Use your voice

And use your voice, every single time, you open up your mouth.

(My Chemical Romance)

One of the most empowering moments of each week is at the beginning of my yoga class. We stand at the top of our mats, with strong legs, rooted down. As we reach up and bring our palms to heart center, our teacher invites us to gaze down or close our eyes. She tells us we are going to open class with the sound of a single ohm, and then she says:

“And as I always remind you: of all the things to fear in this world, do NOT let the sound of your own voice be one of those things.”

That reminder, that statement, sends chills up my spine. It makes me grow a little taller, breathe a little deeper.

I used to fear the sound of my voice. I used to keep opinions and thoughts and worries and fears and dreams and desires and stories to myself. It’s scary and it’s vulnerable to speak, to make noise. It invites in the possibility that we may be quieted, diminished, dismissed, ignored, berated. Amidst those possibilities, it seems safer to wilt and hide from the sun.

The thing is, nobody is every really ready to use their voice. Nobody walks into yoga thinking, “Today I’m ready to chant ohm with my class.” Nobody wakes up thinking, “Today I’m ready to tell the world my story.” If we wait until we’re ready, we will be waiting our entire lives. This is the truth.

So instead, we have to just do it anyway. Sometimes in small whispers and sometimes in loud bellows. Last winter I posted a baby step post, and then I told my stories, and then one day I just said, “It’s time.” And then I wrote it and sent int into the world.

Turns out, using your voice, speaking your truth, doesn’t break you. Quite the opposite, in fact. It sets you free. It connects you with others. It invites in conversation. It helps dispel others’ shame. It sets off a ripple of bravery. It’s all good, wonderful things.

The other day I said to Laura, “Remember when we thought that we would go to the grave with it as a secret? I never, not in a million years, thought I’d be here. But look at me – standing in the sun.”

Using our voice gives us power. It raises us up. Makes us grow. Dispels fear. Washes away shame.

So, maybe you don’t feel ready. It’s okay. Go ahead anyway. Chant that ohm. Tell your story. It will not break you. Stand tall, root down, turn toward that warm sun.

Advertising Anxiety

When working with a client who stutters, we often talk to them about “advertising”. By that, we mean being open about their stutter. Sometimes we’ll have a client go into another therapist’s office and tell them, “I was hoping to talk to you today about stuttering. What do you know about it?” Or they might ask to borrow a stapler, but stutter while they’re doing it (on purpose). Other times they’ll be ready to tell a new adult, “I stutter, and this is what I’m working on.” The idea being that the more they are open about stuttering, the more their own internal stigmas are broken down. Additionally, the more open they are, the less likely they are to have avoidance behaviors (avoiding people, places, and words, because of their stutter).

This is the type of advertising I have learned to do about my anxiety when I’m in a medical setting.

I don’t do well in a doctor’s office of any capacity, and I have recognized that I likely never will be able to be present in those settings without any anxiety. But for many years, this knowledge, this belief of I have panic attacks in medical settings directed my behavior. I was completely out of control – or rather, my anxiety was completely in control.

[Apologies in advance – the next part is gross but hey, it’s all about being real, right?]

For years I passed out every single time that I had blood drawn, or a TB test. But passing out wasn’t the worst part. I knew people who fainted from things like that, and let me tell you, I would’ve paid money to only have fainting be the issue. What would happen to me is that a heavy, hot, feeling of unreal-ness would pass over me. I’d start to get tunnel vision. And then instantly, nausea and an urgent stomachache would follow. My body would go directly into flight-or-fight mode, and shut down, trying to empty. And this meant maybe by vomiting and maybe from my bowels. Well, you can’t really do both at once, or else it’s going to be messy and disgusting. And it’s even messier and more disgusting if it happens in an exam room. So in this split second, I’d realize I needed to bolt to the bathroom before any or all of these things happened. Usually I’d make it to the bathroom, my system would empty in one way or another, and I would pass out on the toilet seat.

Lovely, right?

