How a Health Crisis Helped Me Kick My Apology Habit

I have always had a difficult time being an overly apologetic woman. I have to put conscious effort into not apologizing when someone else bumps into me at the grocery store. It wasn’t until I experienced a major health crisis that I realized how deeply I had internalized society’s message to women that we should be accommodating even if it hurts us, and apologetic about everything, even when we haven’t done anything wrong.

After being in a life-altering accident, I was anxious that my new health needs would inconvenience or annoy other people or make them not want to be around me. I apologized for missing social events when I had an important doctor visit, and for not being able to go out at night (even though I had, you know, brain trauma). I felt like I had to apologize for not being as social or involved as I was before my accident.

It was a very good friend who pointed out to me how ridiculous and unnecessary it was for me to feel like I owe people an apology for living my life in a way that respects my new limitations and boundaries. She showed me that I was exhausting myself by allowing my anxiety over how I would be perceived by others to monopolize the energy I should be investing in my recovery.

That conversation helped me face the root of my self-deprecating narrative — unprocessed grief over the version of myself I had lost, and discomfort with who I was post-accident. I think apologizing for our new limitations is a common response after a bad diagnosis or life-altering event. But you can bear that burden only so long. Frantically battling social anxiety and struggling to maintain the illusion of health when you no longer have it leaves no time for recovery. I couldn’t move forward with my life until I stopped valuing the perception of a person I could no longer be and started consciously affirming that I am just as worthy and complete a person post-accident as I was before.

So I tried my best to stop saying sorry over things I couldn’t change.

No more “Sorry I’m a loser who can’t go out tonight.” Instead, thank yous to friends who are down to hang out in sweatpants and watch TV on the couch when symptoms prohibit anything else. When I have to change plans with a friend because my energy is gone after making the heroic effort of braving a grocery store, I say, “Thank you for your flexibility, it means a lot to me,” instead of self-effacing myself into the ground. When a friend helps me run an errand, instead of saying, “I’m sorry I need so much help right now” I say, “Thank you for being generous with your time.”

Yes, I have needed to rearrange my life to prioritize my recovery. Maybe you have had to do the same thing. Welcoming my new priorities as responsible instead of viewing them as a loss or a liability changed my narrative from being overly-apologetic to one of gratitude for the abilities I still have and the quality people in my life who accept me, new needs and all. I’m better able to accept the season of life I’m in and do my best to handle what life has given me to do, which is to honor my body, whatever its abilities, and pursue health full-steam ahead. And I’m finally on my way to kicking that apology habit.

Getty image by Bychykhin Olexandr.

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