biking humor Writing

Shame List

So what are you working on today? My writing friend asks over zoom the other morning.  Oh, I’m working on my shame list. You know, things I’ve been hating on myself about, just a couple of small things that I can get done. The list had two items: re-post the Dunes memoir essay that had gone out via email but not “stuck” to the blog site, and write for ten minutes about the weather. Notebook weather reports are a “way in” when I’ve not been writing, my word boat becalmed. The currents of a reopening world pulled me into travel and bike rides; the weeds in my garden begged to be pulled before the heat of the days set in.

That recent morning, though, I managed to repost the essay and write these sentences in my notebook (lightly revised—I’m compulsive that way):

The weather is so hot! The sun beats down from an ozone sky, orange sunrise bakes the back yard by 7:30. Hot light seeps in through the edges of the kitchen blinds and bounces off the shine of the counter top. Weather is what happens outside but it feels personal. It feels like an assault, this heat, like a pummel. Like someone is holding a magnifying glass between the city and the sun. And soon the dot of magnified heat will move to a dry stick west of here and the conflagration of parched forests will begin.

End of writing day. Two things are marked off the shame list, but self-loathing remains.

The next day, after not writing at all, I text my friend, I’ve been feeling mildly brain dead on couches. Maybe it’s a mood thing or ozone pollution or not having a job? Or just something to wait out? Blech.  And then, Maybe it’s Covid. Maybe it’s menopause. Maybe it’s Maybelline! I hug a blue couch pillow and say to the husband, Maybe I’m not meant to be a person anymore. He laughs, familiar with my dark side. We both know that his patient laugh is medicine.

I start to text that same sentence to my same friend, Maybe I’m not meant to be a person anymore. Suddenly, I’m afraid of how depressed, even suicidal it sounds. I’m not depressed, I add to my text, or suicidal, but I appreciate that you would ask me if you thought I might be. I delete the text—it feels like too much. I wrap my arms around the pillow and roll over on my left. I think about failure. If I hug this pillow long enough, I ask the husband, will I start to feel like a person again? His response, so admirably calm:  Probably.

I don’t want to be a mood ball. I look at my ups and downs and wish I were different, wish I were steadier, more reliable and responsible. When I can see my moods dispassionately, I appreciate their relative mildness. I wrote here a while back about how I never “qualified” for a bipolar diagnosis, which is true. But over the years, I qualified for plenty: General Anxiety Disorder (my therapist at the time found this diagnosis less stigmatizing than PTSD), and my two post-partum depressions were officially Major Depressions. All this before the genetically-driven family pattern of bipolarity became clear.

When I’m down, every small thing feels effortful. Not doing my laundry makes me sad, makes me ashamed. But I can’t put my whole neurology on the shame list. Because, really, there is nothing wrong with me. I’m a human with a messy and beautiful brain. Almost everyone has felt this way at some point. If you feel this way today, I salute your ability to feel, to be exactly as you are, right now.

Still, I hear my mother’s critical voice telling me I am spoiled and lazy, lazy and spoiled. And I may be spoiled and lazy, but I’m not bad or wrong or morally flawed for losing time to moods. I say this today. Two days ago, I felt unworthy of personhood.

Whatever shame said to me that afternoon, I was able to kiss the couch goodbye for an hour and ride my bike under trees clothed in baby-leaf green. I was able to feel sweat gather at the ends of my hair, and to stop for breath while looking at clear sky. I came home feeling better, tired in a different way. This morning that sky is indeed smudged with smoky haze from distant wildfires. And this morning, I’m writing again. Shame be damned.



By Jenny-Lynn

Jenny-Lynn is a former psychotherapist living in Denver and in South Park, Colorado. Her essays have appeared in The Colorado Sun, Pithead Chapel, and Dreamer's Creative Writing. She blogs at and can be found on Instagram @writeriderepeat.

14 replies on “Shame List”

Hi you self-shaming, blue pillow hugging, mood ball. I love you.
P.S. I’ve always experienced you as responsible AND steady. I know your mother’s shadow lurks…but must stay closeted when I’m in your midst. Perhaps you’re becoming a Purr-daughter rather than a Per-son. .. don’t ask me what I mean by that.

Liked by 1 person

Umm, are we the same person? I am the exact same way. I was diagnosed as bipolar 1 last year (which makes a ton of sense looking back) and it’s hard to deal with life some days. I’m struggling right now because I’ve been sick for 2 weeks but I still have deadlines, I’m almost missing. I feel like a failure and I also feel lazy but I know its the exact opposite because on gapped days I feel excellent. I wish you the best of luck and yes, you do deserve to be a person.

Liked by 1 person

Oh, Samantha, these neurological quirks can be so hard to navigate. I hope having the diagnosis makes things easier to understand. Good luck with your deadlines, and May gapped days be more and more.
Your comment means a lot to me. Thanks.

Liked by 1 person

My beautiful and messy brain loves your beautiful and messy brain! I can wait for our next meeting of the minds. And that droll man of yours—his brain is also welcome!

Liked by 1 person

Messy and beautiful brains! I think most writers have those. Me, I don’t do no stinkin’ pillow hugging: I spend hours playing computer Mahjong. So fruitful. Did you mention how if you’re a writer you’re worthless unless your’re writing? Wonderful piece!

Liked by 1 person

Thanks for finding and sharing the words to describe how I feel some days-more days since the pandemic, fires, abortion threats, insurrections, divisions and anger rising, my aging body
Grandkid antics, volunteering, a tolerant husband and mornings help lift.
You are a wonderful, honest writer! Looking forward to our gathering


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