Dealing with Mental Illness Associated Shame

Over the duration of this past year, I’ve struggled more than ever with my mental health. I’ve always dealt with anxiety and depression, but I’ve been truly experiencing the worst of it throughout 2018. In dealing with my anxiety disorder, I’ve noticed that one of the more salient emotions I’ve experienced is shame. I’ve felt ashamed when I need to take more time for myself, or when I say no to doing particular things that might trigger my anxiety, or even when I’ve explained my mental illness to people. Throughout all the anxiety attacks, uncomfortable moments, and therapy sessions, I’ve always somehow felt embarrassed.

I realize now that I have nothing to be ashamed of. I’m one of the thousands of people in the world that experience intense anxiety that, at times, inhibits them from partaking in certain activities. I’m working on feeling less embarrassed by my mental disorder, and instead redirecting all of that attention towards something positive. But still -- at the beginning of my journey with anxiety, I constantly found myself apologizing for having a panic attack or needing to leave a restaurant because I was too uncomfortable. When I fainted over the summer -- a direct result of a panic attack I had -- I was overcome with embarrassment. When I finally regained consciousness, the first words out of my mouth was an apology to my mom for making a scene in public.

On my bad days, my anxiety still prevents me from doing arbitrary things like sitting in class. I’ve had experiences where I feel so overcome with the physical symptoms of anxiety that I ask to leave class early. It’s not something I do often, especially because I do my absolute best not to give in to the negative thoughts circulating in my brain. The first time I did it, all I could think about was how embarrassing I was. I felt like I was letting myself down and giving into the mental illness I desperately try to conquer on a daily basis. All I did was beat myself up for not being able to do something so simple.

Looking back now, I’m not completely free of the shame associated with that moment, but I realize I was doing what was best for me. Had I stayed in that classroom, soaking in my anxiety and negative thoughts, feeling completely uncomfortable and as though I was suffocating, I don’t know how much worse I would’ve gotten. Regardless, I realize that I shouldn’t feel ashamed. I put myself first. I did what I could. There’s no need to feel embarrassed by that.

For those that experience similar emotions, please know that you shouldn’t waste your time feeling shameful. I know that I didn’t do anything to receive this mental illness. Every day I work on feeling the best that I can, so rather than spending so much time being embarrassed about the bad moments, I should be proud of myself for even getting this far. Part of living with a mental disorder is realizing that not every day is going to be perfect. It’s a constant uphill battle, but I’m doing the best that I can. There’s nothing to be ashamed about.