My Story

Contemplation/Avoidance: Enter Guilt, Stage Left

You may recall in my first blog post I listed the typical symptoms of a depressive, one of the symptoms listed there was Guilt. If someone stopped a non-sufferer in the street and asked you what are the typical symptoms of depression, I doubt very much they would list guilt anywhere near the top ten.

Guilt, however, has probably been one of the most difficult, most debilitating and most upsetting symptom of depression I have ever experienced.

*guilt [gilt]

1. the fact or state of having committed an offence, crime, violation or wrong, especially against moral or penal law. 

2. a feeling of responsibility or remorse for some offense, crime, wrong, etc., whether real or imagined.

*guilty [gil-tee]

1. having or showing a sense of guilt, whether real or imagined.

At this point in my recovery I went into contemplation phase, or to put it slightly more realistically, bury my head in the sand and forget everything phase, avoidance. I had taken  time off work to give myself space for my recovery, I was lucky to have an understanding work place who gave me what I needed which removed the stress of worrying about money and security.

Ironically, following my gun-ho get fixed stage, I completely stalled, the recognition and admission on my behalf that I was sick seemed like the permission I needed to give myself up to lethargy, escapism, day time napping and junk food. Sounds great right! Wrong, I hated every single minute of it, but I had no idea what else to do, nor any motivation to do anything else. I would wake up in the morning, probably after having only slept a couple of hours since I had been awake throughout the night, my partner would be heading off to work, he’d give me a kiss good-bye and I would stare up at the ceiling for about an hour after he left. I don’t recall that I was thinking about anything in particular, if anybody had been watching I’m sure I would have been considered to be contemplative, I wouldn’t move, I wouldn’t close my eyes – the truth was I was wide awake yet exhausted, irritable and restless yet with no desire to move. When I would move I would get to the couch, curtains still shut and turn on the TV. Netflix™ is the escapists best friend! There are thousands of hours of different lives to live, different times to live in, different spells to learn and magical or super powers that I could have instead of laying on my couch and thinking about my shitty life.

Which is a good segue into why I opened this post discussing GUILT. Why do I have a shitty life? What exactly is so shit about my life? Aren’t there so very many other people out there suffering far more than I am? There must so many other people more justified in feeling bad about their lives than I do.

Guilt will manifest differently in every case because the triggers for depression are different for every individual. However, I think that in general there are quite a few sufferers who will look at their lives quite superficially and dismiss the fact that they have depression because they cannot find justification for their illness. It’s easy to look at your life and think, I wasn’t beaten or abused as a child, I wasn’t put down by members of my family or incessantly bullied at school, I don’t suffer from a drug addiction or alcoholism, I don’t have an abusive partner or an intimidating boss or work situation.  What we have to realise is that while all of these can certainly cause depression, for most it is absolutely not an exhaustive list of potential triggers or situational roots of the illness. Whatever the reasons, whatever the causes, triggers or situational roots of your depression, they are just as important, relative to you.

I didn’t have the smallest shred of motivation to start looking at the cause of my depression during my avoidance phase. However guilt decided to bedevil me constantly, not just about the utter lack of reason for my depression, but increasingly about my inability to begin addressing it. Where did that motivation go from a few weeks previous? I’d spoken to somebody, why wasn’t I already better! DAMNIT AMANDA, stop being so fucking lazy and get on with it! Don’t you want to get better? Well, yes, is the answer, but at the moment I cannot be bothered with it – I just want to watch some more Harry Potter and pretend I’m a Witch so I can blast through the baddies with my magic wand! Not have to emotionally confront my baddies with inward thought and reflection.

Why did I feel guilty? How come I didn’t feel like I was allowed to be sad? Was it entirely driven by my personality and values? Did the societal or media representation of depression have anything to do with it?  I think a bit of both.

I’ve been spending a lot of time on different depression forums on the internet, which is, by the way, a great way to find help and give help if you’re not sure where to turn, how to deal, why you’re feeling one  way or another and get some advice about how to cope and manage. What is rather stark though is that it seems that whether you are dealt understanding or shame, compassion or contempt, love or hate can really depend on where you are based, meaning just what the local council or government is able to offer and what the GP’s are like in your catchment area.

