When the Guilt is Overwhelming

If you’ve read some of my previous posts, you’re likely well-aware of the guilt I mention every time I do anything contrary. My whole life, guilt has been my water and I’ve never quite learned how to escape it.

When you have depression, guilt is a common manifestation of the disease. I can list more times I’ve felt guilt than times I’ve been happy or sad or anything in-between. Overwhelming guilt has been my normal for so long, that I struggle to move past it.

For those readers who have not experienced depression, let me be clear that this isn’t run of the mill guilt.  This isn’t saying or doing something wrong and then feel the pang of guilt that goes away. This is the kind of guilt that ruins days and weeks because you thought of something unkind or said a word too harshly and you find yourself lying in bed wondering why you try at all because all you do is hurt everyone around you.

I’ve been on medication for my depression for 9 months now, and have been semi-stable for 6 months, but the guilt hasn’t completely gone away. When my mother discovered I was no longer a believer, I felt like an absolute failure, I constantly berated myself for being so stupid and selfish. When my father stopped talking to me, I kept searching for some reason behind it; I always thought I was an awful human, so surely his distance from me was my fault.

In my friendships, it’s the same way. If I answer a text message too harshly, my day is spent wondering why anyone would talk to me despite my cruelty. If I decline an invite, I hate how boring I am and I feel guilty for not being a more accommodating friend. If someone says something unkind to me, I dwell on the words and remind myself that I deserve them because I am literally the worst and deserve no better than whatever anyone will give me.

With the medicine, I have improved some, but I still have these moments. Conveniently, they’re now moments rather than days and weeks, but it hurts. I often have little episodes/panic attacks where I think of all the ways I’m awful and that everyone should hate me. It’s easier for me to believe that every wrong thing done to me is my fault than it is to believe that other people are responsible for their actions toward me.

Lately, I’ve felt that many of the people I have relationships with—friendly, familial, etc.—love me, but don’t like me: that they love me out of some obligation, but don’t actually like who I am, what I believe, or what I say and do.  I alternate between guilt, thinking that if I could just change myself everything would be better, to being indignant, slamming my emotional door on them and saying: “no more.”

The truth is: I cannot actually tell how someone feels about me. The depression and guilt overshadow my ability to interpret ones feelings toward me. My natural inclination is to assume that people hate me because without my medication I hate me.

Without being medicated, I hate myself. I always have; if I was a betting woman, I’d assume I always will.

People like to think of themselves as the good guy, that in this cosmic story of justice,  we always stand on the right side. With depression and the accompanying guilt, there’s no way I’d ever imagine myself on the right side. Despite whatever good actions I may do, I still imagine myself as a tiny Stalin destroying the joy of those foolish enough to care for me.

I’ve recognized this behavior in some of my family members—depression is genetic, after all. When I see their behavior, their self-hatred, I want to shake them and tell them how beautiful and good they are, but I’m the same way. When I get into a self-hatred guilt cycle, no amount of evidence will change my mind. Nine months into treatment, I still don’t think I’m good, I just think I’m less bad.

In my previous article, I talked about how I used God to justify my guilt and depression, and this was certainly the case. When I did anything sinful, it was my justification for hating myself. If I did something God hated, I deserved the loathing. Without God,  the loathing changed, but I ultimately sought treatment (likely because the guilt from leaving the faith made me constantly feel like drowning).

I said one thing to my therapist about my depression that I’m rather fond of:

It feels like I’m drowning, and everyone around me says, “What are you doing? Just swim.” I try and explain that I don’t know how to swim, that I’m trying but I was never taught how to swim, they say, “Why are you being so dramatic? It’s not hard, just move your arms and legs.” I do what they say but I’m still drowning and eventually they just leave the pool because I’m causing a scene. So now I’m drowning alone desperately hoping for a life vest.


I’ve been drowning in the guilt for so long that I’m not exactly sure what normal is at this point. I’m doing better, but better than awful still isn’t great.

4 thoughts on “When the Guilt is Overwhelming

  1. Keep working with the therapist, and talk to your prescriber about tweaking the meds. It should be better than it is.

    I was first diagnosed with depression as a child, which I did not know about and which my parents rejected. I was diagnosed again in my mid-30s when I reached the point of not being able to function. It took a few months to reach something akin to functionality again, but a few years of therapy and med-tweaks to achieve meta-stability. In 20 years I’ve had my share of instability, and then I go back to a therapist or we tweak the meds and try again. Still, life is mostly good now.

    BUT. Am I normal? Probably not. I seem to react to things differently than other people still; I can be hurt by stuff that rolls off other people’s backs. Other folks can get truly *excited* about stuff and I can’t. I just don’t seem to have a full positive emotional range. And negative stuff, well, I’m still likely to slip back into trash-talking myself if I don’t watch carefully. So, I’m me. Normal is irrelevant, and so I don’t mourn it. (Achieving that state of mind took awhile.) I just try to practice good mental health self-care, ride out the occasional bad days, and keep reaching for the good days.

    Try your damndest to be good to yourself. I understand there’s a script in your head that says it is wrong to do so. You really have to fight that script tooth and nail. It gets easier after awhile.


  2. “Better than aweful still isn’t great.” This is exactly how I’m feeling. I am 3 weeks out from a suicide attempt. I’m feeling just barely better than aweful, and I’m afraid that it won’t get better.


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