The Shame of It…

…and why (for now anyway) I am posting anonymously.

As if the challenges you have to face living with and trying to battle mental illness (in my case recurring severe anxiety and depression) aren’t enough! There is also the feeling of shame that goes with it. That’s my experience anyway, and I would guess also that of most others who are living with any type of ongoing or recurring mental health condition.
During my latest/ongoing episode  of depression and anxiety, I have on many occasion likened the shame I experience to how I assume one must feel when they have committed a serious crime. The big difference is, I haven’t done anything wrong. I experience this feeling of shame and embarrassment on a daily basis, often many times during a day. At the moment, I routinely find myself in situations where it is impossible to avoid the subject – you bump into someone (it can happen anywhere – school drop off/pick up, football, supermarket to name but a few) they ask why I’m not working, when will I be going back to work, they wonder why my wife has had to go back to full time instead of part time work given that we still have young children, and I’m now home as the main child carer (although the number of stay at home dads is definitely on the up, it still most definitely isn’t the norm, certainly where we live). Most of the time, I find it extremely difficult being honest, despite many years of experience of this retched illness. And when I do tell people, I very often only tell them part of the story. And even then, after the conversation has ended, I then get paranoid about whether I have said too much, what will they think of me etc etc. I completely over analyse most conversations for that very reason. And that puts you off getting into conversations.

I long for the day that I can be COMPLETELY honest about who I am, and remove myself from these shackles. In the past I’ve been able to get by without having to be too open about my condition, being honest on a need to know basis only! But the latest episode has had such a major impact on the lives of myself and my family that it’s almost impossible not to be honest with people.

Even small talk with a completely innocent and friendly individual can be awkward. Cashiers in the shops often ask things like “so you’ve got a day off work today”. Such a simple everyday situation shouldn’t be difficult. I usually find myself just going along with it and say “yeh”, to avoid that topic going any further. And then I try to change the subject. So even the most seemingly straightforward of encounters can be uncomfortable. I assume many others will relate to this.

And then there are the questions from family members – I would like to stress in my situation this is well meaning family members who themselves are at a loss as to what to do and what to say to their friends. Questions along the lines of “what should we tell xyz if they ask how you’re getting on at work?”, “is xyz allowed to know that you’re not well?”. And as a chronic migraine sufferer, a frequent and at times convenient cover used by myself and my family – “shall we just say that you’ve been having a bad spell with your migraines?”. Having also experienced first hand the stigma surrounding migraines, using that as a more acceptable line to tell people says it all really.  There are also the comments such as “we don’t know who we’re supposed to say what to”. Going back to my earlier comment about crime, that is how comments and questions such as those make you feel, like you’ve done something wrong that shouldn’t really be spoken about, and if so only to a very select few.

I had to deal with those conversations regularly when I was at my lowest point in April. When getting through each day is a huge struggle and a major achievement in itself, the absolute last thing you need is to be faced with making decisions about who is allowed to know what about your condition.
Having been forced to leave more than one job in my chosen (now ex-) career because of mental health issues, I constantly live with the fear and the shame of bumping into former colleagues. Again, I feel as if I have done something wrong. I left because I suffer from anxiety and depression, not because I had my hand in the till embezzling money. But shame doesn’t seem to differentiate.

I still feel awkward bumping into people I worked with almost 15 years ago. What do they think of me, I still wonder. Do they think I’m crazy. In reality I’m sure they don’t give it any thought whatsoever – they have their own lives and issues to deal with. In an attempt to help, my wife often says to me “what makes you think you’re so important that these people are giving you any further thought?” And that is so true. But it doesn’t seem to make it any easier. I frequently avoid social occasions or find myself crossing the road to avoid such encounters.
Even now, when starting this new blog, I feel unable to be honest and attach my name to this blog, for fear of my posts being seen by someone who knows me. And of people I know then talking about me.

In the 20+ years since I first became aware of having mental health issues, it is a subject which is definitely more widely spoken about. And it is more acceptable to admit to suffering from it than it was back then. But despite the progress, anyone who has experienced mental health problems will I’m sure agree that it does remain very much a taboo subject. And none more so than in the workplace.


11 thoughts on “The Shame of It…”

  1. I can definitely relate to what you’re saying about the shame of being sick. I just returned to work after a 7-week absence due to being hospitalized with suicidal thoughts and depression/anxiety/anger/panic attacks which flowed out of my having NPD (and the resulting therapy to make me able to return to work). Trying to determine who one can trust with what and how best to say (or not say) what is happening is difficult. I had to change work locations after having a panic attack at work (which started the aforementioned “vacation”) and not knowing who knows what in my new location about the circumstances of my arrival has me being cautious about letting others in. Take care of yourself and stay strong even when it feels like the world is collapsing around you.


  2. What you say about feeling as if you’ve committed a crime… I’ve felt the same about my own depression and unemployment. It feels like I’d be better off if I *had* been convicted of a crime and served time for it… at least there would be some sort of help to get back into employment.

