Guilt and shame about needing help overcoming feelings of guilt and shame.
June 8, 2011 8:12 AM   Subscribe

How do I overcome feelings of guilt and shame about needing therapy in order to get help?

I have a drinking problem, a general anxiety disorder for which I'm taking Cymbalta, and, at this point, feelings of depression. I feel both a lot of guilt about letting my life get to this point, embarrassment about needing therapy at all, and I'm not looking forward to talking about any of this with anyone. However, I'm aware that I need to overcome these feelings in order for my life to improve. Any and all advice would be appreciated. Throwaway email:
posted by anonymous to Health & Fitness (16 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Most people's lives are not tidy. You don't have to feel that anyone's doing any better than you, because in point of fact it's probably just not true. Everyone's gone through very rough periods in the past or will in the future. We're all human and have made many mistakes. If it's any encouragement, just beginning that first swerve in the direction of your life, however small the improvements, makes a world of difference: your consciousness of the fact that things are now trending upward. Good luck with therapy but know that it's hard to find a compatible therapist and could several tries and some time.
posted by Paquda at 8:28 AM on June 8, 2011 [1 favorite]

Mental illness is an ILLNESS. There is a stigma attached to it, even for the people who deal with it every day. Illness is an illness that needs to be treated by a professional.

Just like you'd take your car to a mechanic, go to a dentist for a toothache, or see a doctor if you were suffering from some other illness, going to a therapist is just seeing a professional for assistance with their area of expertise.

If it helps you, think of your problems as an infection. Yes, there may have been things that you could have done to prevent the infection but it's just as likely that there weren't. The important thing now is to just get the treatment you need before the infection spreads.

This is something that I struggle with everyday. I feel your pain. It's a lot easier to give advice than to actually take it. Good luck with your struggle. Keep fighting. As long as you keep fighting then you're winning.
posted by TooFewShoes at 8:31 AM on June 8, 2011 [1 favorite]

Think about all the things you can't do on your own. You can't perform thoracic surgery on yourself, you need someone's help for that. In fact, it's amazing how much of being an adult is wrapped up in dealing with one's own powerlessness.

Accepting help when help is truly needed is a strength, not a weakness. Refusing much-needed help out of a sense of pride or propriety is a weakness, not a strength. Therapy is not the realm of "broken", damaged people. It is the realm of people who aspire to a better version of themselves.

Did you really think you would manage to get through all of life's problems handling everything just fine, all on your own? Seems like kind of a silly expectation, doesn't it? No one gets out clean. What defines us as a person is not whether we slip and fall, but what we do after the fact.
posted by hermitosis at 8:31 AM on June 8, 2011 [14 favorites]

First, know that you are brave for recognizing that you are struggling and you are strong for beginning to take these steps to help yourself. I have faith that things will get better for you, though it can be hard work.

Often times one of the hardest parts of this process is exacty what you're describing here. Just getting started. Know that any therapist you will work with has seen this before and wants to help you make the changes you want to make in your life.

So how to make those first steps? You don't say exactly where you are in the process, but I'll try to throw out some ideas. You say that you are taking Cymbalta, have you disclosed your all of the information about your depression, anxiety and drinking to the physican who is prescribing you the medication? Just breaking the ice by fully disclosing what is happening can make it easier to approach a therapist later and will help your doctor make the best decisions for your care. Your physican can probably also help by making recommendations to therapists who they feel would be a good match for you.

Think about how you would react if a friend or colleague were telling you about simliar problems. Would you think badly of them? Want them to feel ashamed? Would you want to support them? Chances are you would want to help them and would admire them for getting help. Think of yourself as that friend, and give yourself the same care and concern you would someone else.

Do you have any friends or family you can ask for help? You don't need to disclose all of this to them, but could maybe ask for help making an appointment, or checking in with you to see whether you've made phone calls. Something like "You know I have to make this appointment and I'm a little worried about doing it, so have been kind of avoiding it. Could you check in with me on Wednesday to see if I actually made the call?" Being accountable to them for getting that done might give you a little more motivation to take those concrete steps that might feel overwhelming. Another option would be to start attending AA meetings or simliar support groups and find a sponsor who could give you support in finding help.

Also, start to approach this as a series of small steps rather than thinking about the possibly overwhelming task of fixing this all at once. First, you need to find a therapist. Next you need to make a call. Next, you will have a first appointment and so on. You don't have to tackle all of it all at once.

Take gentle care of yourself. You are doing the right thing by asking for help. Everyone needs help from someone from time to time. It is part of being human.
posted by goggie at 8:34 AM on June 8, 2011 [1 favorite]

Accept that it's a courageous and admirable thing to be able to reach out to get the help you need and that being able to accept that you need to change is the first step to becoming the person you want to be and arguably one of the hardest.

Also its good to remember that you won't be the first, or last person, to feel this way about therapy. You probably know more people than you think who have been down this road. Its also a great thing to talk about with potential therapists
posted by SpaceWarp13 at 8:34 AM on June 8, 2011 [1 favorite]

In addition to what everyone has said above: guilt itself is a very, very, very, very normal accompaniment to anxiety and depression. What you're feeling is the illness itself. Bear in mind that "depression lies" - it lies to you about what is your fault and it lies to you about what's wrong.

