This is something I find myself doing often. I have lived with mental illness for over a decade and I still find myself uttering that one word; sorry. Sorry I let you down. Sorry I couldn’t make it. Sorry for being ill.
An example of this is my partner and I recently went on holiday. Due to a mix up, I was left without one of my medications, and in the end went for three days without it. Including the withdrawal symptoms I was experiencing, I also started to feel very low and tearful. We didn’t leave our lodge for two days because I was convinced I would break down or have a panic attack. The one thing I kept saying again and again was sorry. I felt I had ruined our holiday and it was all my fault.
When it comes to my mental health It’s so ingrained in me to apologise that I do it without really noticing. I find myself saying it before I’ve realised what I’ve said, and what it implies. Apologising implies it’s your fault. Mental illness is not your fault, it isn’t anyone’s fault for being ill. We are blameless. We didn’t cause ourselves to be ill, and we certainly didn’t ask for it.
So why do we do it? I think the stigma that lives in our society is mostly to blame. Mental illness by many is seen as a sign of weakness. The ‘just snap out of it’ and ‘cheer up’ brigade often think this way. We’re told by them we need to be stronger and to just get on with life. By others it’s a character flaw. There is something wrong in how we think and live and that it can be easily fixed. We’re lazy, so exercising regularly and working hard will cure all our problems. If we’re constantly being told we’re weak, flawed and lazy, no wonder we’re always apologising.
Another major reason we find ourselves apologising is guilt. We often find ourselves feeling guilty for a multitude of reasons. Our room or our house is a mess, we can’t get out of bed, we cancel plans with family and friends. But is this guilt an ordinary part of mental health problems, or does the pressure of being happy and normal cause it? I think maybe the guilt is always there, but the demands put on us by society exacerbate this feeling.
Back to the holiday I took with my partner. I kept saying sorry. Through tears and sobs I was still apologising. However, my partner would say to me, until it finally made sense, “Don’t apologise, you’ve done nothing wrong. I’m not angry or upset, you can’t help being ill.” That’s the key to all of this; to surround yourself with accepting individuals. Keep hold of those friends that understand and really mean it when they tell you it’s ok. Ignore those that demean your mental illness and cut them out of your life if necessary. Educate the rest.
It can feel very lonely living with a mental illness. We want others to love us and not to frighten them away. We fear that we have made them angry or upset. So we say sorry, hoping they will stay. We need to show ourselves some compassion and to truly believe that we are not at fault for being ill. We shouldn’t apologising even if some people think we should. Even if we don’t always realise it, to go through what we do everyday, we are far stronger then them.