Recently, I read this article on The Mighty about a lady with a chronic illness who has vowed to stop apologising for the things she can’t do because of her condition. This really struck a chord with me and got me thinking. I spend a lot of my time apologising. Multiple times a day I’ll be thinking, typing, texting or speaking the words “I’m sorry”. But why? Why am I apologising for something that’s not in my control? That’s not my fault? That I would do anything to change but currently can’t? It got me wondering why I apologise, what circumstances illicit this, what is it I’m apologising for? Why does saying sorry come so easily to me?
Let’s break it down.
I apologise when I can’t do something. If someone invites me out and I can’t go, if someone asks something of me that I can’t do, if something has to be changed or altered in some way in order to accommodate me, I apologise. When I can’t make decisions, can’t concentrate, when I can’t pay attention, or have forgotten to listen, when I feel like I’m being irritating, or I’m repeating myself, when I’ve apologised too many times, or I feel like you’re fed up with me, when my symptoms are visible, when I’m shaking, stuttering, or unable to speak because the anxiety is too much, I say I’m sorry.
So why am I apologising? I’m apologising because I’m sorry for being difficult. For being awkward. For needing adaptations to be made. I’m sorry for the fuss that has to be made. That we’re talking about my condition – again! I’m sorry for being different. For being altered. For not being the person you gave birth to, became friends with, fell in love with. But for me, apologising goes much deeper and now serves a very ugly, nasty purpose. I’m so used to apologising for all of these things that my confidence and self-belief have now plummeted. I’ve noticed this for a number of months now. I keep expecting my self-belief to improve, for this unconfident phase to be over and to be reminded again that I do have a place in this world and that I do have things to offer, things of value. But it hasn’t passed. Instead, my apologising often now means I’m sorry for being me, and worse still, I’m sorry for existing. That’s not meant in a dramatic way, it’s also not an indication of suicidality. It means I’m sorry that my level of functioning is now so low, so intrusive, requires so many adaptations, so many considerations and alterations. It means I’m sorry I can’t change this. I’m sorry I’m the cause of all of these issues, even though I know deep down that I’m not the cause and the illness is, but the illness and me are so intrinsically linked now that I’m struggling to tell us apart. I’m no longer sure where the anxiety stops and I begin. My thoughts and feelings are so often taken over and hijacked and replaced with anxiety and fear. That wasn’t ever me, that was always the condition, but now it happens so often that those are my go-to responses and thoughts, rather than the destination I reach after a while of thinking or worrying about something. I’ve got a fast-track route to anxious thinking and it often feels like that’s becoming me. I fear increasing amounts of things, I worry more and more often about more subjects and matters and that is showing no signs of shifting. So when I say I’m sorry, I’m apologising for all of it. I’m not saying I’m sorry for the one decision I can’t make. I’m not saying sorry for the one plan I’ve not been able to commit to. I’m now apologising each time for the entire mess this period of my life feels like it’s become. It’s no longer on an incident by incident basis, it’s a blanket, cover-all apology that honestly does boil down to apologising for my existence.
This is something I’m trying to stop but it’s something that runs very deep in me. My need to fit in, to follow the rules, to be accepted and “normal” is part of why I have these anxiety disorders in the first place, it’s what helps feed the social anxiety, it’s what rules my decisions about what to wear, what to do, and how to behave. The minute I step outside that, I feel I must apologise for rebelling, for being challenging, for not fitting the mould quite as I should. It isn’t a choice that I make to step outside it. I do know that. But because the condition is inside me, because it is in my head, ruling my thoughts, it feels like it’s become me and as I’ve written before, it feels like it should be under my control. I’m aware that there are no ‘shoulds’ in mental illness, but it’s still how I judge myself and it’s still the guide that I measure myself against and use to work out when I need to be apologising for something. I know that I must stop apologising for things that I can’t do because of a condition that’s outside my control. I must because otherwise I help feed stigma. When I apologise, I accept fault and blame, I accept that it is somehow my fault, that I could have done it differently, that I chose not to. When I say sorry I admit that I’m wrong, that I’ve failed in some way, that there was a better, more right way of doing things. All of those things are stigmatising when you’re apologising for something that’s not in your control. My close family, boyfriend and best friends are starting to wise-up and can see that I’m over-apologising. They know that this isn’t right, that it’s not my fault and this is just how it is. They’re starting to pull me up on it and try to get me to stop because they understand that this isn’t in my control and apologising is just making me feel worse and is feeding the lack of confidence I feel. We’re working on it together because I don’t know where the line is anymore for when I should and shouldn’t be apologising. I’m having to relearn where the line between me and my conditions is.
This is yet another learning curve that I’m on. Another thing I’m having to figure out in the midst of the anxiety, the worry, the regular feeling of failure and letting people down. I’m now having to learn to not take responsibility for everything, to step back and realise that I deserve an apology just as much as anybody else does for all of the things I have to miss out on, worry about excessively, or change, just to be able to participate. So, I’m going to try to work on not being sorry anymore, to not keep apologising for things I can’t change or help, that a condition I’m at the mercy of affects. It makes me ill and lowers my confidence and that’s Why I Need to Stop Apologising.