Guest Post: Burnout, Shame and the Sticking Point of Our Words

Today’s guest post is written by Rachael, who runs the amazing Call On Courage podcast.

Have you ever noticed how you call something affects how you perceive it? There’s a famous quote: “Watch your thoughts, they become your words; your words become your actions; your actions become your habits; your habits become your character; your character, it becomes your destiny.” We go from the micro that is a single idea right through to the macro of future destiny. Is that grandiose or grain of truth? I think this quote inhabits both descriptions. Where mental health is concerned, it’s vital; we label and frame our diagnosis around the language of recovery. It’s unhelpful to my mental health and well-being to describe myself as a depressed person…but someone who has had challenges facing depression and anxiety.

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I’m Not Sorry About My Mental Illness

I apologize a lot. I mean, a LOT. I’ve done it so much that it’s like a reflex now – I say sorry without even thinking why I’m doing it.

And I apologize for everything. If I’m running late, I say sorry. If I misunderstand what someone said to me, I say sorry. If I don’t do as good of a job on something as I think should, I say sorry. I know it’s not what I should be doing, but I do it anyway. I don’t even consider whether or not I am actually sorry – it’s out of my mouth before I have time to think.

The one thing I apologize for constantly, and above all else, is my mental health. I say sorry when I can’t meet up with a friend because I’m depressed. I apologize that I wasn’t more social when I’m out because my anxious mind is doing cartwheels. If I have a panic attack in front of someone, I’m more concerned with whether or not that person is okay instead of trying to calm myself down. It’s not good for me – and I want to stop.

I want to stop because of all the people who have told me not to say sorry. They don’t want me to apologize for my mental illness – they just want me to be okay. And over the years, I missed that. I prioritized things incorrectly, and it stopped me from dealing with my mental illness in a healthy way.

Yes, apologize for the mess-ups. For the mistakes you make. But don’t apologize for who you are. I was ashamed of my mental health for a long time, and it held so much power over me. Now that I’m not ashamed, that power is gone. Yes, it’s still something I deal with, but I’m not afraid to deal with it. I’m not sorry. Hope that’s okay.

ann patchett