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.
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.
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.