It's a funny thing about shame. So many people don't feel it when they should and in so many innocents it crops up where it's been neither earned nor warranted. It seems unfair, doesn't it? Shame has a bad track record on checking those who need checking but it's managed to linger as the constant companion of those people's victims.
I wonder how long it's going to take me to stop being ashamed of things that aren't my fault, to acknowledge in my heart the things that my logical brain knows to be true?
That would suck pretty badly. And it would make me frustrated with myself.
Because whenever my former illness is brought up in a derogatory manner--and that's the only way it's ever brought up--I know my first reaction should be one of righteous anger at the two people who, twenty-four years in, continue playing the role of bullies. The fact that I still shrink away, that I still draw in on myself and still have the urge to apologize, is something that causes me further shame, shame at my own cowardice.
I've gotten better at hiding this fragility, of course, and tonight I was quick on my feet.
"When we have our Halloween party this Friday, BB, you and your father are not going to get into politics," my mother commanded this evening. "I'm not going to have that discussed."
A legitimate concern, I grant you; with the presidential election two weeks away and my father regularly referring to the President of the United States as a "dumb nigger," the policy debates between us have been heated. But had I just heard someone tell me what was allowed to come out of my mouth?
"Okay, first of all, why do you think I'll even be here?" I asked. "And second of all, don't tell me what I can or cannot say. I'm twenty-four years old. That's not your place."
There followed a roaring argument wherein my mother essentially posited that she could dictate anything at all to anyone under her roof and I essentially told her where to plant her lips.
"Oh, honey, you are cute but you're not that cute," I said during one exchange. "And you are fucking with the wrong bitch. I pay you to live here, which means that this is my house, too. And in my house, I'm the only one who decides what I say. Not that I want to hang out with your forty-year-old engineer friends, or whoever the hell they are."
"Really?" she countered. "Because our whole lives have been you right there, not knowing where the fuck you are half the time, asking us what's going on!"
There it is. It's never far away when we fight. And I suppose that for someone who's entitled enough to think she can mandate what topics other adults are allowed to speak on, bringing up a childhood illness to score some emotional gouging points probably isn't that big of a leap. But it still hurt.
"Oh, really?" I countered with a quickness that I hoped belied how deep the wound had sunk. "You mean when I was twelve? Well, I'm sorry that when I was twelve and you weren't getting me the help I needed my disorientation was annoying to you. But I'm not twelve anymore. And twenty-four-year-old BB doesn't take this shit. Try me."
And then I went downstairs and got in my shower. And cried. And then felt shame over my shame.
And tried to remember what my therapist had told me several days before.
"You know," she said. "I almost wonder if the diagnosis was wrong. All these things you tell me about, exploring new places with your friends, driving around, flying out to Pacific State by yourself..."
"'With your friends,'" I smiled. "That part is key, though. The instinct to panic is still there. I focus on the people and it keeps me grounded."
"You went to Pacific State by yourself," she pointed out.
"Oh, I know that," I acknowledged. "And it really doesn't present a problem anymore. But what I'm saying is that the tendency to sort of lose track of what's happening to me in new surroundings, to freak out, remains. The diagnosis wasn't wrong. The symptoms are just very controlled."
"Very controlled," she said. "More than I've ever seen. Which, given your lack of treatment, is pretty incredible. I've actually used your story, without divulging anything too specific, of course, to give other families hope."
I couldn't help but laugh.
"That's pretty cool."
So I know I'm better. I know that sick little boy is not the person I am anymore, and I know that I can't be taken advantage of the way I was even at eighteen and nineteen years old.
But with a few words the pain and the mortification can come back so easily.
Will that ever end?
Maybe the only thing for it is distance, distance from them and from illness and from the undeserved shame that all victimizers rely on to prop themselves up.
I want that distance. I can't wait to make that distance as big as possible.