Some days – not often anymore – I wake up feeling overwhelming guilt and gloom. I have done something wrong. I hit my rewind button and I can find nothing that warrants these feelings. But they are there. No matter how many times I repeat my mantra “Feelings aren’t facts. Feelings aren’t facts. Feelings aren’t facts.” I feel awful.
Saturday I had one of these mornings. The guilt and anxiety swelled as I looked at the wonderful day: Sunny, 70 degrees. I had nothing to be ashamed of. I had done nothing wrong. All my bills are paid. Work is great. I have a story on the front page. My daughter is blossoming in college and has found a great part time job. I have wonderful friends. Seriously, my biggest problem is that my dog, Dog, has fleas.
I felt awful. I didn’t want to go anywhere. I couldn’t figure it out: “What is wrong with me? Did I have bad dreams? What did I eat before I went to bed? Why do I feel this way”
A very wise woman once taught me the difference between guilt and shame. Guilt is the feeling that comes from having done something wrong. It is regret and remorse. Shame is a belief that you are inherently bad. You may have done nothing wrong but in your core you know you are a bad person.
So, I sifted through the events and words I had spoken and written in the last few days. I could find nothing. I had done nothing wrong. There were no amends to make – except to my dog, Dog, for those damn fleas. It was shame. I was feeling shame. Again.
It is important – very, very important – for me to distinguish between guilt and shame. I am not a bad person. I have done bad things but I am not a bad person. I am good. Shame is not real. Shame is a myth. If I do not parse these feelings – shame and guilt – I am holding the hand that holds me down. I am staring depression in the face.
A few hours after I got up I decided to start my day over again. You can do that, you know. Any time at all – whether it’s 10 am or 4 pm – you can start your day over. I got on my bike and rode to the gym. I met my girlfriend, who had put together a kick-ass playlist for our spin class. She had saved a bike next to her’s. She could see my funk. “Come on. You’re going to like this.” She knows me.
We danced on the pedals and sweat our butts off. I thanked her. I rode my bike home. I started my day over again and took Dog to the vet.