Guilt and Depression

A few days ago, somebody sent me this article by Jenny Chen for The Atlantic. You should really read it, but I’ll sum it up by saying that more and more they are linking adult depression with childhood guilt.

Every once in a while – especially since I started dealing with and learning about emotional disorders – I find out that something I thought was unique to me is actually more common than I thought. When I read this piece, I had one of those “holy crap, it’s not just me” moments that are always a bit of a relief while being another thread to follow.

Throughout my entire life, there have been those actions – either taken or not – that for whatever reason left an indelible splotch of guilt on my conscience. I’m pretty sure everyone has those: that mean thing you did that you never got to apologize for or that time you were told to do a math problem in front of the class and couldn’t. The difference is, most people don’t think much about those things. I think about them. All. The. Time.

Worse, most of the things that I feel guilt or shame over are nothing more than minor mistakes or things that I was too young to have known not to do them. Granted, there are plenty of things from my adult life for which I feel this persistent guilt over, but even then, some things are so petty I shouldn’t even remember them.

What kills me is that there doesn’t seem to be much I can do about this. Therapists like to make with the “get over it, not your fault, no one else cared so neither should you” advice, but I already know all that and still have these feelings. On top of that, I have actually gone to people and apologized for things I’ve done or attempted to make amends in other ways, but it doesn’t erase that guilt, and has sometimes added to it because I’ve dredged things up for other people or because I now feel bad that I still feel bad. It doesn’t make much sense, I know, but cyclical b.s. is the name of the game with my mental health.

Maybe the craziest oddest thing about this is that I have had people tell me that they don’t even remember whatever it is I feel bad about, or they’ve told me that I’m forgiven. Other times, when I should otherwise feel like the burden should be gone, it’s not. I should note, too, that with very, very few exceptions, none of these guilty memories were the result of someone else doing or saying something; I go all Libertarian when it comes to shame and take care of it myself.

I think about these things at some point pretty much every day, and if one pops into my head, it usually begins a montage of real and imagined douchebaggery. These fun little trips down memory lane have done everything from ruin a decent afternoon to triggering panic attacks. I see why this seems to lead to or worsen depression; it’s a heavy burden to feel awful about so many things, especially when so many are minor, imagined, or irrelevant.

As I continue to face, learn about, and struggle with depression and other emotional issues, pieces like this are threads that are coming together to make a tapestry of my psyche. This tapestry will probably end up looking like a collaboration between H.R. Giger Jackson Pollock.

Again, please check out this article by Ms. Chen:


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