The memories of these unpleasant panic attacks combined with my pre-existing fear and anxiety about a doctor’s office in general led me into a cycle for years: knowing it would happen, therefore it would, therefore confirming that it happened, therefore knowing it would happen next time, etc. I’d sit in the chair, and wait for the needle, hoping I could fake it this time around, never succeeding.

Until one day about 5 years ago I realized that I didn’t have to be helpless.

I began to advertise.

“I need to lie down when you take my blood,” I started telling the techs. “I am a fainter and do better reclined.”

“I’m going to listen to my ipod while you do that procedure,” I told a dentist.

“I appreciate you telling me exactly what you’re doing while you’re doing it, but can you actually talk to me about anything else instead?” I’d ask the doctor.

“I am about to pass out,” I told a doctor once. “I need to recline and I need something cold for my head.”

“I know you’re not doing an exam today, but I just need to let you know that I tend to get very anxious in medical settings. So if I step out into the hall or something, I’m fine, I just need a minute.” I told a new specialist I was seeing.

“So do you think it’ll snow tomorrow?” I’d ask a technician, not caring about the weather and not knowing if she did, but knowing I needed to distract myself from what was happening.

And it began to work. I had a TB test where I didn’t faint. I had blood drawn where I didn’t pass out. I sat on an exam table without the white-hot unreal fog coming over me. Breaking the cycle, making me believe I could be in control of this.

My expectation was never – and is not today – that I will never have these episodes again. But more that in being up front about it, the fear is out of me and into the world. They know what to expect so there are no surprises if I rush off to the bathroom or suddenly dart out of the room. One lab technician thanked me, saying, “I’m glad you said something. We’d always rather know, just in case.”

I used to not speak up out of – you guessed it – shame. Feeling that I should be able to handle this and it shouldn’t be such a big deal and what was my problem, anyway. But guess where that got me? Correct. Nowhere.

So now, I advertise.

Dispelling a piece of that shame, each time I speak up.

Why I write

I’ve had people ask me (or ask each other), Why does she write? Why does she feel the need to share intimate details of her life? Why does she put such personal information out to the world?

It’s not a rude question. It’s a great one. Especially given that, I still feel butterflies before pressing, “publish” on a blog post. Especially because I still sometimes wonder, What will-so-and-so think of me if they read what I wrote? It’s not easy, and I certainly don’t share everything. But I do what I can, when I can.

So, to the ones who wonder – here is your answer.

I write for a sense of community. I write because I’m not alone, and neither are you. I write because even though I am a very uniquely created individual – I am not the only one who has the thoughts and feelings and experiences that I do. I write because you, and you, and you are all out there, reading. I write because someone has to. I write because I have to. I write because when I keep things in, they turn into a sticky tar, rendering me sluggish. They turn into hot bolts of fire, paining me. They turn into ice, paralyzing me. I write to keep myself light and moving.

We live in a world, where, although improving, people tend to keep things quiet. There used to be – and still is, in so many ways – shame about sharing things. So much was/is expected to be kept quiet and dealt with alone. Only recently has a shift started. People speaking out about mental health struggles. Drug and alcohol abuse. Sexual assault experiences. Relationship struggles. Many people are sharing – yet many are still quiet. Usually out of fear. Out of shame.

Many are still sitting there, thinking,

I’m the only one in my life who struggles with alcohol.

Nobody else would understand my struggle with depression. 

I carry so much shame about having been raped. Nobody would get it.

She wouldn’t understand my struggles with food and my body. She’s completely confident about hers.

Everyone’s marriage seems perfect. Why is mine in such a bad place? 

Everyone else seems fine. It must just be me.

Let me tell you: everyone else is not fine. They are just faking it, day in and day out, like you are. And they are sitting there, quietly, like you are. And so maybe you’re walking past each other on a daily basis, but neither of you have any idea.

I can’t tell you how comforting it is to read a blog post, or article, or story, or memoir, about someone who gets the experiences I’ve had, the thoughts I’ve thought, the emotions I’ve felt. It’s akin to a hand reaching out and grabbing yours; a blanket safely covering you up; a gaze holding yours.

