shame spiral
December 23, 2021 1:15 PM   Subscribe

I have been struggling a lot lately mood-wise and last night I did something awful. Please help me with some self-care tips to deal with the shame spiral. My DBT skills are failing me right now.

The holidays are hard on me. Lots of unpleasant memories from my childhood. I also have CPTSD and/or BPD (depending on which mental health practitioner you speak to). My self-esteem is also at an all-time low after dealing with a toxic work environment for the past few months (today is my last day at that job, hooray!) and also feeling generally fat and ugly - I don't get enough exercise, my clothes aren't fitting well, and I have a record coming out in January with a small tour of shows coming up. 2 out of 3 music videos have been filmed, one has been released, and I hate how fat I look in them. I want to get in better shape before the last video shoot and the live shows but depression is making it hard.

I picked a horrible fight with my boyfriend last night. Screaming and yelling over a misunderstanding which quickly turned into the stereotypical BPD "reassure me that you don't hate me and won't leave me" junk. I hate when I get like this. I've been able to stop myself in the past few months when I felt this coming on (yay DBT) but for whatever reason last night I couldn't. It was bad. I feel bad.

My boyfriend is understanding and forgave me (we've been together over a decade and my mental health has only been really bad in the past three years) but I keep thinking how much longer is he REALLY willing to put up with this? Why can't I get a handle on this so I don't do it ever? Why did I do this right before Xmas? Did I basically just ruin Xmas? Does he really forgive me?

He's gone to see his kids tonight to celebrate Xmas with them and won't be back till tomorrow. I'm terrified he's going to come back and tell me he's had enough and is going to leave. It's been a long time since we've had a fight like this but it was bad and I am so, so ashamed. It's like a shame hangover. I have taken some anxiety meds and am trying to stay focused on finishing out my last day at Crummy Job but I just feel so horrible and ashamed. I'm like a fucking psycho harridan when I get like that.

I am dreading going home to an empty house. Being alone tends to amplify my shame and anxiety. The dog and cat will be there. Boyfriend will be back tomorrow and I'm scared to see him. He did kiss and hug me several times this morning as I was leaving for work and said he'd miss me during his little trip but I don't believe him. Who would miss someone like me?

What can I do to get through tonight? I have refrained from texting him a million apologies all day today which is what I usually do and it annoys him. He knows I'm sorry. I apologized last night and this morning.

Help me please. Is this the way it's always going to be? I feel like a broken mistake of a human being who deserves to die alone.

My next therapy appointment isn't till next Thursday.

Help. I am so sad and ashamed.
posted by nayantara to Human Relations (19 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
I am making you a virtual cup of tea and sending you a big virtual hug. This Internet stranger knows this time of year is really hard for you, and you’ve got a lot of stress on top of it, and totally understands that means you’re not at your best. This Internet stranger also knows you are a human being worthy of love. I know that and your partner knows that. Please trust us.

Is there anyone you can reach out to spend time with, even if that means going on a walk?
posted by bluedaisy at 1:26 PM on December 23, 2021 [13 favorites]

He forgives you. He would have said last night if he didn't. You didn't do anything terrible; you just had a fight. You can't have a fight by yourself, so he's equally to blame there. The holidays are hard and people do this. You didn't ruin Christmas. Get some self care stuff going -- a face mask, a bath, some good food treats, some music, whatever works for you. Do a couple of yoga videos. You're a musician who goes on tour and puts out albums and videos-- all by itself those are reasons many people would love and miss you.
posted by shadygrove at 1:30 PM on December 23, 2021 [4 favorites]

Hi, I feel this way a lot of the time. Sometimes it helps to just say 'yes' to the intrusive thoughts. Yes I'm the worst person in the world. Yes no-one will ever love me. Yes I've ruined everything. If you say yes, there's nothing more to lose, and therefore no need to frantically grasp at solutions. It can be freeing.

