As a person with a mental condition that often drastically affects interpersonal relationships, I’m a total pro at apologizing. I do it practically every day. Here’s a sample of depression-related things I’ve apologized for lately:
- being too tired to meet up with a friend
- being late
- leaving early
- getting upset when a friend acted insensitively
- needing to talk to someone
- saying something negative
- needing to go be alone for a bit
- writing something emotional
- being unsure of whether a friend really cares about me or not
- not understanding a joke
- not being dressed well/not having makeup on
- taking criticism too harshly
- not wanting to be in a big group of people
- not wanting to drink
- being quiet
- not having an appetite
Now, I realize I should be counting my blessings for the fact that I now have friends who understand me and my brain enough to be able to accept those apologies–in high school it was much worse. But at the same time, I’ve become acutely aware of how inauthentic I’m being when I apologize for the various ways in which my depression manifests itself. Sure, I’m sorry if the way I am makes life difficult for people or makes them uncomfortable. But apologizing implies that I could’ve avoided the situation had I been more attentive or considerate, just like when one apologizes for, say, forgetting a friend’s birthday or for spilling hot coffee on someone.
I can’t avoid being fatigued or upset or sensitive, though, any more than a diabetic can avoid needing insulin shots.
Of course, most people who don’t know me very well don’t even know that I’m depressed. Thankfully, I’m not required to wear a scarlet letter “D” on my shirt. But even if they do know, I feel compelled to apologize every time my behavior deviates from that of a healthy person, just to remind them that I’m well aware of the fact that the way I am can be an inconvenience for people.
The truth is, though, that insofar as “I’m sorry” means “I messed up,” “my bad,” “this is on me,” “I should’ve known better,” “I should’ve tried harder,” “I should’ve been a better person,” and the like–I’m not sorry. It’s not my fault. I couldn’t have stopped it. There’s nothing I could’ve done. I’m getting treatment and trying my best to recover, and that’s as much as I should be held responsible for. I’m not even to blame for not getting treatment sooner, because I was a kid and had no idea there was anything wrong with me. I’d been told “that’s just how you are” all my life.
I wish I could stop apologizing for having an illness. But until people understand it well enough to react to my apologies the way they’d react to an asthma sufferer who apologizes for getting out of breath, I can’t.
I’m still not sorry, though.