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When Shame and Guilt Start Dancing With Each Other in Life With Mental Illness

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I’ve been thinking about this word today. I have a lot of shame. Shame about who I am, some lifestyle choices, behaviors, decisions, even some of my core values and beliefs. It’s pretty fucked up. More than anything, more than who I’m attracted to, the drugs that I’ve taken, the lies I’ve told – I’m ashamed of being sick in my brain. I’m dreadfully ashamed of who I become when depression is in control of my life. Or anxiety. Or hypomania. Lots of words for symptoms that derail me from my goals and my true self. This has come from friends, family, teachers, employers, lovers and especially myself. I’ve done it to people, too. It’s sometime like as a society we’re hardwired to judge each other this way. I believe it’s how we cope with the harsh and sadness of what mental illness does to us as a whole. 

This shame has prevented me from being honest about who I am and getting the kind of help I need. We are trained to be embarrassed when we’re less than perfect and to be ashamed when we feel overwhelmed and guilty when we let each other down. So on top of this shame, I feel guilty. I carry this weight around with me now into my relationships, my career, pretty much everywhere I go needs to have room for me and my baggage. I just took it for a ride with me to get fast food at 1 a.m. When I look at me, I see someone who is Bad. A failure because of the way I know how to interact with life, a sum of the things I’ve left undone and people I’ve hurt or let down.

It’s difficult to show up to work, or to a date or to keep a promise when you’re suicidally depressed. But it’s also shameful to admit you’d prefer to lie in bed for three days straight without food than say something, so you are dishonest and “have the flu” or another “family emergency.” That’s when the shame and guilt start to dance with each other. Become intertwined like earbuds in your pocket. On top of wanting to die, you are also lying to the people that care about you or are depending on you, and continue to let them down in layers.

When I lose something — a job, or friendship or a piece of my sanity — I feel like it’s a punishment I deserve for being too weak to get better, faster. For not trying hard enough. Every time I start over, or have to admit to someone I’m not actually doing so great and here’s how I fucked up this time, I believe I deserve to be scorned. I don’t know if this is unique to my life, or if it’s common amongst anyone else. I am not saying it’s right, or wrong. It just is. As much disdain as I feel for myself right now, in the midst of some chaos that’s been created by no one but me and my brain, I have to consider no one deserves to feel like they’re bad when they’re struggling and trying.

I’m committed to being softer, gentler, with understanding and less judgment to myself and the world when it comes to guilt and shame. To not let shame destroy me more than what I’m already up against, what we’re up against as humans with mental illnesses and the people who love us and interact with us. I hope I can. I don’t have the energy to spend hiding and feeding the shame monster anymore. I don’t really have the time if I’m being realistic about the stage I’m at in my life, too. 

This is just my opinion. I wanted to share it in case it resonated with anyone else, but by no means am trying to shame anyone with these words. I think life is hard and being human is so strange and I believe most of us are trying the best we can to be OK.

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

If you need support right now, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or text “START” to 741-741

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Image via Thinkstock

Originally published: December 29, 2016
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