Another way to put it... I have found that the only place of stability is at the bottom of the depths of despair. Everything else I've tried to build, everything and everyone I rely on to get through my days, it's fundamentally unstable, and something always comes along and knocks me down and I plummet into the dark again. It's exhausting and debilitating. So what if you just accept that you're in the pit of despair and you'll never get out? It's not really so bad. All your stuff is there. Your agency is there. It's better than the frantic struggle. Anything is better than that, right?
posted by PercussivePaul at 1:32 PM on December 23, 2021 [2 favorites]

Best answer: It’s the holidays, your awful job experience is still processing out of your system, and your partner was leaving for an overnight trip without you? Not to be glib but this is the perfect storm for relapsing. Whether your thing were BPD conflicts or a substance addiction or whatever, this is so understandable as to be unremarkable. Everyone slips up, it’s part of recovery.

You sound very self-aware and healthy to me. Self-awareness doesn’t stop you experiencing these feelings and having these thoughts of course, but it gives you much more power and a better chance at bouncing back. You’re in a much better place than someone who is untreated and out of control. I’ve been there and someone who is untreated and out of control would not be apologetic or cognizant.

I don’t know how you get through the night but to reassure you the storm has passed and you’re okay. And your job is done. And you have a better one lined up. And you put out a record. How much more do you think you have to accomplish to be lovable? Because I didn’t do any of that, and I got fat, but I’m sure you’d agree I deserve love. Be nicer to yourself than you would be to a stranger, even if you don’t believe you ought to be, even if it’s just for tonight.
posted by kapers at 1:41 PM on December 23, 2021 [17 favorites]

Best answer: Can you text him, but not constantly, and not apologies? Something like “Thank you for the hugs this morning. It meant a lot to me. I love you. I hope you’re having a good time with the kids.” (No expectation that you’ll get a ping back from him, since he might be busy and you don’t want to confuse that with him not wanting to talk to you.)

Honestly, I don’t know that much about BPD but I do have CPTSD and sometimes expressing gratitude makes me a feel a lot better and more connected (rather than just feeling the big giant void of what happened).
posted by stoneandstar at 1:55 PM on December 23, 2021 [9 favorites]

Also, when I’m feeling really shitty I’ll read Pete Walker’s book on CPTSD like it’s the Bible. For comfort and solace and a reminder that I am a whole person despite the difficulties. It almost always makes me feel understood and refreshed no matter what is going on and how objectively bad it is. Gives me back my sense of agency and personhood. Reminds me I’m in an emotional flashback, and that it will end. And reminds me of some good coping strategies.

Honestly, it just makes me feel like I have a friend.
posted by stoneandstar at 1:58 PM on December 23, 2021 [3 favorites]

Sympathy and best wishes. Consider telling him exactly what you told us, or even showing it to him. It's a thoughtful explanation.

A long walk and appropriate music often helps me. I'm guessing the dog wouldn't complain. But, I've never dealt with quite the same things you are.
posted by eotvos at 2:55 PM on December 23, 2021

You’re already doing a much better job using relatively healthy coping skills!

You are not texting your partner a million times, because even though you are struggling to believe him with all your feelings, you believe him with your head and you can make choices about your behavior. He knows you’re sorry. He’s your beloved partner of a decade, and if you trust him not to lie to you about other stuff you need to trust him when he tells you how he feels about you. Your depression/BPD/PTSD lies to you about how people feel about you, so try to lean into believing what people tell you, even if it doesn’t feel “real” to you.

Also, you are demonstrating improvement! Your partner told you that it annoys him when you text a million times and you heard and understood his request and are trying to honor it even though you are very understandably distressed!

You’re doing really well, honestly.
posted by Kpele at 3:11 PM on December 23, 2021 [6 favorites]

Response by poster: I'm just so scared he's going to come back tomorrow and say he's done. Or that this is my last chance. It was that bad.

