Mental illness sometimes manifests itself in the most self-destructive ways possible. At the end of the day, when you’re done raging and cursing the world for the pain it has caused you, it’s natural to act inwards. Unfortunately, self-blame is the weapon with which depression and anxiety can take over your life. In my experience, the most beneficial coping mechanism was born from my therapist’s repetitive pleading, “The first step in dealing with the pain, is to stop blaming yourself.”
A few months ago, I finally began to ruminate on those words. I realized that “fault” does not directly imply “blame.” While you are responsible for not getting out of bed in time to go to class, you don’t need to be blamed for it. When your mental health is affecting your life in umpteen ways, why be the target of more negativity?
Of course, I don’t mean to say that you are exempt from taking responsibility for your actions. When you acknowledge your mistake, but move on, you are giving yourself an opportunity to learn from that experience. You can do it much better, next time. And that allows you to detach yourself from a forlorn past and look towards a brighter future.
Last year, when I couldn’t solve a homework question on a problem set, I would become disgusted with myself. I allowed the shame to accumulate until I believed that I would never receive a decent grade. I imagined others belittling me, so I couldn’t ask for help. I failed so many assignments, but only because I never found the courage to submit them.
Eliminating the self-blame from my life has allowed me to stop perpetuating a vicious cycle of remorse and self-loathing. It gave me the power to defeat my brain’s favorite cognitive distortions: labeling myself as a “loser,” and over-generalization of one event as personal defeat. Yes, I still feel that twinge of guilt every time I convince myself that, rather than go out with friends; I’ll stay at home and binge on chocolate. I remind myself that I am human, mark my regret, and store it aside for future reference.
More often than not, when the situation wants to repeat itself, I remember that regret, and I know what to do to avoid it. I know that I am stronger than I have been in the past — strong enough to overcome depression, the anxiety, and my fears.