Depression is tough, but this post isn’t about depression. This is about how guilt and shame often follow depression and how I cope with it.
Depression can be exhausting and debilitating. A thick fog surrounds everything. It makes even the simplest of tasks seem insurmountable. When depression finally ends the fog lifts. Unfortunately for me, depression is normally followed by guilt and shame…
The depression fog lifts and suddenly I have a clear view of everything that I didn’t accomplish. I’m left standing in a minefield of things that I’ve fallen behind on and neglected. As I walk through my house I can see it all clearly. It all makes me feel guilty.
I see dirty floors and I feel guilty for not vacuuming. I see an empty refrigerator and I feel guilty for not shopping. I see baskets full of dirty clothes and I feel guilty for not doing laundry. I see unanswered messages and I feel guilty for neglecting my relationships. I see my reflection in the mirror and I feel guilty that I haven’t been taking care of myself. I keep seeing things that make me riddled with guilt.
A guilt spiral begins, which causes a mean thought spiral; “I’ve been laying on the couch for a week when I should have been cleaning. I’ve been inside all week when I should have gone shopping. I’ve been sitting here doing nothing when I should have been replying to people.”
I thrust myself into a pool of unnecessary guilt. I blame myself. I forget how debilitating depression was. I forget that I wasn’t capable of doing much more than surviving. I accuse myself of being lazy and worthless. I accuse myself until I believe that I’m guilty of laziness and worthlessness.
I feel so guilty. I hate myself. I want to fix what I haven’t done. I start working. I try to clean. I make a grocery list. I return messages and calls. I apologize to people for not replying sooner. I try. I really try. But then the shame comes.
So much shame. I become ashamed of myself.
I’m ashamed of my messy home, dirty kitchen, and empty refrigerator. I’m ashamed that I haven’t showered in days, that I have acne, and that I look terrible. I’m ashamed that I haven’t replied to my friends, spent time with my husband, or talked to my family.
I’m ashamed to be a failure. I’ve failed as a housewife. I’ve failed at physical hygiene. I’ve failed at maintaining relationships.
What If It Wasn’t Mental?
I don’t always give my mental health the respect it deserves. Many of us don’t. We’ve been conditioned to believe that mental illness is something to be ashamed of. Many of us believe that mental illness and weakness go hand-in-hand.
As hard as I try, I’m still fighting this misconception. I still accuse myself of being lazy and worthless. But it isn’t true.
We need to view our mental health the same way we view our physical health. Our mental health deserves the same normalcy and respect that physical health receives.
If I looked at my mental health from a physical health point of view things would probably be different. For example: If a physical injury or illness had kept me in bed for a week I probably wouldn’t feel guilty. I’d probably feel like I was doing the right thing for my physical health.
If I had broken my leg. If I had a concussion. If a physical illness had caused me to fall behind on chores, I wouldn’t feel guilt and shame. So why do I feel guilt and shame about having a mental illness?
What I Deserve
I shouldn’t feel guilty. I didn’t do anything wrong. Something happened to me. Something out of my control. I have absolutely nothing to logically feel guilty about. I shouldn’t be ashamed. If anything I should be proud. I survived. I kept breathing. Something debilitating happened to me and I survived it. That is strength. That is nothing to be ashamed of. I deserve to live my life. I deserve to move forward…
How I Move Forward
So, how do I move forward after the depression fog lifts? In one word: slowly. I can’t conquer everything at once. If I try to conquer everything at once I would quickly become overwhelmed and the guilt and shame would reappear.
Back to the broken leg metaphor: If my broken leg was healing I wouldn’t try to run a marathon. I would start with moving my leg. I would start with walking. Perhaps even walking with support. Therefore, I try to do the same for myself after depression. I don’t start with a marathon of chores and social events. I start with a few small steps and I rest until I’m strong enough to run again…
I Stopped Apologizing
In the past, I made a habit of going on an “apology tour” after depression. I would apologize to my husband for the messy house and empty refrigerator. I would apologize to my friends for not returning messages punctually. I would apologize to family for not returning calls. I would apologize to my nail artist for my broken nails and ugly cuticles. I would apologize to the bookstore for not picking up the book I had ordered. I would apologize to my blog audience for not posting regularly. I apologized to EVERYONE for EVERYTHING.
My “apology tour” was causing me to feel guilty. It was causing self-hatred and shame. So I stopped apologizing. I started saying “thank you” instead.
I Show Appreciation
I’m thankful for the people around me so I say “thank you” instead of “sorry”. I thank my husband for the support. I thank my friends for being patient. I thank my family for being there. I thank my nail artist for making my nails look wonderful. I thank the bookstore for keeping my order on hold. I thank my blog audience for reading by posts.
I show appreciation in lieu of guilt. It makes me feel better. It shows other people that I appreciate them. It’s a win-win situation.
I also appreciate myself – although, it’s a work in progress. I take care of myself. I take time to do things that I enjoy. I take time for self-care. When I take care of myself, I feel worthy. It helps remind me that I matter. It helps me realize that I’m enough.
You may be wondering: “why would she share this ugliness?” I share because someone like me might read this, and I want them to know that they are not alone.
If you are like me, and you are reading this — Promise me that you will not give up. So much can change in a day. So much can change overnight. Depression and goodness ebbs and flows. If today is tough, hold on. There is amazing potential that tomorrow might be better. You are not alone.
If you are struggling, reach out and ask for help. Call a helpline. Go to the doctor. Talk to a friend. There is strength in asking for help. There is strength in support. You are worth it. You are spectacular.
Sincerely, Elizabeth Banks
The Uncustomary Housewife