Every time my health improves, I become convinced that I finally have control over my illness. I tell myself that even if the disease worsens, I will be able to use all that I have learned and retain control. This time, it will be different.
It’s an irrational belief, but it reappears every time. Perhaps, the belief in one’s ability to control the self is healthy. Lack of self-control is certainly terrifying. Culture dictates that it is also shameful. Impulsivity, imprudent choices, promiscuity, over-spending, addictive behaviors, etc. are all seen as cause for embarrassment even when they are symptoms of mental illness. Symptoms of other, more accepted, “physical” ailments also cause feelings of shame. Incontinence, for example, is often very difficult for people. Why? Is it shame at a lack of control over something that one associates with being childlike or immature? Whether that shame is due to cultural or biological factors, it is certainly a widespread phenomenon.
We may need to believe that while we cannot control external circumstances, we can learn to control ourselves. Maybe this belief gives us a sense of safety in an unsafe world. If so, it would be only natural for this belief to return when depressive symptoms abate.
When my symptoms became more severe several months ago, I was so certain that I would be able to continue writing regularly. Obviously, this was not the case. Days passed, and then weeks had flown by under the covers. My thoughts were in complete disarray, and the idea of capturing the words flying about and forming them into coherent sentences was ludicrous. I couldn’t even respond to simple texts and facebook messages, let alone emails. Paragraphs were entirely out of reach.
I felt extremely guilty about my absence from Treasure Island. I was ashamed of my inability to control my illness. The simplest things seemed impossible. I was unable to respond to friends and acquaintances. I was late paying bills. I missed appointments. I couldn’t get in the shower or wash my clothes. The house became a disaster zone.
The guilt and shame were misplaced and unfair, but powerful nonetheless. We are taught to believe that ‘mind over matter’ is a possibility. It is not entirely false that we can become better at directing our thoughts and emotional states, but it is not entirely true either. A mental illness is a dysfunction or disorder of the brain. A dysfunctional brain cannot be expected to control itself, and symptoms of a disease are no cause for shame.
I am sorry for my absence. Is it possible to be apologetic without guilt? I will probably continue to feel guilty. Still, I need to learn to have compassion for myself. I hope you can have compassion for yourself as well.