And so – if I can do that for someone, I will. And I have. So many people have come out of the woodwork – old neighbors, elementary school classmates, co-workers, relatives. People who have all said, in one way or another, You are writing my story. You get me. It’s such a relief for someone to get me. 

And maybe then, they will write, or share, or speak up (and some of them have) – and they will feel empowered, and freed, and light. And then the ones they share with will feel that same feeling. And then they will share. And they will know they aren’t alone. And they will find that hand to hold. And, do you see what we’re accomplishing here?

Community. Together. Bonded. No shame. Not alone. Not just you.

So, that. That is why I write.

Why do you?

To my dear friend, when you forget:

It is so easy, so damn easy, to assume that everyone else is normal and we are the screwed up ones. But in reality, there is no normal. There might be a more common, but not a normal. Just because you cry at times others wouldn’t, and get deeply affected by events others don’t, doesn’t mean something is wrong with you. The way in which you react to a tough situation isn’t good or bad. It just IS. and you get to own that, without  apologizing for it, without judging it.

When we apologize for how we are, how we feel, how we think, we are essentially saying, “something is wrong with me. I am flawed, to the point where I need to apologize for it.” (The exception being, if you hurt someone or hurt yourself, of course you apologize. But the reality is, you don’t hurt people that often. You just worry that you do.)

You get to not apologize for crying. For spinning. For feeling. You get to not apologize for worrying. For ruminating. Because it’s who you are, it’s your wiring. And just because others don’t do or feel those things doesn’t mean you are in the wrong. It doesn’t mean anything. It just IS.

The reason you apologize after breaking down, after crying, after being you, is because you feel shame. You feel that something is intrinsically wrong with you and you just did something that you shouldn’t have done. And you worry that by doing what you did, you have made yourself fundamentally unlovable. But try, just try, to embrace it. This is who you are. And you can trust yourself that the person on whom you just unloaded loves you because of you who are, not in spite of it. And don’t apologize. Because this is you, there are no other you’s in the world, and this person loves you and cares about you and how beautiful is that?

So. Do not apologize to me for venting. For coming into my office and breaking down. For emailing long strings of thoughts. For talking and talking until you’ve let it out. Rest assured that at this point in my life, I no longer expend energy on unhealthy relationships. Which means that if you’re a part of my life, it’s not because I feel obligated or because we are unhealthily intertwined. You are in my life because I care about you, and I want to hear you, to listen to you, to hold your pain when you can’t breathe.

And so, you just be you. However and whatever that means and looks like, and I promise you, I will love you through it.


When I discovered Brené Brown’s work on shame, specifically her most recent book, I grabbed hold of it (literally!), thinking, this is IT. This is what I’ve been trying to put into words. This is what I’ve been trying to understand. And it was almost a sigh of relief; I don’t have to spend my life figuring it out, because she did the research and put it to words.

And so over the last however many months, or maybe a year, I’ve been thinking about shame and compassion even more than ever. I’ve tried to express my own thoughts on the subject. I’ve written a poem about it. I’ve jotted down notes. I’ve tried to briefly explain that the fear of shame is what makes us lack compassion for ourselves.

During this time, a friend and I have had countless conversations on this topic. Over and over again, we wonder: why do we think the worst about ourselves, but highly of each other? Why do we feel nothing but deep compassion for each other’s experiences and thoughts, but feel shame for our own? Why do we think we are the outlier or the exception?

And after thinking a lot, (I know, you’re shocked), I have a tentative conclusion: shame is (sometimes) somewhat of a self-protective mechanism.

I always used to say that I was pessimistic and didn’t get my hopes up about things, because that way I didn’t have to worry about disappointment. The fall is a lot less painful when you never left the ground, versus when you’ve climbed to the top of the tree. I think shame is similar. We preemptively shame ourselves so that if others shame us, it hurts less.

Have you ever gotten up the courage to share something with someone, something that was important to you, for whatever reason? And have you ever had their response be to tell you that you’re being dramatic, exaggerating, or just looking for attention? Boom. The shame response is born. From that moment on, we expect that the next time we share something, we will face the same response, which we can’t bear to experience. So we protect ourselves. We pre-shame ourselves, if you will. We preface our stories with, “I know it’s not a big deal, but….” or “I’m sure this isn’t what you want to hear, but…” or “This is really f***** up, but….” It’s protection. It’s setting the bar low, so if we are met there, no harm done.

