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Why My Bipolar Disorder Makes Me Constantly Apologize

First off, let me start by saying I apologize. I apologize for every time I screwed up. Every time I let you down. Every time you were embarrassed because of my actions to not succeed in my work, my goals, my being.

Why am I apologizing? Because I absolutely feel I have to. As far back as I am able to recall, which is about the age of 5, I saw, and still see, the difficulties I inflict in the lives others — my parents, my brother, my friends, my teachers and any of my superiors. I believe I make life harder for them. I’m observant in that way. I love other people, and because I bother them, because I trouble them, because I let them down — because of all of these things — I hate myself. Whatever I am doing to cause you trouble, I punish myself for it. I love you, I hate me.

Whether or not it was intended, I have always felt I was, and am, more trouble than I am worth. I saw the pain in my mother’s eyes the first time I told her I wanted to go to sleep and never wake up — I was 7. I saw the anger in my father’s eyes when I couldn’t stop crying because of an argument — I was 10. I saw the fear in my brother’s eyes when I collapsed to the ground, shaking, my chest heaving, unable to breathe in-between the silent screams in my head — I was 13. And I just saw my superior’s annoyance in the tightening of her jaw, and I could hear her frustration in her sharp words — I am 24. I could see thoughts cross their mind: “I don’t know how to help,” “I don’t know what to do with her,” “I can’t handle her.” And I found my conclusion: I’m trouble.

I don’t know how many times a day I tell others I’m sorry; I’ve lost count. It’s a knee jerk reaction at this point.

Today I made a mistake with a client at work at work, that embarrassed the company, my boss and myself. I can’t go into detail but I can tell you that when I told my boss “I apologize,” she thought I was apologizing for the mistake. But what I really meant was, “I’m sorry you hired me, I’m sorry you met me, I’m sorry I exist.”

Due to my mental illness, my bipolar disorder type 2, I hurt a lot — a lot of the time. So when I see others struggling, I empathize. When I see others struggling because of me, I criticize… I criticize myself. I am already in pain. It feels real, though to paraphrase others: “It’s just in my head.” When I break down, I wonder if I’ll be able to keep breathing. When I stifle my cries and screams, I wonder whether or not my chest is actually being ripped open. When I’m angry I feel myself shake uncontrollably, as if I might shatter to pieces within a few moments.

I’ve hurt myself, thankfully never seriously. Once, in a fit of rage — due to frustration with myself while fighting with my boyfriend — I punched a wall, splitting the skin across my knuckles, and causing bruising and swelling the next day. But I’ve heard stories of other types of self-harm. I can’t lie that I haven’t fantasized about it. But again, thankfully, I’ve never partaken in planned or habitual self-harming actions.

I can understand it — wanting to punish yourself. Punishment is what comes to that which is unacceptable, unwanted and intolerable. At some point along the way, I began to think it was my job to punish myself. Verbally I told myself, “You’re worthless,” “You’re stupid,” “How could anyone love you,” “How could anyone like you,” and the scariest self-verbal-abuse of them all: “You should just kill yourself.”

I’ve always received therapy, and recently I am blessed enough to receive dialectical behavior therapy (DBT). With therapy and medication, I can continue on in life with the consistent learning process to love myself rather than punish myself. I love other people — as I have said before, I don’t want to cause them trouble. But I need to love myself as well, and not hate myself at the expense of others’ perceived happiness. I need to forgive myself for my mistakes. I need to own up to what I can, and not apologize for what I cannot change or is not my fault.

I have many talents. I am a musician; a visual artist; a performance artist; a writer; a supportive friend, girlfriend and family member; a nonprofit activist; a researcher; a student; an employee; an excellent cheesecake baker … the list can go on, if I’d like it to. But somehow, some way, that list vanishes when I make the smallest mistake, when someone around me makes the smallest complaint about my actions and/or words. But I try to keep that list in mind; I have to keep it in mind.

I am consistently looking for different mantras, quotes or inspirational stories to motivate me to love myself and forgive my flaws. Even the best artistic pieces have flaws. They are human-made and nurtured by humans. I am human-made and I am nurtured by humans, but unlike art, I have the ability to change and grow at my own will. I can help create myself. I love art, I find it absolutely beautiful, and I can look for that beauty even in pieces that I don’t “strike my fancy,” so to speak. So why can’t I do that for myself? The answer to that question? I can and I will. And I encourage you to do the same. Thrive, don’t just survive — it’s difficult, but you’ve already proven yourself over and over again. Keep proving you are up to the challenge. You are The Mighty, and I love you.

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.

If you struggle with self-harm and you need support right now, call the crisis hotline at 1-800-273-8255 or text “START” to 741-741. For a list of ways to cope with self-harm urges, click here.

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Image via contributor/Ian Pokriefka Photography