Vulnerability hangover
April 5, 2019 12:07 PM   Subscribe

What are other words or phrases in any language that describes the feeling of being raw and sensitive even embarrassed after a big event or milestone such as a performance. Also seeking anecdotal stories if you've felt this way and how you coped with it.

I had a "performance" where I was one of two people sharing our personal work and experiences. It was wonderful and I felt supported and engaged. Colleagues and students were there. It was all positive. However, immediately after I felt anxious and jittery and irritable. Then I kept ruminating about things I said with a negative bias. I felt ashamed about myself. All night I would think back on something I said and cringe. Then I felt sad about how my student gave me a bouquet of flowers! I felt ashamed.

I have GAD and clinical depression. Have meds, therapist and psych doc. So I know that this is "normal" considering.

But I haven't had this intense of a vulnerability hangover in a long time.
posted by jj's.mama to Writing & Language (26 answers total) 25 users marked this as a favorite
*describe (posted too fast)
posted by jj's.mama at 12:09 PM on April 5

I call it a shame spiral.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 12:17 PM on April 5 [4 favorites]

Ah god! So much!!! How does one cope?
posted by jj's.mama at 12:19 PM on April 5

I had something similar where I shared a very personal story in front of a large audience in January. Same thing - very supported but the next week was a lot of doubt and concerns. I think the biggest issue for me was that I wasn't sure how people liked it. I reached out to a few people who affirmed me which helped. Also, probably unique to my situation, but I had doubts about the authenticity of it. I prefer disclosing 1:1 or in a small group, and in front of an audience felt off.

I'm glad I did it, but honestly - I've realized that the format is not right for me and likely won't do it again. I instead journaled and leaned into my discomfort and instead of trying to dismiss it, embrace it as something that my gut is telling me that I had issues with some of it.

I don't know if this is helpful. There is a balance between negative self talk that you should not listen to vs. listening to your emotions. We don't talk enough about the latter.
posted by treetop89 at 12:26 PM on April 5 [3 favorites]

For me, I’d label that self-consciousness. It’s funny how something that can feel TMI/attention-hoggy/oversharing to you will often endear you to others. People consider it a compliment when you trust them with your vulnerabilities.
posted by sallybrown at 12:34 PM on April 5 [5 favorites]

Ugh, it sounds so unpleasant and so spectacularly unfair, given that it went well. Do you think maybe it's because you had a success? And depression was like "Wuh-oh. This went really well. Life could start to get fun and rewarding. What a nightmare that would be! Better ruin everything quick before this kind of thing gets to be a habit!"

The same sort of thing happens to me, but it's when whatever it is doesn't go well, which is usually because I have the pre-event "can't do it" fantods and therefore don't prepare effectively. My evil hindbrain will attempt to ruminate--accurately--over the embarrassment that was me at that failure of an event, but even though I am comparatively deserving of the criticism and could arguably learn something from it, I don't care: I am not hear to listen to that shit from my lizard brain, plus I suffered enough during the actual event. I am very good at drowning it out by airhorning in my head, "IT'S OVER, I DON'T CARE, EFF OFF!" And distract, distract, distract. Queer Eye! Parks 'n' Rec! Movie, moviepopcorn, and chocolatecandytime! I did it, it's done, I don't have to suck in front of a dozens of eyes for a good long time, now, yay! (And I will occasionally think about the couple of times I stumbled into preparing properly and ended up doing a good job.)

So, since your project was a success and made people happy, the counterpart would be to airhorn to the hindbrain that it is WRONG and you were GREAT. And that it is MEAN to make you feel sad about your bouquet and not only that, it's mean to your STUDENT, and that everything it is doing right now is making the world WORSE and it should go away and think about what it did and feel TERRIBLE. Then Queer Eye! Parks 'n' Rec! Movie, moviepopcorn, and chocolatecandytime! You did well and made people's lives briefly better, and you deserve your celebration.
posted by Don Pepino at 12:42 PM on April 5 [5 favorites]

This is a feeling I know well. I'm an elected official and every couple weeks, I share my views in public and make a public vote. Any given decision could be the one that people will cite when they run against me at the next election.

After these meetings, I can sometimes revisit everything I said and unfold, examine and relive the entire multi-hour meeting.

The thing that helps me not do this is to get out my headphones and turn on an audio book. I find that history or somewhat academic books on topics I'm interested in can soothe and distract me enough to go to sleep. When I find my thoughts stuck in a second-guessing hamster wheel, I reach for a book and go sit and listen for either 30 minutes or an hour, depending on how wound up I am and how late it is.