(By the way? Even if we were being dramatic or exaggerating or whatever. The first thing we learn in our fields of work is that behavior=communication. It’s a principle we are taught to apply to all of our kiddos. And it applies to us, too. So there was a reason we once said or did what we did. We needed something from it; we were trying to express something, trying to release something. Even if at the time we weren’t sure what. And in the same way that we help our kids learn to express what it is that they truly are trying to say, we need to help ourselves. It’s a process.)

The interesting thing is, we expect to be shamed, but we would never shame others in that same way. Which is why we preface our stories that way, but if a friend were to tell the exact same story, or share the exact same idea, and preface it that same way, we would say things like, “Of course it’s a big deal” or “I do want to hear anything you want to say” or “It’s not messed up, tell me.”

If we were to tell our stories, to share our thoughts, without that preface, we’d be putting ourselves at risk. Which isn’t inherently something we want to do. We’d be standing on the edge of a cliff and trusting we aren’t going to fall. Which is terrifying. Even just writing this post, I want to put a whole long list of disclaimers, like, Feel free to disagree with this and I’m probably wrong but I’m just trying to share my thoughts and it’s fine if you think it’s stupid…..etc. But I won’t, not this time.

Part of it, I believe, is our culture. We live in a shame-filled society. If you think about the news, there is stigma placed on so many things, so it’s no wonder why we expect shame as anyone’s response.

I think the solution is to practice little bits at a time. And it’s HARD. A friend and I have a rule that we never apologize for texting the other. We’ve established that if the other person is busy, or not in a place to text or chat, they won’t until they’re ready; so we never need to apologize. But we find it funny that without a doubt, when we’re in a vulnerable place and text the other, we apologize. We say, “Sorry, I’m sure you’re busy, but….” and “Ugh I’m probably stressing you out more.” And then the other person says, “No apologizing!” So I’m certainly not saying it’s always doable. Especially when we’re vulnerable, or spinny, or anxious, or just out of balance.

But find that person with whom you’ve been vulnerable, with whom you’ve shared something, something that you worried would have a shame response, and didn’t. And the next time you talk with this person, try not to preface your stories. Just say them. Trust that you will not be shamed. Trust that this person is not going to suddenly think less of you. Trust that you trust this person for a reason. Trust that you’ll be met with compassion. Oh, it’s hard. But I’ve done it before, with a handful of people. And the feeling of just talking, just sharing, without those self-shaming or self-deprecating comments, is so liberating.

You deserve to release shame into the wind and breathe compassion in.

Body Shaming

These thoughts are spinning around in my head and I wish I could create an organized computer program that would efficiently extract the thoughts and put them into a coherent essay. (Maybe some day one of my students will invent such a thing…?!)

So, rather than wait for a perfect beginning that won’t come, I’m going to start in the messy middle.

It’s not okay to skinny-shame someone. Or fat-shame someone. Or shame ourselves. Shame is rampant in our environment. We shame ourselves, for our pasts, for our experiences, for our choices. We shame others when we’re feeling bad about ourselves. There is so much shame around that we don’t even realize it. We don’t realize that we’re shaming whoever it is that we’re shaming.

The world is focused on losing weight. The world praises individuals who lose weight. Tabloids and magazines have headlines titled, “20 pounds lighter: how she did it!” and “5 tips for shedding those extra 5 pounds.” The focus is always on losing weight. And yes, of course, there are individuals out there who physically need to lose weight, from a health standpoint. For their organs to better operate. For their physiological system to function better so they can breathe and pump blood through their bodies and think and live. And those who are overweight are overweight for a reason. Maybe it’s lifestyle choices, maybe it’s binge-eating disorder, maybe it’s a thyroid problem, but guess what: it doesn’t matter. No matter the reason, the person doesn’t deserve shame.

