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When Guilt and Depression Go Hand-in-Hand

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I live a pretty “typical” young adult lifestyle. I go to a four-year university where I have always done well and made dean’s list. I have a roof over my head, clothes on my back and I have two internships and a job. I will go out to bars and parties and I have many friends. I come across as being responsible and having it all together — and that is exactly how I like to appear. Service is my passion and I’m always finding ways to make my schedule busier than it already is.

What many people don’t realize is I have firsthand experience with the demons of depression and the awful things it tells you to do in your head. I know what it feels like to not want to get out of bed in the morning and to wish you hadn’t woken up in the first place. I know what it feels like to resort to self-harm. Depression is hard because for some it is so easy to look normal. It is so easy to memorize the same rap to tell everyone when they ask how you are doing. You become a master of excuses and lies and deceit becomes your middle name.

The sadness and hopelessness one feels with depression is often paralyzing. It makes you second guess who you are and what potential you have in this world. It makes you feel as though you are simply taking up space, and breathing the air others deserve to breathe more than yourself. You feel like you’re dragging around your body from place to place, constantly having an outer body experience. All of these feelings are generally associated with depression. Most of them you learn in psych classes or maybe from an article you read online about someone willing to share their experience. But what isn’t talked about is the feeling that tags along with all of the other ones. The feeling that I think is the most devastating of them all: guilt.

I do not go a single day without feeling guilty about my depression. While I’m currently doing well in recovery, I still reflect on the terrible things I did when my depression was at it’s worst and make myself feel terrible for ever thinking or doing what I did. I have a beautiful and privileged life, where I am able to go to school and live in a beautiful apartment with my friends who love me. I am able to go home to my family who also loves me and feel safe there. I live in the nation’s capital which is full of endless possibilities and I can pursue any career that I desire. I am so lucky. But when I spent my nights sleepless and didn’t have the energy to make it to class I looked like just another lazy college student. When I had no appetite and would waste the food in my refrigerator I seemed ungrateful for the sustenance I had the privilege to have. And when I felt sad and cried for no reason when other people had more obvious triggers to sadness like a death or immense stress I looked weak and unappreciative of the good hand that I had been dealt.

What many people don’t understand is that depression has nothing to do with how grateful a person is. I realized all of the beautiful things I had when I was depressed. But honestly, this made me feel worse. Why did I feel the way I did when I had everything that I had? How could I not feel like living anymore when someone out there would do anything to be where I am? I felt guilty for feeling sad, and for everything that I did as a result of being depressed. I damaged my academic career by not going to class and I couldn’t hold my job that someone had helped me get in the first place. Worst of all, I saw how much I hurt and confused my friends and family. While they tried to help me and I refused it, I felt guilty and this only pushed me further into my depression.

There is a stigma that people who are depressed are egocentric and thankless, and people who hurt themselves or attempt to take their own life are even more selfish and ungrateful. But I am here, as someone who has experienced all of these things to tell you that many people who are depressed are not thankless, they see the good in their life and the blessings that they have. Guilt can stop people from accepting help from others so it is not personal if someone declines your offer to help them. People who hurt themselves and try to take their own life are not selfish. They know how much their actions hurt other people. They are simply too paralyzed by the sadness to do anything about the guilt that they are overflowing with.

It was not the sadness that ate me alive when I was depressed. It was the guilt. The guilt that I was wasting a perfectly beautiful life being trapped in my own head. It took me a very long time to move forward from my sadness. I now wake up in the morning and can put my feet on the floor, even if I am feeling sad. I learned how to keep moving forward and not get caught up in the small stressors and details of my life. I learned how to let go of things that were out of my control and find the small imperfections in life beautiful as they are what make us human. I will deal with depression for my whole life, but my hope is that by tackling the stigma of depression and suicide, others out there can feel less guilty about what they are going through. If someone you know is fighting depression, remind them that you love them and that they are not a burden to you. If you reading this are battling depression, keep fighting, be gentle with yourself and remember that where you may feel broken is where the light can shine through.

If you or someone you know needs help, see our suicide prevention resources.

If you need support right now, call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.

This post originally appeared on The Odyssey.

Originally published: April 14, 2016
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