Thank you all for your kind words so far.
posted by nayantara at 3:41 PM on December 23, 2021

When I am having big anxiety spirals I put on something to watch that is fairly interesting but I can zone out and not lose an entire plot (any of Dr. Lucy Worsley's history shows on youtube are fantastic for this) and then play bejeweled or tetris on my phone. For me that's enough stimulation that it is hard to perseverate in complete sentences; I may feel waves of cringe but I can re-focus on my game or look up at the TV and learn a fascinating fact about chamber pots or whatever, and it'll keep me from leaving orbit.
posted by Lyn Never at 3:45 PM on December 23, 2021 [6 favorites]

If you can go for a brisk jog, you might release some of the adrenalin, as well as give yourself some feel-good endorphins. As well as exercise points towards your January goals! Music in your ears helps, but just getting the blood pumping can help take the edge off.
posted by xo at 3:50 PM on December 23, 2021 [4 favorites]

I would suggest making something. The key here is that you need to wait it out until he comes back and your catastrophising is proven untrue. It’s okay to feel whatever you need to feel until that point, as long as your actions aren’t harmful towards yourself or others. So make your actions deliberate by making something. Since you are a musician maybe you could write a song, or record a practice session you can play back to yourself. If I were in your situation I would inevitably cook something elaborate, or make some kind of mixed media sculpture. Some folks might clean their home so they can look at their tidy living space and feel visual calm. Maybe you like origami, or felt crafts, or writing fanfic. The key is to make it something that doesn’t really have a potential for you to harm yourself further with a lapse of judgement, so probably no power tools or fire, nothing super risky or that demands 110% concentration. But something that produces a concrete result so you can look at it and get immediate positive feedback that you are at least doing something with your time. And maybe it’ll just be cathartic but maybe it will also be something you can be proud of later.
posted by Mizu at 3:58 PM on December 23, 2021 [4 favorites]

Best answer: I don't have a lot of experience with DBT, but I remember the "do the opposite" instruction. Like, if you feel like not getting out of bed, instead get up, take a shower, and leave the house! Am I getting that right? What I would do--I am kind of in a situation similar to yours--is spend tonight looking for things to do that are open on Christmas. Hang in there.
posted by 8603 at 4:30 PM on December 23, 2021 [1 favorite]

When I’ve gone into this shame & panic spiral, what has helped me most is exercise, food (not sweets - a meal, or a snack like cheese or nuts), focusing on an activity (reading is too much - something like a jigsaw puzzle is about right), listening to something I can focus on but where it doesn’t matter if I don’t catch every little bit (podcast, audio book, music), or taking a shower. I am not a video person but I imagine they would be similar to audio for someone who is. Hug your pets, walk your dog. Sometimes I also find it helpful to talk to someone else about something else, to remind myself that this is not the only thing that matters. You’ve just got to hold out til tomorrow - you can do it!
posted by argyle sock at 4:56 PM on December 23, 2021 [1 favorite]

Best answer: This is so familiar to me. Especially the shame at having become emotional and fighty, and the desperate need for reassurance.
What helps me is to realize that the reassurance I really need, is from myself. I won't really believe anyone else.
And that I'm trying to control something I can't control and it's hurting me.
And that part of the negative self talk is believing that I won't be able to deal with whatever it is that might happen (in your case, that your boyfriend might leave)
Notice how the negative inner voice starts shouting much more loudly and insistently when you consider that maybe, just maybe, you will be able to cope even if the thing you are afraid of happens?
That is a sign that you are close to the source of of what is causing the pain. You have been telling yourself a lie, that lie that you are weak, and won't be able to survive if the thing you fear, happens.
You will survive even if the thing you fear happens. You are competent and brave. You don't have to believe that in order to tell yourself that.
"Even if it doesn't feel like it now, I am OK, and I'm going to be OK"
I visualize my fear and my painful emotions as a powerful wave that I can't control, but I don't have to resist it to survive. I just let it sweep me along, knowing that all I have to do is keep my head above water and keep breathing.
The wave will pass. I don't have to try to control it, it's impossible to control, but I can survive it.
Breathe. Do something to distract yourself. Be kind to yourself even if you don't really believe you deserve it. Soon, this painful moment will be a memory, and you will look back on it, having moved on.
posted by Zumbador at 7:59 PM on December 23, 2021 [16 favorites]

I'm just so scared he's going to come back tomorrow and say he's done. Or that this is my last chance. It was that bad.

