Lines in the Sand

YellowLineOne of the hardest things about mental health issues is the sense of guilt and shame that can accompany them.  Unlike say a sprain or headache, these are struggles that can be both hidden – and written all over our bodies. Think for example of self-harm: the scars can be covered up – but they’re permanently etched across your skin. Or binge-eating: perhaps no-one sees you eat; but you wear the evidence, just like you might wear layers to try and hide it.

Everyone has issues: but though they come from the same source, we group them very differently. One man’s ‘mid-life crisis’ (funny and understandable) is another’s nervous breakdown (weird and unacceptable). ‘Gossiping’, ‘comfort shopping’, or ‘overworking’, are ‘only human’.   ‘ADDICTION’ ‘BULIMIA’ or ‘IDENTITY DISORDERS’ are ‘scary’ and ‘strange’.

So maybe you can help me draw a line between what’s ‘ok’ and what’s not:

Which of these feelings is ‘normal’ – and which is ‘weird’?

“I was well-developed for my age and felt like I was a child in an older body and that body was giving off subliminal message to men. I still feel ashamed of this and have reacted in a lot of wrong ways”.

“If you learn how to hide your feelings and never talk to anyone about them this becomes normal. Until you crash…”

‘‘I often worry about my life, feeling like I don’t know where I’m going in terms of my career, and feeling like I haven’t achieved enough or reached the standard I should have reached. ‘

I have a difficult time with sex due to my past experiences, but I feel bad about that because I feel like I should be enjoying it like “normal” people’.

‘‘Sometimes I wish just to know I am loved for who I am, not anything I have done or achieved. I know this to be true of God, but sometimes that can feel a bit academic rather than a warm, emotional, completely embracing love.’

‘‘Sometimes I try to cope with feelings of failure by working really hard, and by trying to achieve as much as I can in a given day.  But I often get very tired, and also neglect my social life’.

Or even these?

‘On a good day I just get up and get on, but on a bad day I stay in bed, keep the curtains closed and pretend the world does not exist’. 

‘Sleep is often my escape and was a huge survival mechanism when things were very bad. I have attended counselling – 3 batches and the last of those lasted for 3 years and really helped, in fact got my depression to a level that is manageable. I have also found antidepressants helpful at times.’

‘I kind of just close up and don’t tell anyone I’m worried, stare at walls and ceilings a lot and if it gets too bad I have the occasional panic attack where I start hyperventilating and shaking and crying. 

‘‘I have a dissociative disorder, which can cause a lot of emotional distress / depression / self-harm etc. Dissociation occurs when as a child you have to deal with a lot of stress or trauma and you (subconsciously) create other personalities (‘alters’) to carry the pain for you. This is a good survival mechanism but it means that as an adult you have lots of other personalities living in your head with you, and this can create a lot of inner conflict, pain etc. .. Sometimes when one of the alters is very upset or distressed I feel very depressed or end up self-harming’

‘‘I cry. I worry. I bottle. I shout at my husband about things that don’t matter. I shout at my parents about things that don’t matter. I take things to heart too much. I whine. I cling to my husband”.  

These are all comments from people I know who have ‘mental health issues’. Problem is, I’m finding it hard to separate them from the ordinary struggles of life. So,  if you can tell me the difference between the ones  Jesus came to help and the ones beyond the pale, maybe you could let me know.  I’d hate to make friends with the wrong sort of person.

3 thoughts on “Lines in the Sand

  1. Emma,
    I’ve been reading your blog for a while. I struggle with anxiety and depression. Along with this has come months of bingeing and purging, and self-harm. I feel that I am bumping along normally for days or weeks – I can do most things, even if anxiety or depression intrude a little – but then some little crisis appears: an overdose, experience of and acting on delusions, shoplifting (because of the binge eating).
    I feel guilty all the time, because I know that I could get up and do the housework. I have legs. They work. I could go back to my job. How hard can sitting in front of a computer be? I “should” be able to do these things, and I wonder if it is just laziness that stops me, rather than the depression.
    This week I messed up. I had intrusive thoughts about someone, that I should use a knife to make them “help me” (there’s nothing they can really do to help me, they’re just a friend). I told my CPN about these thoughts, and my friend. My friend called my GP and I was nearly sectioned. I feel that I’ve done something wrong. Even if the thoughts were not desirable to me, surely I should have tried harder to think about something else, I should have had strength of character enough to know that I wouldn’t carry through what I was thinking about. I feel criminal, I feel like I should be punished, or as if I have been. But at the same time I go through a normal day – get up, get breakfast, get washed, look after kids all day, make dinner, be sociable with family visiting. I don’t feel like I can accommodate the disjunction between my abnormality and my regularity anymore.
    Sorry this was so long…

  2. Hi Rebecca: thanks for reading and for your comment. I’m emailing you directly now.

    However, for anyone else who feels like this: please know, you’re not criminal or lazy or somehow bad. Also, being sectioned doesn’t make you ‘crazy’ either! (It’s happened to some of my best friends and they would say it was necessary at the time). Just as our bodies sometimes don’t work, so our brains get messed up too: and it’s not something to be ashamed of. But it is a sign (just like a sore throat or chest pains) that we need more support.

  3. I’m gradually reading through your blog after a friend pointed me in your direction. You absolutely hit the nail on the head with your comment about guilt and shame. What right do I have to be depressed? I should be ashamed of myself. I trust in the Lord and know He died for me, and yet that’s not enough to make me happy? What’s wrong with me?

    The ‘mental health’ label is a very scary one. I hate the fact that I’m now being seen by the community mental health team, rather than just the GP. In all honesty, when I sit there in the waiting room, I think, ‘I’m not like these people. I have washed my hair and am wearing a dress and make-up, not trackie bottoms and trainers. They are scary. I’m not one of them.’ But I know that in other people’s eyes, I am. I have alienated people through my illness. Funny, though, that that doesn’t apply to my Christian friends, who have stuck by my side like glue. Trusting in Christ wipes out that line in the sand, I think – we are all sinners. My sin may be different from theirs, but they know that just as they are forgiven and loved, so am I – and so they can love me too. It’s truly amazing.

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