If you suffer from depression, please do not let shame isolate you. Depression is an illness and there is nothing to be ashamed of. While I am now comfortable with this topic and am happy to discuss my illness with anyone asking, it has not always been the case. In fact writing this blog has been an essential step in helping me to talk about depression.
Depression and shame
I am currently listening to the audiobook of Brené Brown “I thought it was just me”. My yoga teacher gave me this book a couple of years ago. It sat on my bedside table all of this time. Actually it still sits there since I have decided to get the audiobook instead (I drive a lot).
For some reason I couldn’t open it. I think I might have been scared of what it was saying. I assumed that it was about depression since she gave it to me after we spoke about depression. But now that I have started listening to it I think she gave it to me because I mentioned how it took me months to tell my line manager that I was suffering with depression because I was ashamed.
You will have guessed it by now “I thought it was just me” is about shame. I am not going to get into the details of the book, which is brilliant by the way, but I mention it because it got me thinking about all of the different periods in my life where I stayed alone with my depression and suffered in silence because I was ashamed.
Shame isolates you
When I was 17 years old I confided to a friend of mine about feeling low. She told me that I should try counselling. I did not react well at all. I replied that counselling was for mad people (there were reasons while I was holding this inaccurate belief at the time but that’s another story) and that I was not mad and I never spoke to her again. You read this right I actually broke off a friendship because I was ashamed. I obviously did not try to speak to anyone else after this either. Instead I kept my pain to myself. And this is how shame isolates you.
Shame prevents you from getting support
Shame prevented me from getting support when I needed it times and times again. The example above is very telling as it prevented me from getting counselling but there are other kinds of support.
In fact I sat alone with my pain for nearly 10 years before I was able to book my first appointment with a therapist when I was 23 years old.
And 10 years later when I was at my lowest during my assignment in Denmark shame prevented me from talking to my line manager about my illness. By then I had learned how important your support network is and so I did speak to my friends about how I was feeling and I got counselling but the extra step of telling people at work terrified me.
I was afraid my colleagues would think that I was weak and unable to do the high pressure job I had been trusted with. I was worried it would affect my career’s prospect.
The miracles that can happen when you move past shame
When my GP asked me (or rather ordered me) to work part-time I no longer had a choice and called my manager who was based in the UK (it is so much easier to hide your illness when you work remotely!). He was very kind and supportive. I asked him for the moon: could he please not tell HR nor his manager. And he gave me the moon. I could not have been luckier.
We agree that I would do my contracted hours (37h) instead of 80h a week so that there would be no need to let HR know. He also gave me the flexibility to work from home on the days I couldn’t face coming into the office. All he asked was that I would keep the communication open and let him know if there was a specific task that I didn’t feel I could handle.
This arrangement was all I needed and it really helped me get through the next few months until I was able to get back to a more normal routine.
I am forever grateful for the support he gave me during this time and over the next couple of years as I was still reporting into him after I moved back to the UK.
It isn’t just you
I thought about starting this blog for about a year before I launched it.
If I am honest what hold me back was that I was worried about what my colleagues and people who knew our family from afar would think if they came across it. Getting my manager on board was one thing. Telling the whole world was another.
When I think of it now I want to laugh! I wasn’t worried about what my close friends and family would think because they already knew all about it. So really I was worried about what people that I didn’t really care would think. How much have I moved on since then!
Anyway what convinced me to speak up is something that happened when I attended the Ultimate Leadership Programme for the first time.
When Ed JC Smith asked if anyone suffered from depression I put my hand up and went on stage to do a very powerful coaching exercise. But it is what happened next that blew my mind. There were a lot of people in the room, maybe 100. The number of people that reached out to me over the next couple of days (the seminar is over 4 days) was unbelievable.
People were congratulating me for being so brave and for sharing. But many of them went on to tell me how they were suffering from depression too and had never told anyone. I spent a lot of time during that seminar hugging total strangers who were crying because this was the first time they opened up about either their own suffering or about a family member of a friend’ suffering.
I could not believe the percentage of people in the room who started to openly talk about their experience of depression. And this is when I realised that this blog was needed.
Don’t be ashamed and reach out
Since I started the blog a few people that I know have reached out to me to tell me that they too suffer from depression. And we talk about what we can do to feel better.
Sharing is so powerful because it is when you talk to others that you realised that there is nothing to be ashamed of. There is nothing wrong with you. You are not broken, you have an illness. And it is curable.
If you have a cold, are you ashamed? No, you work on getting better. If you have a serious illness, are you ashamed? No, you reach out to your family and friends and they support you through this difficult time.
So why do we sit alone with our pain when we have depression? We do it because the illness itself is isolating us. It increases our negative self-talk, it makes us think that we want to be alone.
Isolation is a symptom of the illness. So fight it and reach out. You will feel lighter after you shared it and it is the first step towards recovery. Provided that your friends and family do not themselves suffer from depression, they will be more objective than you about your situation and they can help you take those steps that will reverse the cycle of depression.
So what are you waiting for?