Small Steps to Avoiding Guilt about Mental Illness

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Don’t Blame Me for Catching a Mental Flu

By Maja Dezulovic

One of the difficulties I experienced with coming to terms with my depression was the guilt that came along with it. I felt an ongoing need to apologise to everybody around me about what I was going through, and hence what I was putting them through.

I felt guilty about being depressed because my theory was that I didn’t have anything to be depressed about. Wasn’t depression something that resulted from unhappiness or some sort of dissatisfaction with life? The first time I was depressed I was dealing with trauma so it had made sense.This time, I felt that I had nothing to be depressed about. I had a career that I loved, I was making a substantial income working from home, I was living in a gorgeous house that I now owned by the beautiful Adriatic Sea with my loving husband and our cocker spaniel. There was so much to enjoy and to be happy about. And there was still so much potential to be achieved. So then, why was I finding it difficult to convince myself to get out of bed (and stay out of bed) every day?

The answer: Depression is not just a mood or a description for a feeling that is the direct result of another occurrence. It is a mental illness. A mood disorder. A sickness. A disease. Therefore, it is a valid a reason why people cannot do the things they normally do and hence, those afflicted with it cannot simply just get up in the mornings, go to work, and get on with it. Depression, as my friend once put it to me, is like having a mental flu.

1. Don’t Compare Your Depressed Self to Your Normal Self

I found it difficult to understand why I couldn’t do a fraction of the things I used to get done in a day. This also made it difficult for those around me because they knew what I was capable of and had to see me unable to be and do that. In the beginning I gave myself hell about not doing what I knew I could do. Surely I wasn’t asking too much of myself! The more I tried to push, the more my mind pushed back and I had to learn to stop feeling guilty and accept that I was ill.

2. Describe Your Current State as an Illness

Am I just being lazy? This was a question that I would ask myself, even though I knew that I was not a lazy person. It was also one of the mental tennis matches that made me anxious. Your brain can torment you with what if’s if you allow it to. Accept that you’re ill, accept the guidance of others, and when people ask how you’re doing be open and honest about it. No, you are not just okay. This will help you and help more people realise that depression is a serious issue.

3. Do Not Apologise

Just as you don’t need to apologise for catching the flu, you do not need to apologise for depression. Apologising implies that you have control over it and that you slipped up. That only perpetuates the misconceptions about the disease. Instead, be blunt and honest and say it like it is, and it is something that happens due to often unforeseen circumstances and it is not your fault or anybody else’s. I’m learning to opt for saying things like: “Couldn’t make it. I have depression. I got ill, but I’ll be all right.”

4. Focus on Getting Better

Forget about what you think you need to do for the sake of others. You need you right now and everybody else needs to understand that. Focus on getting better by taking baby steps – try remembering the things you love and spend time doing them. Track your moods and eating habits. This is about you, you need to get better before you can help anybody else in any way.

5. Do Not Schedule Your Recovery

I kept telling myself that I’d be fine tomorrow, in a week’s time, or whenever the new dose of medication kicked in. As a result, I kept being disappointed with myself and I felt guilty about being sick for so long. When I finally got better, I hadn’t scheduled my recovery, it just happened gradually. One day I woke up and realised that I was functioning. I was getting things done, sleeping properly and slowly progressing. I let nature take its course and instead of feeling guilty for not getting better at the predicted time, feeling better came naturally and it felt good to just flow back into normal life.