    As it is, it feels as if I’ve been put into the “hopeless” category by all concerned. There’s nothing to get me back into work that takes into account my vulnerability. A faceless and dehumanising benefits system doesn’t help, either.

    I hope you post more on the blog. I found it via your post on The Mighty.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Hi Worrier, You cannot imagine how much I relate to your story. I came across your post on The Mighty which led me to create accounts both there and here on WordPress.

    I have just been made redundant from my job, which really was losing my job as the company is now advertising to fill my position. This led to me sliding back to depressions and floods of anxiety.
    When I started with this company last year, the job lifted me out of my depression. I was elated and unnaturally ‘high on life’, as it oftentimes is with us living with mental health issues. I felt full of life, optimism and keen to conquer the world.

    The feeling of elation and invincibility, however, was short-lived and started to slide into sadness, which coupled with stress of my role and alcohol consumption, ultimately led to me losing my job and being at square one.
    See, this job was fantastic because I loved the people I worked with and I could really be myself. It was also the first job I had in 2,5 years, prior to which I was being stuck in depressed state.

    The constant feeling of shame and guilt is excruciating as all I see is failure, lost opportunities, disappointment of me in others, but most importantly my disappointment in me.

    “Is it your day off today?” questions from checkout clerks and shop assistants used to haunt me and I honed responding with myriad of convincing responses with ease. I was dying inside though. Now I am in the same boat and not much clearer on how to deal with life.

    One thing is a bit different now though. I have no savings and pile of debt so not working is not an option.
    Hope you are doing okay.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you – your message really made me happy and means a lot to me. Yes sounds like we have a lot in common, and I totally relate to the rollercoaster you describe. Since writing that post I have actually managed to return to the working world – something over the last year I never thought would happen. But it has required some major challenges given where i have come from this past year, and a lot of sacrifice including moving to a different big city being away from my wife and children apart from the odd weekend home. But it’s just for short period to help me find my feet again. I have managed 7 weeks so far and have another 8 weeks until the end of the project.
      How are things with you? Would be good to hear from you. Chris


      1. Hi Chris and thank you for your reply – so prompt too!

        I am so happy that you found a project to work on, despite all the surrounding challenges like being away from your family. It must have taken a great courage and dedication for you to push through your anxiety and ‘put yourself out there’. I really hope you will be able to hold onto whatever good this project brings and transition to the next role or project. (always easier to advise others than follow through with that yourself, right? 🙂

        I read your post from January about selling your home and re-shuffling your lifestyle to fit your financial situation after posting my original comment. Finance is a b#$@. Especially when you are not a solo rider. Having a family while living with depression and anxiety can be a double edged sword, or at least that’s what I find. On one hand, it pushes you to not give up completely and end it all, on the other hand it makes you feel guilty and shameful if you are not achieving or performing.

        I am not sure about your experiences, but I find myself lying to the ones closest to me or covering up my daily activities, or the lack thereof. This tap dancing around the truth fuels my anxiety of being found out. It is a fraudulent existence lacking accountability.

        Things aren’t great at the moment. I don’t have a plan of action and I act as if I want to sink even lower and get myself into even more trouble before taking action.

        Isn’t that silly? You know that doing nothing only makes things worse but the ‘black dog’ wants to distract you with temporary time fillers and then takes real joy in the aftermath, usually consisting of a deluge of anxiety attacks.

        Have you tried ‘Mindfulness’? I have only recently discovered the method and currently learning more about it.
        Positive affirmations are really good tool, I think, however I wasn’t consistent in using them so can’t claim they work. My natural tendency to be negative discarded the use of affirmations in early days as nuisance and I went back to being a grumpy man. Consistency is certainly is not my strength. (except perhaps being consistently inconsistent) haha

        Thumbs up again on your work project. I am so very proud of you!

        I hope to get updates from you soon.


  4. I totally get it. In hindsight I’ve had bouts of depression since I was 12 (due to a variety of abuse) and as an outgoing introvert I learned how to hide it even from myself until my grandmother was killed in a car accident when I was in my early 30’s and I had a big breakdown. I was finally diagnosed and after the 4th different drug we found the one that helps with the most bearable side effects. That was 20 odd years ago and I talk openly about having a mental illness, Co-morbid Depression/Anxiety, because monsters hide in the dark and some people have opened up to me about their own struggles. I feel shame,not because I feel like I’ve committed a crime but because some people think I’m being lazy or self-indulgent and should just pull myself together and try harder. I compare mental illness to diabetes, we both need medication and see specialists for help, would you tell a diabetic to “just get over it?” I’ve started my own business, partly as a way to avoid the problem of having to call in sick when I can’t leave the house. Surely enough of us have spoken out explaining mental illness, it’s time for the general public to make an effort to understand us and stop making it harder for us when what we need is support not more stress.

    Liked by 2 people

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