This does two things - 1) it helps me remember that the personal struggles I face have vexed people who came before me and will stymie people who come after me. 2) listening to a non-fiction audio book is constructive and not a waste of time to learn something new rather than sink into a spiral of, for me, non-productive thoughts.
posted by rw at 12:43 PM on April 5 [4 favorites]

Hangover seems a good label - perhaps also a comedown - you've had so much emotion and perhaps some adrenaline that are now hitting a low and feeling weak. I certainly get that a bit after significant events even if positive. Be kind to yourself, don't listen to the doubts and in a day or so you'll have a much better perspective.
posted by JonB at 12:45 PM on April 5 [3 favorites]

I call it a shameover.
posted by sm1tten at 12:50 PM on April 5 [6 favorites]

I've thought of it as a mild form of postpartum depression, if that makes sense. If you've put a lot of work into something (i.e., a "labor" of love") there's sort of a coming-down period that just throws you off. Likely not as hormonally induced as actual PPD (and I don't want to make light of the real thing), but I know other performers have described it that way.
posted by dlugoczaj at 12:56 PM on April 5 [11 favorites]

the feeling of being raw and sensitive even embarrassed after a big event or milestone

I get something like this when completing endurance events (e.g. 100+ mile bike ride with thousands of other people). I don't feel irritable, but I do feel very sensitive and completely overwhelmed by the storm of feelings: relief at being finished, obsessing over all the things I did wrong that could have ended badly, proud that I was able to finish, gratitude toward my body...and then I get embarrassed about all the feelings and get kind of weepy, and then more embarrassed, and so on. Really the only thing that works for me is to get away from the event and all associated trappings, so I can think about things other than myself for a while. For endurance events, this means a long shower, normal clothes, and a satisfying meal--maybe there is a similar ritual that would work for you? Then with a little distance, I can look back and enjoy the memories and feel pleased with the accomplishment, without getting overwhelmed. (And if I really did make any bad decisions, I can figure out how to do better next time...important when physical safety is a component of the event.)
posted by esoterrica at 1:14 PM on April 5 [5 favorites]

Could it be endorphin withdrawal? During the event, it's a bit scary but then the attention and compliments are reassuring... but when it ends, the endorphins go away and you crash a bit.
posted by bluedaisy at 1:30 PM on April 5 [12 favorites]

I get this feeling when I sing a complex choir piece. I think of it as a type of flow, or feeling completely in the zone. It really does feel like coming down off something, afterward. The flow is so immersive and I am surprised every time at how physically and emotionally TIRED I truly am after a big concert. You don't realize how much of yourself you've put into it.

I nominate "afterflow" for the word!
posted by nakedmolerats at 1:57 PM on April 5 [7 favorites]

This sounds similar to "buyer's remorse": a major purchase (or event) is immediately followed by second-guessing, anxiety, and so on.
posted by jquinby at 1:58 PM on April 5

I can only share solidarity - I think to an extent, this is part of being creative, especially in a medium that's so directly exposing to your audience.

The very first short play I wrote got put on, script-in-hand, at a development night. It wasn't a straightforward play, kind of weird and a bit experimental, probably not what my friends were expecting, but loads of them turned up (yay, support!) and I found it exquisitely painful having them watch. In my case, because I wasn't performing, the awkwardness was happening even during the performance. I later mentioned it to another friend, who's a very successful playwright, who said that he still gets it, pretty much watches his first nights through the gaps in his fingers, though it's better if it's a longer run because by the end of the run he's got used to it and chilled out a bit. And he said he'd once asked Caryl Churchill (one of the UK's greatest living playwrights) if she still gets it, and she said yes.

So I'd say it's not just you, or even your GAD/depression. It's what happens when you take your skin off on stage and show everyone what's inside in an act of creativity. You feel super-sensitive after you've taken your skin off. Be kind to yourself and wait it out because, hopefully, you're like a snake, and the skin-shedding is the prelude to growing into the space you've made for yourself and becoming greater and bigger and more badass in your creative life.
posted by penguin pie at 2:13 PM on April 5 [3 favorites]

Ah god! So much!!! How does one cope?
posted by jj's.mama at 2:19 PM on April 5

If you search, there's lots of suggestions about handling shame spirals. Brene Brown has some popular material online. My favorite material is Vernon Kelly's work on the Compass of Shame. An image search will turn up the basics, and his book, The Art of Intimacy and the Hidden Challenge of Shame, was eye-opening for me. I believe he has a more recent book out on the upside of shame that I haven't gotten to yet.
posted by dancing leaves at 2:15 PM on April 5 [2 favorites]

