The Mighty Logo

The Shame I Feel in the Aftermath of a Depressive Episode

The most helpful emails in health
Browse our free newsletters

I am coming “down from” from a tough couple of weeks… a lingering headache is what remains of an epic battle that raged inside my head.

I think I need to paint the picture in order for others to see, but it wasn’t a pretty sight…

There were times where I sat huddled on the floor shaking uncontrollably and rocking back and forth. There were times when I physically punched and slapped myself in the head full force… and I’m strong. And there was crying. Massive amounts of crying. Complete with heaving sobs and tears streaming down my face.

I wrote and sent desperate text messages that made no sense, not remembering them the next day only to read them back in horror at the pain I was feeling. The humiliation of somebody receiving that on their phone makes me sick — physically ill — literally.

And let’s not forget the desperate prayers sent on my knees to God to please just make it stop… begging and pleading for mercy.

OK, had enough yet? I sure have, but this is my reality and something I have lived with for about three decades.

It should be noted this all occurs when there is nobody around to see it. I am still fully functioning and able to put my mask on, smile and hide the truth from the world. I get everything I need to done and compartmentalize my pain… until I’m alone and the mask cracks and I break.

But what I want to focus on here is the aftermath of such a “fall” — and how I get back up.

The aftermath of a massive panic attack or major depressive episode is almost worse for me than any of the rest.

The shame, anger and fear are too much a weight for me to carry sometimes. Let’s take them one at a time…

Shame. It is an awful feeling when you know that some of your friends were on the receiving end of some truly deep and painful stuff. It eats at me that anybody should have to experience that. I question why I wasn’t “strong” enough to suffer in silence. How could I be such a bad friend to burden them with my stuff? I want to go and hide under a rock, but the shame would follow me there too.

Anger. I get angry… not at anybody else, but at myself. I inwardly curse myself and call myself every name in the book. The anger is tough for me because I am so not an angry person, but the hate I feel for my “brain” is intense. I see it as an evil force that is trying to take me down… thus there is anger.

Fear. I am terrified that I am having a negative impact on those around me and that everybody will “wise up” and decide to jump ship before it’s too late. This fear keeps me up at night and gnaws at me all day.

And because of the way my brain is wired, I am unable to simply let go of things. Thoughts get inside my skull and get trapped… they constantly replay and tell me what a horrible person I am.

And then in an attempt to make things better, I invariably make things worse. Because I obsessively apologize to people or go out of my way to prove that I’m a good person, or that I’m still “fun,” or that nobody is mad at me. But that is annoying too… sigh.

I feel like I am one colossal mess of a person who can do no right, because everything about me is wrong…

OK, so where does that leave me?

Tired. It leaves me very tired.

I’m a believer that when God gives you something in life, positive or negative, it is important to use it to try to make a difference. Plus the only way that I can somehow make peace with myself for the actions my brain causes and the consequences it has for others is to turn it around for good.

However, while I’m compassionate and understanding for all others with mental health issues, I cannot seem to break the stigma for myself.

It’s hard for me to reconcile that this is who I am and that I am not “strong” enough to just get over it.

See, that’s the stigma much of society has about mental illness. I never have felt that way…except when it comes to me.

Thus stigma free, but stigma me.

Part of me still thinks that I’m doing something wrong and I must be a bad person…because if I was a good person I wouldn’t be “crazy.”

All the things I know to be true about mental illness don’t apply to me. It’s a real illness for everybody else inflicted. For me, it’s a weakness.

From a young age, very young, I never felt “right.” I couldn’t be “happy.” Whatever that means. All I knew, and still know, is that I don’t like myself or know how to feel good… but I can do my best to make others feel good and to make them smile.

So that became what I lived for — the only time I feel OK is when I’m trying to make somebody else smile, or laugh, or feel like they matter. I never matter…

I guess it’s selfish in a way, but the intent is genuine and I really care about people in my life to a fault.

Because I know what it’s like to feel bad, when I see somebody else I care about suffering, I take on that load too.

I need to give back to this world in a positive way for all the negative I feel I cause.

I need to say thank you to those who have helped me along the way.

I need to pay my blessings forward… because I have so many.

The only way I am able to glue my pieces back together after a breakdown is by sharing and caring… that rhymes!

I need to share my story in the hopes that it may help somebody in some small way.

And I need to get “out of my head” and care about others, and I really do care.

Lastly, I think what tortures me most is that the “good” parts of me will get lost through all of this.

I don’t have the answers as I’m struggling to understand it myself, but at least by discussing mental health we are opening up the door that can start to set us free.

I said “lastly” before, so now I’ll go with finally… (I’m not good at endings — possibly why I’m still alive.)

Finally, I hope that people can see me for who I am and forgive me when I spiral and feel “sick.”

It’s sad and possibly wrong for me to even say this, because I wouldn’t expect an apology from somebody who was sick, but I feel like I let people down. Whether or not it’s all “in my head,” it hurts my heart.

So all I can do is say “I’m sorry — maybe one day my brain will apologize to the rest of my body and I can forgive myself.

Getty image via solarseven

Originally published: May 26, 2019
Want more of The Mighty?
You can find even more stories on our Home page. There, you’ll also find thoughts and questions by our community.
Take Me Home