Apologies are important. Knowing how to apologize well and knowing how to apologize right are two extraordinarily important skills to have. A meaningful, genuine apology can rectify bad situations and repair relationships.
Sometimes, you shouldn’t apologize, even when you feel like you should. Even when all you can feel is guilt. Even when you feel like you’re disappointing everyone.
A few days ago, I got real down. I had a few bad days with anxiety, brought on by nothing in particular. The type of relentless anxiety, bouncing around from one subject to another to another in an endless spiral of thoughts and worries in my mind. I got real down because I felt like I was a burden to those around me.
I spent part of the night on the phone with my boyfriend that night, and it was clear to him that I was in some kind of mood. This certainly isn’t the first time this has happened in our three-year relationship but for some reason, on this particular night, during this particular conversation, I got so mad at myself for having to put him through this, for changing the tone of our whole conversation, for ruining the moment, for making it hard to talk to me. I got so mad that people in my life had to deal with this. That people in my life have to worry about me, that I can sometimes be no fun at all, that sometimes I can turn even good situations into bad ones with my worries and constant anxiety. I just got so mad at myself.
In these situations, my first instinct is to apologize. I’m sorry I’m like this. I’m sorry that sometimes I can’t enjoy a nice meal out because I’m too worried about eating. I’m sorry that sometimes I can’t take a joke because I let my insecurities get in the way. I’m sorry that sometimes I am the wet blanket, I’m sorry that some days my mind is somewhere else entirely. I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry.
Once I got off the phone, I typed out a long text to one of the best people I know that read something like: “Alyssa Jones, I’m a failure. I make everything harder and everything worse and I know Charles understands that this is who I am but I can’t help it and I hate when I explode all over the place and I mess things up all the time and it’s all my fault and I don’t know what to do.” She called me within 5 minutes (also: shout out to my girl A. Jones for being the coolest person I know).
After she assured me that I’m not a failure and I’m not a weak person, we started talking about how unfair it is that part of human nature is feeling guilty. Why do we have to feel bad or like we somehow are doing something wrong or don’t belong where we are? Why do some people have this natural inclination to feel bad that they are simply being a human on this Earth? Especially for those with mental illness, it is hard not to feel like it is entirely our fault. It’s hard not to feel like we are the cause of it. It’s hard not to feel bad because if we could only control what goes on our brains, everything would be better.
After I got off the phone, I typed out a message to Charles, still battling my anxious mind. I started with the series of apologies and then I stopped and deleted the whole thing and started over and took a different approach:
“I can’t apologize for who I am but I wish that it was different.”
Simple though it may sound, this was a sort of revelation in my mind. You cannot apologize for who you are. You cannot apologize for the way your brain works. You cannot apologize for any imbalance in your brain. It’s not your fault.
Writing it down in a text solidified this idea for me: anxiety, depression, anorexia, obsessive compulsivity- it’s not my fault. I don’t need to feel bad about it. I can’t apologize for something that I have no control over. I can’t control what happens in my mind, even if I wish desperately every day that I could. It’s not my fault.
For anyone who has struggled or is struggling with mental illness: it is not your fault and don’t you dare feel like you ever have to apologize for it. Don’t let anyone make you feel like it’s all your fault, don’t let them tell you that it’s all in your head and that somehow, you should be able to control it. No matter what, absolutely refuse to apologize for who you are. You are beautiful, wonderful, you and you were created to be this way for a reason. And there is absolutely no reason to be sorry for that.