So, the other day in one of my posts, I talked about how guilty those of us with bipolar often feel because of the strain it can place on others. After reading some messages from you Grasshoppers, I know that others feel this in relation to their own mental illness. In fact, in an article published by the National Institute of Health, it states: “The stigmatizing attitudes toward mental illness held by both the public and those who have a mental illness lead to feelings of shame and guilt, loss of self-esteem, social dependence, and a sense of isolation and hopelessness.” Basically, any of us can experience guilt based on what we have, and not just necessarily by what we do.
Some of you commented that one way to combat the guilt tied to actions/behaviors/words/etc. was to apologize to those who were hurt by these things. I’ve been talking about this very issue with my counselor, and I totally agree. I’ve been wanting to apologize for a long time. But, my problem (among many) is how to go about it.
How can words possibly convey the burdens and hurt I’ve inflicted on others during my life as a bipolar? Will the words sound genuine if I speak them? More ‘real’ if I write them? What exactly do I apologize for? Being mentally ill in the first place? What I’ve ‘done’ during the course of this sickness? Both?
If I were to list all of the people I should apologize too, the list would be too long for the gigs I’m allowed on this site. Seriously. I have tons of family members I know I’ve hurt. Ex hubbies. Friends I’ve had. I’d have apologize to entire classes for the times I was down and not totally ON for them, which is what each of my classes deserves every time I’m in front of them. And, sorries should go to people I haven’t been kind to since I was so far down to even be able to care like I should.
When I try to apologize to family, I can’t do it verbally. I get so choked up at the hurt I’ve caused that talking is difficult. Just writing this is making the tears begin. But, that’s no excuse for not apologizing…period.
My mom has taken the brunt of this illness. It was really starting to show itself when I was a teen, and the acting out I did during manic times and the anger I expressed to her during my depressive states is shameful to me. Mom was my scapegoat for everything I was feeling but couldn’t describe or handle at the time. I remember sitting at the table when I was around 16 or so, and she had made me an Italian sausage sandwich…onions, peppers, the works. She served it to me and I threw it across the kitchen, hitting a quilt she was hand-quilting while yelling and crying. Mom had no idea what was wrong, but instead of yelling back and punishing me, she hugged me. I’ll never forget that.
Another time in high school, I called my mom a ‘bitch’ for no good reason. Actually I screamed that word to her in her face. Right after, I stormed out of the house and rode my bike to my grandparents house. My grandpa was waiting for me in the kitchen with some food for me. Mom had called him, just to tell him how upset I was and what I said. I started nibbling, and grandpa sat down at the terry cloth covered table with me and told me he had never been disappointed in me during my entire life, but today he was. I sobbed. Having my grandpa say that told me how far I’d gone in hurting my mom. I apologized to her when I got home, and she accepted it with no further mention. That, my Grasshoppers, is forgiveness.
During the breakdown I had, mom took care of me everyday for a few weeks. Everyday. I know what an incredible burden that had to be and the guilt I feel for putting my 73 year old mom through such a trial haunts me constantly. She saved my life and never once said anything to make me feel responsible for what was happening. The words “I’m sorry” don’t even say a fraction of what I want too…but other words don’t exist that do.
And my son? For all of his growing up years I tried so so so hard to hide my mental illness. His dad and his family don’t believe in ‘weakness’ and being ‘sick’ isn’t an option. How could I admit what was swirling through my brain and how that was affecting me to someone who rebuffed anything that had to do with mental illness? Plus, I wanted my son-shine to have the best childhood possible. So I wore the tightest masks I could find; I’d be damned if I’d let him see my illness. There was no way I’d have wanted him to carry any burden of it around as a kid. My job was to be a mommy and make his growing up years happy and stable.
But when I decided to ‘come out’ with being bipolar, which was a necessity after my breakdown, my son (26) became such a support to me. To be honest, it took him a while to accept this unmasked me since he had never really seen it before. But now? He handles all of my moods, cycles, insecurities, crying, quietness, hyperactivity and everything else with support, care, and understanding. He’s been my rock, which makes me feel like I’m failing him as a mom now. But he says he’s supposed to take care of me (since I’m an elder…WTF?) and says that just how it is. I don’t agree with that, but him doing it is more than I can ever thank him for. And not being the mom he still deserves is something I’ll never be able to make up for. He’s going to be moving out in a couple of weeks, but only 2 miles away so he’ll be close if I need him.
And these 2? They’re just the tip of the ice burg. What about apologizing to my ex-hubbies? I know my sensitivity, impulsiveness, strong emotional reactions, periods of depression and the list goes on, affected each of them. Would I still be married to O’s dad if I wasn’t bipolar? Would I have saved my son from going through a divorce had I been honest with him about the severity of what was happening to me? I don’t know. But the question makes me ruminate often.
My sis and dad have been so affected by this too. Both have their own struggles with mental illness (hello…genetics anyone?) and so many times when I’ve wanted to support them, I can’t because of the state I’m in. How can I apologize for this neglect, when I know how important support really is?
So yes, apologizing is necessary, at least for me. I’m not going to say I’m sorry for having this brain disorder. That I can’t help. But to my family, friends, students, and so many other people that have been affected by me having this fucking bastard (you didn’t think I’d leave that out, did you?) of an illness, I am so sorry for what I’ve put you through. So very sorry. Please forgive me for all of these overwhelming burdens I’ve placed on your shoulders. I don’t know any other words that truly reflect how shamed I am by this. I hope you understand what I’m trying to say.
Maybe Elton John was wrong. Maybe sorry isn’t the hardest word to say. Actually, finding the words that will convey the depth of this apology is much more difficult. I just hope to find them someday, because I owe them to a lot of people.