The media though. The Media! Has got to be one of the worst. Head over to any search engine and search for news on antidepressants, pretty much every single country has a newspaper running a feature about how the country has such a high usage of antidepressants, how it’s getting higher percentage by percentage each year (For Shame!).  There are constant question marks over whether they should be given to these people or those people and its big news when some A, B or even Z list celeb admits to being on antidepressants (For Shame!). Then there are the wonderful chat show hosts of a particular show in the US, no names but it starts with The and rhymes with Pew, following the news that Justin Bieber apparently had antidepressants on him at the time of his arrest in Miami, questioning how he was justified in being depressed because of his fame, fortune and general all round good luck! (FOR SHAME!!). We are constantly being fed the message that it’s not okay to be depressed, that you absolutely must have some concrete excuse for being depressed, and if you don’t well then kid hitch up those socks, suck it up, get a hair cut and get a good job!  Add to that if you are not in an area lucky enough to have a Dr like I had, you could just be chucked a prescription and told to be on your not-so-merry way. I told my Dr I wasn’t sure about antidepressants, and the first thing she said was; “they’re probably not like what you think they’re like.” Exactly because of the media, the shaming, the horror stories etc around antidepressants. I’m going to do a completely different blog post about antidepressants so I’m going to stop my rant there.

I think the worst though, the absolute worst is when your family will not support you. This I just don’t get. I would ask any Partner, Brother, Father and Mother – if you found out that a member of your family was diagnosed with Bowel Cancer would you simply stop talking to them? Would you tell them they were being over-dramatic?  As a friend, if you were approached to just be understanding of how someone felt following a major surgery, would you tell them you just don’t feel able to help because you’ve never had major surgery and really don’t understand how they feel? I would hope not.

I mentioned a lot of this in my previous post, it comes back to again the double standard of illness, but this is also another major contribution to the guilt – Sufferers are constantly told it’s not okay to feel sad.  This makes me sad.

I hope one day the world get’s to a point where fear, misunderstanding, lack of information and selfishness will no longer get in the way of helping others dealing with depression. The optimist in me says that it is absolutely getting better, bit by bit, slowly-slowly. Unfortunately, the realist in me says that it’s not fast enough and more and more people are suffering alone, which must stop.




My Story

Seeking help : MUST FIX THIS NOW!!

I’m afraid to say, that it is not going to get any easier quite yet,  little did I know at the time that this would take up, so far, 3 months, and I am still only on the road to recovery, I have not yet reached that distant and desired destination.

Once I had acknowledged that I had to face this, once I had spoken to my partner, my mother and a close friend I took my first positive steps.  I don’t remember feeling positive in the least, in fact I probably felt the worst I have ever felt. How could this be happening to me? What did I do to deserve this? Damnit, this is scary, what is this going to mean? How am I going to find the time to feel better? What do I do about work? Why doesn’t anybody understand? Why can’t I just perk up? I want to feel happier, shouldn’t that be enough? Fuck I don’t want to get out of bed today! I slept about 2 hours last night!  And so on. How can that be positive?  Recognition, acknowledgement and action are the first steps any initial sufferer will have to take, and believe it or not, they are the most difficult and the most empowering.

I was highly emotional at this time, I was also extremely anxious, incredibly susceptible to alcohol use and prone to outbursts of frustration, anger and crying. A lot of the time, this wasn’t directed at anybody, the majority of my frustration, anger and sadness was directed inward and remained directed inward. In my mind it became a matter of this wasn’t simply happening to me, I was doing this to myself. I was entirely responsible for the fact that I had let myself down, that I had not fulfilled the dreams I had always told myself I had, I had not figured out how to earn more money, how to get on the property ladder, I was too lackadaisical about paying off my debts, I was not fulfilling myself creatively because I was lazy. If I had just figured all of this out I wouldn’t be in this position. These negative thoughts spun and wound around my head incessantly. I couldn’t snap out of it,  I felt like people were looking at me wherever I went, I was convinced that I looked sick whenever I looked in the mirror, I saw sad hooded eyes, pale skin, lank hair. I was completely uncaring about what I wore, whether I bothered about putting on make up that day. I was jittery and watchful, I could feel my eyes darting from person to person on the train convinced they were harbouring ill feelings about me, they were going to get to work and tell their desk mate about the crazy paranoid odd and sad-looking girl on the train that morning.  Not to mention what I felt my work colleagues felt about me.

I sought help initially with the Employee Assistance Program through my workplace. Most employers will have an EAP program as a benefit. The service offers help for anything from financial advice, Will or Pension advice to information and support about Eating disorders, OCD, Stress and Depression. Most EAP services offer free counselling anywhere from three to six sessions. The advice and support that you receive is entirely confidential (unless, as stated by the representative, they feel that you are at risk of harming yourself or others, in which case they will seek further help on your behalf), most importantly though it will not get back to your employer if you are afraid of any consequences that could incur. I had, however, decided to speak to my employer about how I was feeling, at the time I did down play the range of emotions and difficulties I had experienced, of course I didn’t want to appear weak, unprepared, or incapable in any way(I was fairly new to the company). So I told her that I would be undergoing some counselling, that it has something I had dealt with before, that it was something I could certainly handle this time around, it was no big issue, I was just feeling a little bit low and would perhaps just need to leave work early a couple of days over the next few weeks in order to attend my counselling sessions.

