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Why Should I Feel Guilty for Having a Mental Illness?

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Guilt or feeling like I am at fault is something that has developed alongside my conditions. Now in most cases, a person would feel guilty if they had done something wrong or perhaps upset another person. I am not talking about such instances. Rather I am referring to the guilt that comes with being mentally unwell. To me this guilt is worse than the conditions themselves at times. Strangely enough, I feel it more on a day when my symptoms are not aggravated. I mostly feel this way on the “good” days.

I am the sort of person who is happiest when I am busy. Whether this means going to work, writing or getting absorbed into a good video game is irrelevant. As long as my mind is occupied, I am happy. Since my mental state took a turn a few months back and I was rendered unable to work, I have found it increasingly difficult to occupy myself. Most counselors or doctors will tell you to try and stay active, keep yourself busy: Go for walks, do your shopping, try to socialize. I find this to be most difficult part.

Given that I have anxiety, you would expect my reasons for not going out to be just that… I’m anxious. I do not find these activities particularly difficult on most days. There are exceptions, but the reason I do not want to go outside is because I feel guilty.

I feel guilty that I am signed off work but I am still able to go outside. I feel guilty when someone sees me and says, “Hey how are you doing, mate? Back at work soon?” How do I answer that? Yes, they can hear my stutter and see I’m moving strangely, but for the most part I feel and look relatively OK, at least in my eyes. If I do go outside it’s because I need something or I’m having a particularly good day, but by the time I get home I’m upset with myself for feeling OK. Living in a small town probably doesn’t help. Everyone knows everyone here so I can’t really go anywhere private. As a result I feel guilty for going to see my friends because all I can think is, “If you’re well enough for this, why can’t you work?”

To but this into context, say someone had hurt their knee and were signed off work until it healed. Obviously once it starts to feel better doctors encourage patients to try to be mobile to help get their strength back up. If a friend or colleague of this person were to see them, they’d obviously note they had a limp. They may even ask the same question as above. However, from my point of view those with a mental condition are always walking around with a slight limp; it’s just not that obvious. It is due to the fact that people can’t always see what is going on with me, I start to feel guilty. I find myself giving the same answers and excuses over and over.

I know I’m not well. My friends know I am not well. I know this. So why do I feel like I’m pretending? Sometimes it’ll get so bad that I’ll argue with myself and tell myself to get it together, that I need to stop being so ridiculous. I’ll get so angry at myself because of another person’s opinion that doesn’t even exist. The people I am concerned about don’t blame me. They’ve never shouted at me or argued with me about being unwell. They might not all understand exactly what is happening to me, but they try. So this anger I feel towards myself and this guilt, is all imaginary. If I’d hurt my knee would I feel guilty for limping down to the supermarket?

I feel this is something that needs to be addressed as I doubt I’m the only one who feels this way. Personally I have a bit of a problem with pride, so having people know I’m unwell is bad enough without the added guilt. Mental illness is something that affects more and more people every day, and it should be something people can talk about. People shouldn’t have to feel guilty for being ill. At the same time I wouldn’t want pity for my condition. I suppose acceptance is all I really want, and while I know it won’t make the guilt go away, I’d like to think it might help just a little on the bad days. It is not your fault you are ill, just as it is not your fault if you had hurt your knee.

Follow this journey on A Jackals Voice.

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Thinkstock photo by nathings

Originally published: March 11, 2017
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