The thing I do when in the grip of something like that is just sit with that fear. Don't try to fix it, don't try to argue a way out of it. Just note it and name it - "this is fear" - and let it be what it is until it's taken as long as it takes to turn into something else, and then begin to note and name that instead.

If I can dredge up any spare cognitive capacity I'll use it to check my breathing and/or try to identify whereabouts in my body the fear is making me the most uncomfortable and do whatever can be done to ease that discomfort physically: emotion is a whole-self thing, not purely a mind or brain thing, and physical easing often feeds back into emotional calming.

What this has done over the years is give me memories. Memories of times when I felt every bit as bereft and empty and frightened and alone as I do right now and stuff turned out OK regardless. One of the genuine benefits of having been around for nigh on 60 years is having had the time to accumulate a lot of those memories.

It's also prompted quite a lot of intense inquiry, when the fear isn't here and I do have cognitive capacity and time to spare, into what kind of a thing I actually am.

One of the most liberating realizations of my life came on the day when I finally figured out that the only way I can actually be destroyed is physically, just like any other animal on this planet. I am not identical to whatever behaviours my brain is performing in any given moment, and neither are you. When in doubt, look to your physical security.
posted by flabdablet at 8:42 PM on December 23, 2021 [16 favorites]

Best answer: You are having a meltdown hangover. You are STILL in the same state that caused the meltdown argument, but now the feeling of desperation has shifted from the misunderstanding that triggered the meltdown to the damage that the argument may have caused. It's the SAME emotion lingering. You're just in the later stages of the meltdown, where the situation still feels catastrophic, only about something different than when you started.

But right now you are handling your emotion of urgent despair in a a strong, sensible, correct way. You are not raging at your boyfriend AND you are not pestering your boyfriend. Instead you are sharing your concern with people who care and will try to help you. The feeling is still there torturing you. The feeling is awful, but right now you are probably getting near to the end of the mood and it will probably lift. You may be feeling awful, but you are now handling your meltdown in the right way. You've managed to get a grip on it.

Do self care. Show your boyfriend that you are continuing to develop strong skills at emotional regulation. Eat well, do something physical, play the kind of music that comforts you and will lead you to being sleepy. Try and get some sleep. Breathe slowly and deeply. Do something that will make you laugh. Look at a video of some sort that will make you smile, or make you cry with relief. Try deep pressure. Roll up in something firm, or use a weighted blanket or put on a heavy wool coat. Pretend to be unconscious, floating in water, and go completely limp and let your whole body dangle and flop. Clean your home. Groom your body and appreciate it. Do self care.

You have had meltdowns before, and you have felt okay again eventually after them. Breathe deeply and slowly. You will feel okay again. You know you will. You have before. You will feel okay again soon.
posted by Jane the Brown at 11:14 PM on December 23, 2021 [22 favorites]

Best answer: Watch a soothing tv show. Ted Lasso is perfect for this because the characters are kind to each other even when they mess up. Sending you hugs.
posted by nouvelle-personne at 3:22 AM on December 24, 2021 [1 favorite]

If constructive/positive self care isn't coming easy, maybe try to imagine you've lifted the roof off your living space and are looking down at yourself. How would you calm and comfort that tiny person? What pressures could you lift off her in this moment?

Sending you a virtual grilled cheese sandwich. Please give your animals a pet from me.
posted by brachiopod at 8:31 AM on December 24, 2021 [3 favorites]

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