The Blame Game With Mental Illness

[Trigger warning: Mention of self-harm]

I met with my psychiatrist last week and told her that I have been feeling worse but I was worried that maybe it was my fault and I was somehow doing it to myself. Well actually, I started to say that and she cut me off right at “maybe I” with a sharp “No.” After apologizing, she told me that I have to stop blaming myself for my depression.

People can undoubtedly lie to themselves. For example, someone with an addiction tells him/herself they don’t have a problem and they stay in denial that their actions are negatively impacting their life. I get that. But can you be lying to yourself if you are asking yourself if you are lying? If the idea of denial in the example above is to convince yourself you do not have a problem, what is it if you convince yourself you are trying to convince yourself that you DO have a problem? Can you accuse yourself of having a derivative form of Munchausen Syndrome?

It’s an odd thing: the idea that I am purposefully making something worse; that I am sabotaging myself from recovery by somehow forcing myself into depression or not fighting as hard as I can. I interrogate myself: Is it really just fear and weakness and not a “disease” at all? Could I try harder, do more, stop whining? Do I just need to have the will and gumption and am too meek to face my reality? Am I somehow lying to myself?

But there is a part of me that knows that this is real. That leaving a job I was proud of, friends that I loved, and a life I had built wasn’t just for attention. Lying in bed in for weeks, crying for hours, choosing to have ECT, well that would be one hell of a con. Perhaps at the core of this questioning is an insecurity, hate, and long-developed distrust of my thoughts and feelings.

This doubt of my own feelings was developed over time and starts in my younger years. I was constantly told I was too sensitive. It wasn’t intended to be an insult, but it also wasn’t always used in a positive context. Rather, it was often noted as the cause of my intense feelings of sadness over anything that was bad. In defense, I was incredibly empathetic as a young child. When I was five, my mom had my dad change the mailing address of the newspaper from our house to his office, because I would read the paper and cry about all the horrible things happening in the world.

I hoped to find something physically wrong with me that would provide tangible symptoms to explain why I was like this. I remember feeling relief when I became sick – whether it was a cold or ear infection. Because when I was “sick,” I knew those around me believed my pain. And it wasn’t my fault or something I was failing to fix. 

There was always a rational reasoning for my behavior: in grade school, it was that I was being bullied; in high school, it was hormones. The darker melancholy that was growing inside me was overlooked because I didn’t believe it was legitimate and therefore never mentioned it. I assumed my constant complaining was indicative of a selfish, childish, and  weak personality defect. When bad things happened, I began to question if the amount of pain I felt was fair. Was it really that bad, or was I making it worse? Maybe my feelings were being manipulated by my selfishness?   Did I have the power to stop it?

When I got to college, I still blamed myself for my thoughts and feelings. And that’s also when I discovered self-harm. While there are many reasons why I self-harmed, I think one of them was having something to show for my pain, and it helped me feel better about my sadness. Still, I continued to chide myself for feeling sad all the time – I needed to get over myself. Other people didn’t have ideal lives and they were managing, so why couldn’t I? I still find myself asking that question.

The real problem is that even if I could convince everyone around me that this isn’t my fault, I can’t fully convince myself. In my mind, every time I cancel an appointment; take a pill for my anxiety; cry hysterically for no reason; not feel any different when starting a medication; or start to feel bad on a medication that seemed to be working for a few weeks, I worry it’s something I’m doing wrong, not the depressionMaybe it’s my fault that I am a burden, and maybe it was somehow a choice I made – though why – I cannot figure out.

And yet, I also know that this isn’t me is because I have experienced what it is like to have clinical depression lifted. When I found the medical concoction that stifled my depression about two years ago I felt so different. While I was tempted to sometimes cancel because I was scared or maybe just out of habit, I didn’t. When I was feeling anxious, I went to the gym because I knew it would help. Sometimes I would have weeks where I was exhausted from trying to change my habits and face my fears, but it all still felt possible and I wanted to try. The difference in how my mind worked was so clear. I had been functioning within this cloud of depression and it was the cause of my actions and reactions.

I know that while depression feeds off itself, it’s not me feeding it. I’m not giving in because I want to, because honestly, I really do want to be able to get up in the morning and be an independent person who can make it to work, handle responsibility, and rebuild my life. Perhaps the fact that it terrifies me to think that I could be doing this is enough to know that I’m not. But that’s the thing about depression. It wants you to blame yourself. It convinces you that you are the cause of everything bad in your life, even if it’s irrational. It tells you that you are the way you are because you did this to yourself. It tells you to stop blaming some “idea,” and take some control over your life. Then it laughs at you when you try and fail.

I just have to keep telling myself that this is the illness. This is the lack of chemical reactions and electrical signals in my brain. This is not something I can control. And this is not on me. There is a serious problem, but it’s nobody’s fault…or at least nobody’s choice.

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4 thoughts on “The Blame Game With Mental Illness

  1. I really enjoy your posts. I ask the same questions of myself. When depression lifts a bit, I start to berate myself for being depressed in the first place. Before long, I end up back where I started. You give me some thoughts to ponder. Thanks.

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