I’m going to kick shame’s ass today. I hate shame. Unlike guilt, which is the feeling of doing something wrong, shame is the feeling of BEING something wrong. It’s ugly. And private. It’s silent on the outside, while it burns hot and loud on the inside, a soul-sucking black hole. Shame, associated with addiction and mental illness, is created by our own imaginations, fed by ignorance and self-stigma.
Did you know that many addictions are caused by underlying mental illnesses? That shouldn’t surprise you – the information is out there and it makes sense. So, here’s my truth – I live with mental illness. Not just one, but two of ’em bad boys – depression and an anxiety disorder. There you have it. Mental illness. Oh boy, I’m really OUT now! Here we go! Weeeeeeeee!
You are not your illness. You have an individual story to tell. You have a name, a history, a personality. Staying yourself is part of the battle. – Julian Seifte
The thing about these two words, “mental illness”, is they cause so much judgment and fear. This is, perhaps, the ultimate example of a stigma. Society probably spends more time trying to ignore mental illness than to understand it. And that’s not easy to do, given almost half of American adults will develop at least one form of mental illness during their lifetime (according to the CDC ). I would bet this statistic is far from correct and that it’s closer to 75%, but I’m just a girl with a laptop. Sometimes stigma and uneducated discriminatory attitudes are worse than the addictions and illnesses themselves – often leading to SILENT SUFFERING and people who never recover. People who never recover! We have to do something about this.
Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one’s courage – Anais Nin
Until recently, I’ve been consumed with shame. Not about having alcoholism – I’ve come a long way in that realm. I’ve been ashamed that I can’t “handle” depression and anxiety on my own. Ashamed I even have to deal with it in the first place. Ashamed that I am weak. Ashamed that I need help. Ashamed that I’m ashamed. But not anymore. Shame doesn’t motivate me. Shame doesn’t do shit, but hold me down. I’m owning this shit, so I can soar above my old self, high up in the glorious free sky where I belong. I am an eagle and shame is my prey. I’m gonna chew it up and spit it out, over and over again until I’ve had my say.
Where we are at is where the cancer community and HIV community were 25 years ago – NFL Player Brandon Marshall (in reference to mental illness)
I’ll probably write more about my experiences with mental illness in the future, but for now I focus on beating the shit out of the shame. It really doesn’t matter why or how the mental illness got there. I likely made mine worse with the drinking thing, but I’m over it. Right now I don’t feel the need to describe my struggles. They are there, trust me. The worst thing you can do to a person with an invisible illness is make them feel like they need to prove how sick they are. I think we are all crazy in one way or another, just some are better at coping. But people are afraid of labels. They don’t like “crazy”. I’m not easily offended when “crazy” gets thrown around at my house. It’s a survival tool. I can get pretty “out there” and am not easy to live with. Not that my husband is a cake walk, but referring to my craziness helps him keep his own sanity. Being able to laugh about our struggles is important and “crazy” talk brings us onto the same page. It’s not a label, it’s an explanation. Crazy people aren’t weak, we are resilient. And we are deep sons of bitches.
Sometimes it’s the crazy people who turn out to be not so crazy. – Kevin Spacey
Here’s the thing about anxiety that sucks – it’s a prime contributor to poor decision-making, which gets tricky in sobriety. The more anxious you feel, the more likely you are to act on impulse, without considering the consequences. Your brain focusses on relieving the anxiety, not on the rational processes needed to exercise good judgment. Throw depression into the mix and you’ve got a shit storm of daily battles – one hell of a challenge of staying sober. This is not an intelligence thing, or lack thereof. This is illness. And this is a reason why we see good people relapse, time after time, if they aren’t addressing their needs.
Shame is a soul eating emotion. – C. G. Jung
What you hide controls you and what you don’t say owns you. Getting mental help should feel more common. If you tell someone you’re going to a counseling appointment, they really shouldn’t bat an eye, just as if you’d said you’re going to your regular doctor for a checkup. Mental health is as important as physical health. My approach to recovery from mental illness is personal and completely mine. It’s ongoing, just like my recovery from addiction. It took me a while to realize my anxiety wasn’t normal. It took me even longer to realize I could do something about it. We don’t talk about it enough as a society, or I may have recognized it sooner. I recently started seeing a psychiatric nurse practitioner, which was a big, scary step because I’ve never known someone who’s done this and didn’t know what to expect. Because of this step, I have found a way to take the edge off of my anxiety and depression. I wasted 10+ years on ineffective antidepressants, unaware that my primary care physician wasn’t properly trained to offer this service. Now I am on the right meds. They have a very subtle effect, to the point I didn’t think they were working until we dove deeper into my day-to-day. I do my part too, dappling in cognitive behavioral counseling here and there, and practicing self-care in various forms. I’m not cured by any means, but I have tools that make my life manageable now.
Far too often, I hear of a friend or family member who is effectively taking antidepressants, intending to get off of them in the near future. Why?! This is stigma and shame at work. This decision doesn’t make sense to me. I’ve never been a pill-popper – I suffer through most headaches and pain because I just feel better “muscling” through it. But, when it came to the chemical imbalance in my brain, I decided to suck it up and get the help I needed. Antidepressants aren’t for everyone, but there is no shame for those who can benefit from them. I have no intention of ever getting off of my meds. They are helping me and I am not ashamed.
Some ignorant assholes might tell me I’m not sober if I’m on antidepressants, so I’ll just say this to them – go read a different blog because I don’t care what you think. This is my life and I’m in charge of it. I’m all about compassion, understanding, hope, and empowerment – for myself and for others who struggle. Mental illness is a flaw in chemistry, not character. It’s not a label, it’s an explanation. Medication doesn’t alter my personality, it helps me LIVE MY LIFE better. There’s no shame in that. No shame.
It doesn’t matter how this looks to other people. If this is something you gotta do, then you do it. Fighters fight. – Rocky Balboa
I’m grateful to tell my story and shed more light on mental illness because I know many who are reading this are struggling at varying degrees or know people who are. It is what it is, people. Life is such a beautiful journey, and we are learning all the time – let’s learn a little compassion and patience for those who struggle for whatever reasons. At the end of the day, all that really matters is if we were kind to ourselves and each other. I’m doing my best today and I hope you are too.
Shame, consider your ass kicked. Shame is an illusion – it’s not real. We are all important and we are all worthy. If you’re struggling right now, for whatever reason, please know that you are not alone. You matter. Don’t give up!
Thanks for reading,