I was on a first date with Jeff years ago. He was nice. I knew people that he knew and vice versa.v He’d earned his Ph.D. in psychology, having graduated from the same program that I was currently slugging my way through.
The usual get-to-know-you questions were tossed around.
“Where did you grow up?”
“What made you want to go into psychology?”
Then the inevitable question fell from his lips: “Have you ever been married?”
I paused, just for a second, weighing my response carefully. I didn’t want to lie. Nor did I want to go into too much of my personal life with someone I barely knew.
So I spoke my truth.
“Yes,” I said, looking at him directly. “In fact, twice.”
Before I could even take a breath, he responded, with more than a touch of sarcasm, “Well, if I’d known that, I wouldn’t have asked you out.”
I sat there, feeling as if he’d dumped a load of sticky, smelly, wet, poop-y mud on my head. I felt dirty. Unclean. Inferior.
I somehow managed to keep my wits about me. And I answered, “Well, I don’t want to hide the facts.” I made myself pretend to laugh it off, “I guess you’ll have to make up your mind how you feel after the night is over.” Or something like that. I was trying to be flippant, when in reality, I wished I could disappear into the abyss.
The worst had happened. What I feared most – that this painful fact about my life, a fact that I was highly ashamed of and that reflected the obvious emotional chaos of my life within the last decade – would forever govern how others saw me. I did find some ironic humor in the fact that later that evening, he seemed quite interested in getting shall we say… “closer” to the very someone he’d pronounced as nearly unacceptable, not even three hours before.
I declined to participate.
What it took some time to understand was that, quite inadvertently, Jeff did me a favor. His comment made me confront what a lot of people might think or believe or say behind my back. At least he’d said it to my face. It was time to confront my fear of judgment and its power.
I did also pray at the time for his future patients – that he would grant them more compassion, or at least take a moment to find out more detail before he judged them that harshly or quickly. He knew nothing about me other than the facts — and the facts seemed to be all he needed to swiftly kick me to the curb.
I long ago have worked through that shame. It’s now one of the many facts about me. It doesn’t define me any more than the ones I’m happier to reveal. It simply is.
I have something to celebrate. My book, Perfectly Hidden Depression: How to Break Free from the Perfectionism that Masks Your Depression has been published. I’ve worked for more than five years on researching the topic of how shame and perfectionism can mask actual depression — quite well. In fact, dangerously well.
I’ve predicted what some of the nay-sayers and critics will say about my ideas and recommendations. When I asked for endorsements, some prominent authors ignored me. A couple of others were more polite but said no, mostly for the reason that I’m not a researcher. And others were wonderfully enthusiastic. Since the ideas in the book are based on my clinical and personal experience, I was ready for a varied response and delighted to receive the positive feedback I did.
But I also predict that there will be comments that are going to catch me off guard. In fact, it’s already happened. It’s a risk I’m willing to take.
As luck would have it, I have quite a role model. I was floored when I watched Brené Brown’s Netflix special, The Call to Courage. She’s the researcher and prolific author whose work on vulnerability and shame and true empowerment has turned into an entire therapeutic method for people interested in being a healthier, more courageous version of themselves — both personally and professionally. She explained on Netflix that after her initial TED talk, which is ranked in the top #5 of all TED talks, she received hateful, demeaning comments. About her weight. About her hair. About what she wore. Ridiculous stuff. She said, quite simply, that she forced herself to stop reading them.
So, please celebrate with me. Since you’re reading this, you may be one of the many people who’s supported and encouraged my work. I’m extremely grateful.
But if you’re another Jeff, then comment away. But I will not regret telling my truth, or sharing my experience and perspective.
If the book is helpful to you or someone you love, then it’s more than worth the risk.
You can hear more about vulnerability and many other topics by listening to my podcast, SelfWork with Dr. Margaret Rutherford. Subscribe to my website and receive one weekly newsletter including my weekly blog post and podcast! If you’d like to join my FaceBook closed group, then click here and answer the membership questions! Welcome!
My new book entitled Perfectly Hidden Depression has arrived and you can order here! Its message is specifically for those with a struggle with strong perfectionism which acts to mask underlying emotional pain. But the many self-help techniques described can be used by everyone who chooses to begin to address emotions long hidden away that are clouding and sabotaging your current life.
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