Since Humans of Medicine 2016, I’ve been trying to find the courage to speak out about something mental health related, but the topic feels entirely too personal and I am frozen by shame. It’s really a shame (pun intended) too, because 2017 marks a couple of big milestones for me; milestones which I could frame in an inspiring or motivating light, but instead I find myself ruminating on the shame associated with them.
I feel like a hypocrite (and ashamed) when I promote destigmatising mental illness and personal mental health struggles but can’t lead by example. Mental health is something I’m passionate about; yet time and time again I return to these feelings of shame and the urge to hide what I experience. Further yet, I doubt what I experience and essentially gaslight myself.
This time, here goes…
10 years ago, I self-harmed for the first time. This was the first sign something wasn’t quite right with me; the first sign of (query – because I find this difficult to accept and admit) mental illness. I’ve spent the last 10 years questioning and finding all sorts of reasoning and logic to try to explain how this started and why it continues to recur in both the same and different forms, but haven’t yet found an explanation that feels like it really fits.
The other milestone is that I am 5 years past my intended expiry date. I have a lot of complex feelings towards this; many that I am ashamed to let out of my mind and onto the page, and many more that I am ashamed to admit to myself.
Shame is a feeling I remember from young. Shame about my appearance; my family; my background; my accent; my mental health; my interests (or lack thereof)… my identity.
I’ve been ashamed about achieving well but also about not being perfect. I’ve been ashamed about being well enough to function, but not well enough to be free. I’ve been ashamed about accepting my illness, but also denying it. I’ve been ashamed about seeking help and taking medication, but ashamed that I can survive without it (albeit not as well). I’ve been ashamed about being ashamed, and not being ashamed. I am ashamed that I haven’t been more explicit, but also that I’ve shared anything at all. I am ashamed that I feel like I am attention seeking, but also ashamed that I immediately feel like seeking attention is a negative thing.
Shame controls too much of my life and too much of what I do and don’t feel. It controls too much of what I do and don’t do. Inevitably, shame fuels my illness(es). However, listening to the shame and holding this inside hasn’t done me any good, so I guess I’ll try something different and speak out for once. This is milestone #3, I guess.
Although this isn’t as inspiring as some other stories, I hope it’s relatable to someone.
Marcus Cherry, University of Newcastle, Bachelor of Medicine JMP, Year 3 (2017)