Do what you need to do! Feel better!
posted by Sticherbeast at 8:45 AM on June 8, 2011

Those things all sound like they're just manifestations of anxiety/depression, which is great - that means that if you go to therapy for one of them you're likely to improve All of them. And you'll be helping to pay another professional to do good work, just like you do for your barber, primary care physician, and mail carrier.

I recently bought a thank you card for my old therapist because I am a happier person, more whole and better able to give back to the world around me, for the work we did over the years. Offer yourself that same world of wellness - you know that you deserve it, right?
posted by ldthomps at 8:57 AM on June 8, 2011

You might not be "ill" -- but you're not alone. People go to therapy for the kinds of help and suggestions that used to come from one's community--spiritual advisors, wise older people, family members, friends, etc. Conventions have changed -- not just that the location for that support has been relocated to therapists' offices, but because in the past it was more acceptable for people to approach you with support without first being asked, and earlier. Its not really seen as appropriate anymore, so you have to seek it. Yours is not a personal failure...nobody succeeds or fails on their own. That's an economic/political myth.
posted by vitabellosi at 8:58 AM on June 8, 2011

Try this. Totally change your perception of the guilt and shame. Rather than identifying with them as authentic feelings, think of them as part of the problem: they're like sneezing, a side-effect of a dysfunction which seeks to maintain the pathology's traction in the world. They exist to stop you from getting better.

To put it another way, they're only holding you back, and they're simply a form of psychological inertia. Time to jettison the dead weight and move forward.
posted by clockzero at 9:36 AM on June 8, 2011 [5 favorites]

A thousand times, what clockzero said. This is just another symptom. Depression and anxiety are kind of like cancer in the way they've got self-preservation/perpetuation mechanisms built in.

Think of the therapist as an oncologist. Not only is she trained and experienced in treating your illness, she speaks its language. So you're not going to have to go in there and explain what anxiety or guilt is, you can just say "I had to get past a ton of anxiety to get in here today," and she's going to get it. She may want to talk about it, but she's going to know what it is.
posted by Lyn Never at 9:51 AM on June 8, 2011 [4 favorites]

The thing about depression and anxiety is that they are lying jerks. You are doing something good, and they're telling you it's going to suck, and why bother, and all that bullshit. To hell with those lying jerks. They can fuck right off.

You're getting your shit together! That's a 100% good thing! Yay! People will understand.
posted by Sys Rq at 9:57 AM on June 8, 2011 [2 favorites]

Clockzero hits the nail on the head. Your taking a step in the right direction is certainly a demonstration of strength and courage. The negative feelings that suggest otherwise are not helpful and there's no point in dwelling on them since they serve no constructive purpose right now.
posted by Hylas at 10:56 AM on June 8, 2011

You're doing the right thing by talking to someone.

You're doing a GREAT thing by taking this step.

You're experiencing emotions a lot of people feel or have felt (including myself!)

I found myself resisting the urge to talk in therapy, and then I needed to have a little pep talk with myself. I said, 'You're here for a reason, and you need to talk for a reason.' You know what? I made a good decision to listen to myself and talk!

Know that you're in the same boat as a lot of people. What's remarkable is that you're willing to figure out how to improve things and the good news is that this means you're well on your way to getting to the bottom of it.

I wish you the best - you'll be fine!
posted by glaucon at 10:56 AM on June 8, 2011 [1 favorite]

You are taking responsibility for yourself which should make you feel proud! You are demonstrating that you are courageous, responsible and care about your own well being. I am a therapist and can tell you that most people have been or will be in therapy at some point. And those that don't go to therapy are the ones with the most issues. I understand where you are coming from--it can feel so hard to be open with yourself about struggles. The more you open up, the less burdened you will feel. I hope you have people in your life who can support you in this process and with whom you can share the experience.

The stigma in this country around mental health issues is a burden for all of us. We should all be working to change it!
posted by rglass at 10:57 AM on June 8, 2011

Long before the twentieth century came along and labeled it "therapy" people routinely sought the help of village priests (as well as the archetypal Wise Woman) to help them sort their lives out. Finding someone to talk to was a widespread practice for more than 4000 years before someone thought to label it a medical condition.

On the plus side, calling it a condition means there are now standards of care and people specifically trained to be good at listening and understanding.

On the minus side, seeking out one of those people has now become a Big Deal. Instead of having tea with the pastor it now involves appointments and couches and insurance.

Try to see past the modern trappings and remember that you're doing what people have done since time immemorial -- chatting with someone else to give perspective and help sort things out.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 11:01 AM on June 8, 2011 [2 favorites]

Like everyone else said you doing the right thing, not the easiest thing but the right one, taking that step to be a better person, that makes you strong not weak.

I can still remember my first session. I think I spend most of the time crying. It's really hard to be open about things you may have never shared. I was brought up very much not to talk about how I was feeling but at the end I felt like I'd made a positive step towards being healthy. I just needed a little help from someone to navigate to where I knew I wanted to be.

Since I've been more open about dealing with depression. I've found lots of people, most of them doing amazing things with art, work, writing, all saying they deal with the same feeling, you are very far from alone
posted by Z303 at 11:41 AM on June 8, 2011

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