The Cycle of Apologies


I am so tired of apologizing, but I don’t see how I can stop doing it. I’m not even sure I want to stop doing it.

I don’t want to live my life as a walking apology, but I also don’t want to become the kind of person who sees no need for regrets about how my condition and/or my shortcomings affect others.

Recently, I was having an interaction with someone that involved me sending an email every day for a certain purpose. I was consistent for a couple of weeks, then skipped days. When my dip ended, I began again, apologizing for my lapse and saying it was okay if they didn’t want to continue. They gave me another chance…and, after some days, it happened again.

It’s only the latest iteration of the type of cycle that defines my life:

Stage 1: I’m back! So sorry I haven’t done the thing for (insert length of time here.) I’m going to try really hard to do the thing again, because the thing is very important to me. 

Stage 2: Look, I did the thing. See? I did it some more. I can do the thing. I can do the thing every day. So grateful to be doing the thing.

Stage 3: I am sort of doing the thing, but not well. I’m sorry. Can we talk about this later?

Stage 4: *silence*

Stage 5: Hi. I haven’t been doing the thing. I want to start again and I can’t and what does it matter anyway because I know even if I do it won’t last and I’m sorry, so sorry; I know you must think the thing isn’t important to me but it is, I swear it is, and so are you…

Was it unrealistic of me to even try something that relied upon consistent, daily performance of a task? What if I had said, look, I really want to do this, but I have a mental health issue and a history of interruptions in my functioning? Would that have been being realistic and sensible, or would it be seen as making excuses?

What if I say to my doctor, look, I’d like to nod and smile and tell you I’ll exercise every day, but the only exercise I have been getting during the really bad times is digging through cupboards for band-aids?

Where is the line; where does a realistic assessment of my condition end and making excuses begin?

Could I be allowed to stop making promises, or even implied promises, that set me up for the inevitable apologies?

There’s no way for anyone else to assess, or even for me to assess reliably, the subjective amount of effort I’m making. So how can I, when unable to perform consistently, express that the thing, principle or person is still important?

Can I ever be good enough, do enough, love enough to have it mean something?

These are not new thoughts, and the search for balance will never end. I’ve made progress on some aspects of it. I’m better about not making commitments during my “up” phase that are completely unrealistic, and I’m more forgiving of myself than I used to be. But shame still saps way too much of my energy, and delays the return of good self-care after a dip.

I want to conquer shame and let my apologies be simply an expression of regret–always remembering that an apology means little in the absence of a sincere effort to do better.

4 responses to “The Cycle of Apologies

  1. i struggle with this all the time. i recently sent an email to a friend that i had lost touch with during my last episode when i cut myself off from everyone. i apologized for being a bad friend and i told my other friend about it and she said “why are you apologizing. you were sick. if she was a good friend she would have stuck by you.” i still feel bad but it did give me pause – if people know your challenge than it’s less about forgiving and more about understanding – we are doing the best we can. (but this is from a girl who is working on not apologizing to walls when she accidentally runs into one.)

  2. You are enough. Whatever you do is enough. I have this conversation with my daughter all the time, we are both abuse survivors and have been trained to apologize for our very existence. Just last night I was apologizing to my husband for marrying him – now isn’t that ridiculous? ecteedoff has a good point, our friends and loved ones don’t expect apologies for something we have no control over. Apologize if you step on someone’s foot, apologize if you intentionally treat someone poorly, but please don’t apologize for things you cannot control.

  3. I rarely make ongoing commitments such as your email thing anymore because I know I can’t keep them due to my fluctuating mood states and I am OK with that. I didn’t used to be but I have come to realize that expecting myself to do the things I do when I am well when I am sick is like trying to change my eye color from brown to blue. Being sick is not an excuse for not doing something. It is an explanation. On that same note, because I go from being well to sick so often (I have rapid cycling bipolar II) I have tons of unfinished projects around the house. Not catastrophic, but a bit humorous and just another example of the way mental illness has an effect on my life. Something else that has helped change my view on expecting too much from myself is the spoon theory. Have you heard of it? Google it. It talks about how those of us with chronic conditions only have so much in us to deal with everyday. We can’t do it all like those without illnesses. It’s just a fact. And what we can do each day changes depending on the day and a whole host of factors, which is why some days you can email and some days you cannot. Some days you have a spoon for that and some days you do not. It’s a good read. She explains it in a creative way. The Spoon Theory.

  4. Forgiving oneself and letting go of shame heals.

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