I sat in the living room of my grandmother’s house that night with a chest full of fear and anxiety as I watched my mother run through the house like she’d been set afire or like ants had taken complete control and were attacking her body. At times she clawed her own skin and lashed out at others who, so far, had been unsuccessful in offering any type of solace. She’d lost control.
Every step of her feet felt like the pounding of a nail into the side of an early coffin, but instead of a wooden box it was my chest that was caving under the pressure of the screaming, crying, and garbled words coming from her lips. As the tears ran down my 9-year-old face I thought, “Why is this my life, and why am I the only one experiencing this in my family?” All my other cousins had moms that were normal.
Each blood-curdling yell pushed me out of the reality of what I was witnessing and into my happy place. This was a place I’d made up as a child where there was no fear, no hurt, no pain — no moms who were “broken” like mine. There, I was never ashamed and never alone. It was what I’d imagined heaven might be.
My mother had struggled with mental illness for as long as I could remember. She was diagnosed with bi-polar disorder and manic depression when I was young, and the manifestations of those diagnoses were grave and oftentimes detrimental to my own mental and emotional health. Because of this, my relationships with both my mother and with shame were no less than complicated.
From private breakdowns to public manic episodes that exposed this family secret, I learned shame at an early age. I thought that if I was going to survive it would be best to keep my head down and my heart unexposed, so it would remain safe and protected. Except it didn’t. Shame became a tool and a companion. If I’m honest, shame has been my best-worst friend my whole life.
Protection was always the top priority, so shame would mask herself as courage when actually she was deathly afraid. She’d bark orders like the worst manager you’ve ever had when, in fact, she was deeply insecure. These are the lies that shame whispers, deceiving us into believing that we are safe and secure in her arms when all the while she’s wreaking havoc.
In his book The Soul of Shame, Curt Thompson says:
First in the mind—where shame originates and lives—is neither limited to nor should it be understood merely in terms of what or how we think. Instead, it is … both embodied and relational, whose task is to regulate the flow of energy and information. It is a fluid process in that it is never completely at rest.
I always thought shame was something I could utilize and compartmentalize. I used to think that I could control or manage it with the way that I chose to think about it or by white-knuckling my way through and “shutting down” toxic thought patterns that attempted to creep their way into my life. In the case of the trauma caused by my mother’s illness, I believed that healing looked like only partially dealing with some of the stuffed-away emotions — pain that so often I’d only touched the surface of over the years through various forms of therapy and counseling.
As I grew into adulthood, married, and gave birth to my own children, I realized I don’t want to be held back by the lies of shame or allow them to stifle all that life has to offer me. I determined that for me to become the woman I have been created to be, I have to prioritize my emotional and mental health. That means continuing to recognize my need for a good therapist and a whole lot of Jesus.
Now when shame comes knocking at the door of my heart, I can rip the masks off her face and tell her I know exactly who she is. She’s not a companion, not a protector, and I am no longer interested in being friends with her.
What’s holding you back from being all that you’ve been created to be?Leave a Comment
Raya Reaves (she/her) says
Wow, powerful! Thank you so much for sharing and displaying true bravery and courage!
Thanks so much Raya!
I need dental work really bad so my self esteem has plummeted due to this. Thank God for the masks! I can talk freely to people and they won’t stare at my teeth.
Jean Ann Scott says
Love you and your opening your heart to share. Your pain can help someone else who is suffering. By being open, maybe it can help some adults, like myself, who didn’t realize what you were going through. You were a sweet, Godly young girl who has grown into a beautiful, Godly woman!
Thank you! I do hope and pray my stories continue to resonate and help others along their own healing journeys.
Fear is another life controller…I have said ‘I can’t’ my whole life.
Thank you for sharing your heart, you are a blessing Kennesha!
It sure is. While I am still learning how to better manage this emotion, I am thankful for the progress I have made. Thank you for reading and commenting!
Cathy Lucas says
Mental Illness is real it has been hidden in The Black Community way too long
I do not disagree. It has been a bit of a vice for so many of us and I am so thankful we are on a path to undo so much harm shame has caused and to heal so we can do better and be better for the next generation.
Thank you for sharing. I have seen shame as a cloak familiar & thus “comfortable” because it was the norm. Thankful God is breaking chains link by link… ❤️🩹
I can completely relate to this sentiment. Thank you for reading and for sharing your thoughts.
Jennifer Lucy Tyler says
This is so relatable. For years I carried shame around my father’s drug addiction and what it produced.
Freedom is an ongoing process. Lots of prayer,
Lots of therapy,
Lots of honesty of areas that still need healing.
Thank You for sharing. There’s so many young people who can identify completely with your story, but may not have the courage to express themselves or know how to. Your voice is heard and greatly appreciated.
Thank you so much.
Nicole Jones says
Thank you for sharing. This brought a couple of tears to my eyes. I work in a homeless shelter for families with minor children and we see the manifestation of mental illness everyday.. So I empathize with the trauma you had to deal with. We have to change the narrative and get the help needed to make a change. Thank you again.