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It’s not my fault, how often have you heard those words? How often have you heard others or yourself utter them, usually in defence of their actions?
I have heard those words many times from others and from my own mouth but to me, these well-used words have never been so significant.
A couple of years ago I went through a traumatic mental health experience where I suffered from severe panic attacks and episodes of psychosis. Panic attacks, especially when you have never had one before, are terrifying. Your body goes into full flight or fight mode. I struggled to breathe and every time I had one I honestly thought I was dying. Psychosis is where you lose touch with what reality is. My experience and recovery is a whole blog post in itself but here I wanted to talk about my feelings of guilt and shame over what I went through and things I did to try to overcome this.
My traumatic experience with panic attacks and psychosis put me in the mental health ward in hospital, for a month and stole my sleep, my sanity for a short time and stripped away my confidence, self-esteem and personal identity. However one of the longest reaching effects it had on me was my feelings of guilt and shame over my experience.
Over a year after my experience I went back to a psychologist to try to work on this weight I was carrying with me and it took many sessions for me to begin to comprehend and accept that what I went through wasn’t my fault. It was my body and mind reacting to an extreme situation.
I struggled with the why did this happen to me, why did I react in this way? The guilt and shame with what I went through didn’t go away easily. I felt alone in what I went through, that there was something wrong with me, that I was ‘weak’ to react the way I did, that I was somehow ‘less’ than everyone else.
Why did I feel this way? There’s no right or wrong answer to this, mental health is extremely complex and I don’t believe there’s ever just one answer. However, talking from my experience, I believe the stigma attached to mental health and the fact that mental health is not often spoken about contributed to my feelings of guilt and shame.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) states that one in four people in the world will be affected by a mental disorder at some point in their life. Mental disorders are one of the leading causes of ill health and disability worldwide. So, if struggles with mental health are so common, affecting a quarter of the world’s population, why does mental health have such a stigma attached compared to physical health?
I believe we are getting better but we still have a long way to go. Listen to your family and friends, don’t judge and never assume. Just because someone looks happy that doesn’t mean there isn’t weight behind the smile. I try to always listen to others and acknowledge the truth of the situation, not hide behind false positives. When I was unwell I had to first accept I was not okay, to then start on the road of recovery towards being okay.
What really helped me to overcome my feelings of guilt and shame was firstly seeking professional help. My psychologist helped me to see that what happened to me, what I experienced, was not my fault. It helped me to understand the psychology behind my experience, some of the reasons why my body and mind reacted the way it did.
Writing my experience down also helped. I have always enjoyed writing and just writing about my experience as well as talking to my loved ones about how I felt, what I went through and owning my experience helped me so much in my recovery. It felt like a weight I had been carrying for more than a year was lifted. I recently published a blog about my experience through the support of this website. This was a BIG deal for me! Only my family and closest friends knew my story but to put my experience out there, own it, acknowledge what I went through, has helped so much. I have gotten only positive comments from friends and family, which I can never put in words how much that means to me!
Everyone is so different, your experiences, personality, values, shape you so much as a person and everyone goes through different methods of recovery. However, my hope is that this blog may help in some little way or even make you feel less alone. Reach out, get professional help if you need, talk to others and try to shake off those feelings of guilt and shame if you have them as I did. As I kept reminding myself, it’s not my fault.
Written by Jessica Styan