I mentioned in my previous blog post that I have suffered depression before. In stating what I had to my boss I was, legitimately, drawing from previous experience. Despite the marked differences I had already noted, I was confident that with enough will, pure gut strength, tenacity and stubbornness I could purge this demon from my life in a matter of weeks. I applaud my audacity, but should have known that those differences were important and would set this experience apart from my previous illness.

I don’t care how often you’ve gone through it, or how ready you feel to speak to some one, I don’t think any one finds it easy to start opening up. This is not to cast aspersions on any counsellors I have seen, and I understand that this must be a question to at least start, but I have never found it easy to answer those first questions; “So, how have you been feeling?” or ” What brings you to see me?”  Every single time I am asked something like this, I find myself uhhhmmmmm’ing and casting around in my mind to try to find the right words to accurately describe the plethora of emotion running laps throughout my heart and mind. How can one sum up months of questioning, doubt, fear, sadness, exhaustion, confusion, guilt and negativity.  To add to that, my instinct to down play how I was feeling and what I was going through came back strong, there would be no benefit in my hiding the true problems, holding back on describing what was happening to me. The more insight your counsellor has into those feelings, those fears and what is causing the sadness, guilt, doubt and confusion the better they are able to help, and yet it took me until our second session to actually truly demonstrate the extent of my pain, my sadness, my guilt, doubt and confusion. It wasn’t until the end of my second session that I cried in front of my counsellor.  It wasn’t that I hadn’t wanted to cry, it’s that I held it in – ask me why? I have no idea – I was still leaning so heavily on my strength, and even in seeking help, crying in front of the person there to help me was still weakness. Logical, right? Hardly!

It was during my third session in as many weeks that I finally asked, what is wrong with me and am I fixed yet. Seems juvenile to think to ask it now, and my counsellor answered me, it seemed to me with a touch of pity, though not patronising; “no dear, I think you have some more work to do – I recommend that you seek further help.” Something interesting happened at this point, I recognised that I was sick.  I guess I had kind of known I was sick, and I have certainly seen a lot of cartoons and video posts and campaigns thanks to our age of internet that reminded me that I wasn’t alone, that mental illness is just that, an illness. But I guess I had never wanted to actually tell myself, Amanda you are sick.  Some people really hate these analogies, I believe because they have never themselves had Depression, but it is something my Mother once told me about Depression; When you break your leg,  you see a Dr, they tell you it’s broken, you have surgery, you wear a cast and every one around you can see that you have a broken leg. They can ask you how it happened and you can relate it back to a single event. They then don’t ask you to go for a walk with them, whether you would like to use the treadmill or run a marathon. Friends and colleagues are incredibly understanding if you have to, ashamedly, admit that an activity, a request or a responsibility is, sadly, outside your realm of capability for the time being.  Conversely, when your mind is broken, there is sometimes not a single event or cause, you don’t necessarily go to a Dr immediately so for some time you may not know how or why your mind is broken. You’re friends and colleagues cannot exactly see that you have broken your mind, they may think you are a bit blue, you may not seem yourself, friends and colleagues can easily misconstrue the meaning behind this and gossip can result. Perhaps they will feel you’ve let yourself go, or you’re not interested in your job anymore, or you’re becoming incredibly selfish and withdrawn and they may think it is your fault. You will certainly not receive help unless you ask for help. You will not receive compassion and understanding unless you are honest about your state of mind. Depression can leave you very much alone, without help and afraid to move forward,  unlike a typical physical illness. ( I do not wish demean or downplay the difficulty of physical illnesses, I merely draw a comparison.)

But it is just that – an illness.  Until that is accepted and recognised by the general public, sufferers and non-sufferers alike, than double standards like the broken leg/broken mind analogy will continue and people will continue to be ostracised, fired from jobs, left by partners and disowned by friends. A sad state of affairs for people who just need help and may not know how to ask.

Needless to say, as you know I am still working on recovering. My initial assertion that I was going to recover from this in three weeks is a distant memory, despite the fact that I was adamant, and just a bit delusional, that I could up until the end of my last counselling session via EAP. Only my counsellors response to my naive question did I realise this might take a bit longer.  I will learn that looking to far forward and assuming that a single result is all that I can accept, is one of the personality traits I’ve picked up somewhere that resulted in this period of depression and something I am actively working on fixing in myself.

Until next time, I will continue to learn what I must learn.