The weight of guilt

“You’re not here for me anymore.”

“You’ve changed.”

“Why are you there for them but not for me?”

Self-care, when you’re on the brink of depression, is no joke. Especially if you’re a people-pleaser.

At the end of 2016, I was trying so hard to keep my head above water. I was in total denial of my emotions, to say the least, and was trying as hard as I could to keep my facade of a generous and helpful woman, always there for others.

But it was not an easy task.

I was so angry. Angry at the world, angry at people, angry at myself… And I was sad. I remember crying at night and not even knowing why I was crying that much. Months went by and I knew, deep down, that I was dangerously rubbing shoulder with my old friend, depression. Yet, there I was, still trying to comfort and find solutions for others because I thought their problems were so much bigger and important than mine were.

So I found myself in a place where I would try to solve issues that should’ve been discussed with therapists. Problems that I was not equipped to deal with. Behaviors that I didn’t know how to handle. And despite all of my good will, this was way over my head. I had to admit that I tried to bite off more than I could chew.

This is when my own therapist suggested that I distance myself with others for the sake of my health. That I focus on me instead of them for a change. And I tried…

But when you feel like you’ve been in an ocean for so long with someone who’s struggling to swim, it’s not easy to let go of their hand and then watch them from a distance, hoping that they don’t drown. Especially if they cry and scream your name once you’re out of their sight.

The first months were the worst. My unconvincing attempts to let go made me feel guilty and selfish. Memories of my best friend accusing me of letting her down during my first depression were constantly on my mind. I didn’t want to push people away. I didn’t want them to hate me. I just wanted to take care of myself and not spiral back into a second depression.

People started to notice. And they didn’t understand why I was doing it. They questioned my behavior, tried to make me change back into my old self, reminded me of how nice I was before and how I wasn’t as available anymore…

That made me feel even more guilty and selfish. I didn’t know what to do, how to act, how to process my overwhelming emotions… And that’s when the official diagnostic came: depression.

Again.

It was like a sign from my body to stop and see that I, too, needed to be cared of.

But I didn’t know how. So I ate my guilt, my sadness and my anger away. If I wasn’t able to make people understand that me distancing myself had nothing to do with them but all to do with me, then I was going to show them. So I’ve put on a physical barrier. A barrier of fat – filled with candies, chips and sorrows – was now surrounding me, protecting me from the world.

Did it work? It kind of did, but I’m not entirely sure.

One thing was clear: at that point, they could see that I was unwell and that I didn’t have the ability to help them like before. It was a fact – there was a diagnostic attached to it. Of course, it was all done unconsciously. But looking back, I know that this is what happened.

So… Did they drown? No. And I’m really grateful that they didn’t. But did the comments stopped? Nope, they didn’t. Guilt trips happened a lot back then and are still happening sometimes nowadays. A comment here, a comment there… It’s surprising how people quickly take something for granted and then kick and scream once they lose what they thought was theirs forever.

Were they allowed to be upset about my changed behavior? Of course. But was it okay to try and guilt me into thinking I was egotistical? No. I have the right to change. And I shouldn’t force myself to be a certain way in order to please others.

Yes, if you’re a people-pleaser, you want to be loved. You want to be needed. (And let me tell you, I rarely felt more needed than during that period of my life.) But when do you know you’ve reached your limit? When do you have to admit to yourself that you can’t be the savior you thought you needed to be in order to be loved? When can you start taking care of yourself a little more and not feel selfish for doing it? For me, it was when I didn’t recognize myself anymore. I didn’t know who I was if I wasn’t “Stephanie, the generous girl who’s always there for her friends and family”.

Honestly, I’m still trying to figure it out…

The road to recovery and self-love isn’t an easy one. It’s fraught with difficulties, mixed feelings and people who don’t always understand what you’re doing.

But I still think that this road is more pleasant than the one to depression, so this is the one I will try to stay on.

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