I’d been working on 33 minutes before the meeting time. Quickly gathering my things, I asked in chat who could give me a ride. It was silent. I walked down the hallway, and I found no people, only empty offices. Everyone else had already left. I made it back to my desk without crying, which felt like a huge accomplishment. I felt left behind, forgotten, unvalued. (Note: this is my feelings, my own affect; I am not saying that my colleagues don’t value me, but that I felt unvalued, unvaluable. I guess it’s “fundamentally unlovable,” but SFW.)

Ever notice how much more it hurts to be disappointed when you are feeling positive and happy than it does when you’re feeling neutral (or less)? I was so excited about this presentation, and being invited and included, so the drop really sucked. Being a person with bipolar disorder, I experience depression from time to time. Being a person with Type II bipolar disorder, I am particularly gifted and talented at depression. I have developed and honed my scathing self-pity skills over years. I’m very effective at flogging myself with horrible thoughts that would be classified as abuse or bullying if they were said to anyone outside my psyche. So you can imagine the self-talk that needed to be redirected; I’m not going to repeat it.

Here is where I admit to knowing I could have turned this around. I could have called one of my colleagues. I could have set up a ride on uber. Nothing like this even remotely occurred to me in the moment.So let me say again: I absolutely, positively do not blame my coworkers for this.

Vertigo. Photo by tamasmatusik.Heh.

When my boss popped online and apologized, he asked if I could drive out or if I was stuck. I had to admit to him my inability (well, disability) to drive, because of migraine-induced vertigo. I thought, well, I just don’t like to make a big deal out of it. I want people to treat me normally.  And I realized that this is close, but not quite accurate.The honest truth, which I admit with some pain, is that I am ashamed of my disability(ies). I feel like I’m less of a grown-up because I can’t (or shouldn’t) drive. If we lived in an urban city, the driving thing might not feel like such a big deal. But here in southeastern Virginia, our public transit, not to put too fine a point on it, sucks.

I’ve been learning from Brene Brown for the last couple of years, from her work on shame. Shame is like a mushroom: it thrives in dark, in secret, in quiet. It sends out spores throughout your mind, attacking your thoughts and feelings. And the way to combat shame is to drag it into the light, to talk about it, to admit to it, to recognize that it might not be rational but that doesn’t matter. So here it is.

I feel shame because I have disabilities. I feel shame because I’m not safe to drive. I feel shame because my bladder occasionally goes haywire. I feel shame because I experience pain every day, because a bad night’s sleep affects me for days, because I eat a diet different from everybody else’s. I feel shame because I have depression, because I have hypomania, because using a mouse damages my hands and using a touchpad damages my hands in a different way. It’s not rational, but we’re talking about feelings here, so that doesn’t matter.

I don’t know what to do with this shame yet. I’ve admitted it to you here, and this reflection has helped me process my feeling of desolation in the face of a disappointment. I’m going to eat Chinese food in a couple hours, and I’ll change into PJs and play my town simulation game for a while. Tomorrow, I’ll get back into the arena to “dare greatly,” in spite of disability and disappointment. I’ll keep doing that, one day at a time, one challenge at a time. And maybe that’s what I need to do. Acknowledge the shame, admit to it, drag it into the light… and then get right back into the arena again.