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How to Deal with Being Guilt-Tripped Over Your Mental Health

Woman struggling with depression and overload of household chores
Getty Images / Hirurg

Trying to “fix” someone’s mental state with guilt-trips and “tough love” may sometimes seem necessary, but it often does more harm than good.

Firstly, many people living with depression already feel guilty and ashamed over (what they perceive as) their shortcomings. Secondly, guilt-tripping is an underhand way to make someone bend to your will and ideals. It prevents healthy communication, and, worse, the guilt-tripper feels absolved from helping the other person!

Today, Megan Potts explores her journey with mental health struggles and how she eventually dealt with those determined to shame her over them.

You know how much it can impact your daily routine if you've dealt with mental health issues. From relying on takeout food to struggling with hygiene and housekeeping, the state of your mental health can affect your whole life, not just your mood.

Everyone struggles sometimes. That said, a surprising number of people equate these struggles to a "lack of moral fiber." It's not depression, or so they think; it's YOU. 

Sometimes, they're willing to learn and attempt to understand what we're going through. Yet, sometimes, we encounter people who seem committed to not understanding.

They may grasp the struggle of a depressive episode - but also believe that "tough love" will snap someone out of one. To these people, a cluttered house is a separate problem from a messy mind. They don't understand how a low mood can lead to mess piling up around us at an astounding pace. And then comes their "cure" in the form of waspish remarks, nagging, and, yes, shaming. 

We all encounter people who reinforce the negative thoughts we have about ourselves during difficult times. But accepting their shaming or "tough love" is a choice, not inevitable.

"Best interests" shouldn't be the equivalent of shaming struggling people

I regularly beat myself up when going through an episode of intense depression or anxiety. I've lost count of the nights I've spent on the phone with friends who do understand, sobbing and berating myself. 

"Why can't I just do the things that need doing?" 

"Why is that load of washing on its third round rather than dried and put away a week ago?" 

"What kind of example am I setting for my daughter right now?"

Friends who understand usually have the same, comforting answer: "You're using what energy you have to simply survive right now – and that is enough."

But the crushing anxiety returns with force when I receive visitors in my flat. Before anyone has even entered the threshold, I'm ashamed of my home looking anything less than perfect

We can become so used to being shamed that guilt becomes automatic 

What person with mental health struggles isn't familiar with the panicked scramble of trying to tidy their home in mere minutes? With throwing things that don't have "a place" into a random, closed-off room? And then there's the gut-wrenching realization that there isn't time to clear up the mess of a 3 week (or longer) depressive episode in 24 hours.

When I finally open the door, my guest is followed by my frantic apologies and over-explaining: "Please try to ignore the mess. I'm sorry, I tried. Everything's so chaotic at the moment…"

“My house, my way" became my shame-combatting mantra

It took me far too long to realize that this is MY home. This is my safe space, where I can ride out periods of barely being able to get out of bed. In my tiny nook in this world, there’s no need to match the sterility of show-home standards. 

Recently, I've started to gauge the reaction of visiting people. Do they look aghast, disgusted by what they're seeing? Do they look concerned?

Or do they get it? Do they understand how much I'm trying to get everything together as I juggle my mental health and single-parenting a 4-year-old?

That reaction determines my approach going forward. Do I dodge that person visiting again unless I know that I can clean up properly before they arrive? Or is the person "safe" - as in, can I invite them in without my house looking like a show home? (I still do my best to tidy beforehand, of course).

The mess is my concern, not that of any visitors. And if anyone pressures me to tidy up on their arrival, not noticing the work I put in before they rang my doorbell, do they deserve a space on my sofa?

Don't compromise your needs to suit the non-essential demands of others 

So, today, I challenge you to start assessing who has a place in your home. The saying, "If you can't accept me at my worst, you don't deserve me at my best," rings true. I'm not horrible to my visitors. I don't live in filth. Who cares if there are a few toys on the floor? 

Reminding myself of the above has been tremendously helpful in my visitor assessments. 

Sure, I have fewer people coming or staying over now. And yes, my home is messy, but it's safe for me and my daughter, physically and psychologically.

After all, what's setting a better example for her? Insisting that she bends over backward to accommodate others at the expense of her well-being? Or teaching her to focus on what keeps her alive and healthy enough to keep going? 

My daughter needs me more than an empty laundry basket 

Nobody will die because the washing needs to be re-washed, having gone musty in the machine. Sometimes, I need to use my energy to talk myself off a ledge, not sorting piles of laundry. If I pushed on with laundry instead of managing my mental health, my daughter might wind up without a mother. 

That's an outcome I can't imagine anyone wanting, even those who would feel it "necessary" to shame me over the overflowing laundry basket.

The information presented is solely for educational purposes, not as specific advice for the evaluation, management, or treatment of any condition.

The individual(s) who have written and created the content in and whose images appear in this article have been paid by Teva Pharmaceuticals for their contributions. This content represents the opinions of the contributor and does not necessarily reflect those of Teva Pharmaceuticals. Similarly, Teva Pharmaceuticals does not review, control, influence or endorse any content related to the contributor's websites or social media networks. This content is intended for informational and educational purposes and should not be considered medical advice or recommendations. Consult a qualified medical professional for diagnosis and before beginning or changing any treatment regimen. 


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