When I was terrified to start teaching they all told me to stop thinking of that feeling as fear and instead think of it as excitement and anticipation. I did, and it helped a lot. Eventually it became true, and if it became true, then obviously it was always true, I had always had it in me but just hadn't known because I hadn't done it before. You may have misinterpreted your feeling as shame that you did it at all, when in fact it was a much gentler and more complicated and interesting feeling of wistfulness that a thing you did passionately and well is now completed. So maybe redefine the emotion for it. "No, I'm not sorry I did that, I just a little bit wish it was still happening."
posted by Don Pepino at 2:26 PM on April 5 [4 favorites]

I one thousand percent know the feeling you’re talking about and always sort of thought of it as a flavor of social anxiety, but I think I like vulnerability hangover better. It sucks, especially when it takes what should be a hard-earned moment of pride or satisfaction and makes it agonizing. But good on you for recognizing it and putting yourself out there again to ask for help. I hope you find something in folks’ answers you find useful, I’m definitely going to read through them all.
posted by jameaterblues at 2:41 PM on April 5 [1 favorite]

+1 shame spiral
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 2:48 PM on April 5 [1 favorite]

Imposter syndrome? “I couldn't possibly have had as positive reaction/result as I think I did.”

What next-itis? “Oh crap, how am I going to top this performance/result?”

Pre-what have you done lately-ology? “How long until this great feeling doesn't count any more?”

Mostly I've learned to take the applause and kudos politely and quietly (like the people I admire do) while heading for a room with a lockable door. Don't check email or get any reviews for a day. Then get a debrief from those you can trust and figure out how to do even better next time.

I think Thoreau said “Most men live lives of quiet desperation.” I do too, but there are those good days when you perform (in any sense) fantastically, and other people know you are good at that thing. Enjoy those days when they happen. Then figure out how to beat your own high score again.
posted by lothar at 3:01 PM on April 5 [1 favorite]

Ex post facto imposter syndrome.
posted by signal at 3:22 PM on April 5 [1 favorite]

Shame researcher Brené Brown calls this foreboding joy. Her four part audiobook The Power of Vulnerability goes into this in detail, with lots of stories like what you are seeking.

Essentially, we live in a scarcity culture, where we’re always waiting for the other shoe to drop, worried about deserving our happiness. It is incredibly scary to feel we are standing apart from others, our emotions flapping around in the wind, available for them to judge. However, she would say that if we recognise that our self worth is not on the table, then there is nothing to judge. Don’t shrink, don’t puff up, just hold your ground and keep going.

It’s natural to feel self conscious as time goes on. Those emotions are sitting out there, exposed. But it’s actually really strong to be vulnerable … keep sitting with it, let it just be.

If it makes you feel any better, leaving this comment makes me feel similarly. Also, I find the phrase vulnerability hangover really apt. Rather, I will.
posted by iamkimiam at 6:50 PM on April 5 [11 favorites]

"Post-performance depression" in the professional and psychological world.

"Event drop" in certain social circles.
posted by snuffleupagus at 7:51 AM on April 6 [3 favorites]

I think of it as feeling spent
posted by umbú at 1:50 PM on April 6 [1 favorite]

I have ADHD and I get physically sick (akin to a hangover ) after I do anything that is stimulating. Even a good conversation with someone I run into at the grocery store or a productive phonecall with a client.

The shame spirals have decreased since I understand the condition better but I still need from a few hours to a whole day of quiet alone time after almost anything that involves interacting with others.

I was treated for years and years for anxiety & depression but got absolutely nowhere with it until the ADHD was addressed.

I love that term "vulnerability hangover" it's absolutely perfect.
posted by i_mean_come_on_now at 3:33 PM on April 6 [2 favorites]

These are all great. I definitely think it was a physical crash that happened-- the endorphin withdrawal. But all these others things come into play-- yes to imposter syndrome-- in there a bit. And all the other things. I didn't know about the PPD (both Postpartum Depression as a metaphor for Post Performance Depression)-- thank you for those insights.

I've read Brene Brown's work several years ago. I think vulnerability hangover is actually a term I stole from her book. So now I remember her talking about shame spirals. Which is totally on point to how I felt. I didn't want to rely only on her research this time around. She's great, but sometimes I don't relate to her anecdotes, personal and of others.

Just knowing this happens to others is a kind of coping mechanism. I think for me, I need to get back to journaling more, mindfulness, walking etc. This hit me hard because I've been neglecting the self care department and it was the first time in years that I was asked to share my creative work publicly.

I appreciated the thoughts on how this affects people when sharing creative work-- had no idea about playwrights-- I can't imagine how that feels in the moment!
posted by jj's.mama at 8:01 PM on April 6 [1 favorite]

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