There are also individuals who physically need to gain weight, from a health standpoint. For their organs to better operate. For their physiological system to function better so they can breathe and pump blood through their bodies and think and live. And those who are underweight are underweight for a reason. Maybe it’s anorexia, maybe it’s a metabolic disorder, maybe it’s due to a medication. And it also doesn’t matter.

And then there are the rest of the people. Who are physically stable. Whose organs are operating, whose physiological systems are functioning, who are breathing and living and thinking. Who don’t need to lose, or gain, any weight.

An individual who gains weight, who physically needs to gain weight, is accomplishing something healthy for her body. Similarly, an individual who loses weight, who physically needs to lose weight, is accomplishing something healthy for her body. And an individual who maintains her weight, who physically needs to maintain her weight, is accomplishing something healthy for her body.

We all have different needs. I know people in my life in all of those three categories. But the messages we receive, from the media, from each other, from ourselves, make us forget that. We sort ourselves into the wrong category, the category we hear so often: fat is wrong, skinny is shameful, everyone should lose weight, skinny people have no reason to ever be anything other than happy. And we lose touch with reality, with who we are, what our body is like, what our body needs.

Body image is about how we perceive ourselves. Not how others perceive us. Which is why we might not see ourselves as how others see us. Which is why, if someone talks about disliking their body, saying to them, “Omg no, you’re so skinny” or “Please, you have nothing to complain about, I weigh so much more than you” isn’t helpful. It’s not about how you see them. And it’s not about YOU! All you’re doing is invalidating their feelings, their struggles. Reinforcing the shame that they feel for themselves. Essentially, telling them, “You have no right to feel that way, you shouldn’t be allowed to have those feelings and emotions, I have no compassion for you.”

When a person is being critical of their body, the last thing they want to hear is more criticism. Of anyone. They want to hear compassion. They want to hear, “I understand. I get it. I’ve felt that way. I’m sorry you feel that way. I’m here. What do you need from me? How can I support you?” Because ultimately it’s about the underlying feelings. The fear, the shame, the disgust, the anxiety, the sadness. Whatever it is, for whatever reason it’s there. The more you continue focusing on their body, and shaming them (even if you don’t realize you’re doing it, even if you’re well-meaning), the more it reinforces the negative beliefs they have.

Also? Skinny does not equal happy. Fat does not equal depressed. Feelings, in general, happen independent of one’s body. And if they are happening because of one’s body, that’s a distortion.

And also: if you have been shaming yourself, or others, and are only now realizing it, you get to NOT use this as an excuse for further shame. Don’t let this spiral into, I’ve been shaming others, oh gosh I’m an awful friend, I am an awful person…...

[Edited to add: Moving away from shame does not mean that you can never dislike your body. It means that you feel the dislike, you acknowledge it, but you move on without shaming yourself for those feelings and for having those feelings. It doesn’t mean always loving yourself or always feeling confident and beautiful. It means being compassionate towards yourself, with whatever it is that you’re feeling.]

Feel compassion for yourself, and push the shame away.

Please. You deserve it. We deserve it.

I am not a poet.

But, the other night, these words tumbled out of my brain down into my hands, and out my fingers into a word document. And right now in a moment of feeling brave, I’m sharing, before I can talk myself out of it.

Shame and Compassion

Shame and Compassion.
Dark and Light.
Black and White.
Night and Day.

Shame is twisted, sneaky, sly.
Smoky, conniving, hurtful
Wrapping itself around you
In chains
Squeezing the breath out of you
Tainting each one of your cells

Compassion is a white cloud
Wrapping itself around you
Fresh air
A blanket of love

Shame whispers,
You deserve this
You have brought me upon you
You deserve darkness and misery
You deserve that black feeling within

Compassion counters,
Let me fill you with light
You are okay
You are a child

Shame often wins
Zapping energy
Leaving cold

But Compassion gathers strength
And eventually dispels Shame
Using powers
Of Love
Not weapons
Not Pain

And you thaw
And you fill with light
And you try to hold onto that feeling
For next time Shame tries to get at your soul

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