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The 2 Words I Should Be Saying Instead of 'I'm Sorry' About My Illness

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I am a polite, peace-keeping people-pleaser. I tend to avoid confrontation and I would rather be inconvenienced than inconvenience someone else. I say “please” and “thank you” a lot.

And “sorry.” I say “sorry” a lot, too.

This is something I’ve always been vaguely aware of, but it wasn’t until I was in the hospital last month that I realized just how often I pointlessly apologize. I went to the ER with symptoms of a possible central line infection, as I’m supposed to, and when at first it was presumed to just be viral, I found myself apologizing. Everyone assured me coming in was the right thing to do — “better safe than sorry” and all that — but I still felt the need to apologize. I felt bad about unnecessarily using the ER and its resources. I felt bad about the various family members who had gone out of their way to drive me there and drive me home.

I felt like a hypochondriac. How could I not know what a virus felt like? I felt bad for wasting everyone’s time when there was nothing wrong with me.

As it turned out, though, there was something wrong with me. I was called back the next day because my blood cultures were positive. I ended up being admitted and losing my central line. There I was, apologizing for my unwarranted worry, when in fact there really was something to worry about.

I was apologizing for nothing. Well, actually, I was apologizing for reacting appropriately to my situation — a situation beyond my control — so, yeah, I was apologizing for nothing.

And the thing is… I do it all the time. I genuinely never want to be a bother. I never want to be an inconvenience, a burden or an extra source of stress in someone’s life. And yet, I live with an unpredictable chronic illness that requires me to be a bother and to rely on other people to carry the extra load my broken body can’t bear. I hate that part. It might even be the part of this whole deal I hate the most.

So I apologize.

But they’re not empty apologies; if I say “sorry” it’s because I mean it. It’s because I respect others’ time and I don’t want to waste it. It’s because I know everyone has enough going on without having to worry about me, too. It’s because I wish everyone else could be carefree even though I can’t. Even when I know it’s not my fault, I still genuinely feel bad when my problem ends up spilling into someone else’s life and becoming their problem, too.

And so I say “sorry.” A lot. Too much, honestly.

And I’m guessing I’m not the only one.

Very often I feel like a burden, but the thing is, the only person making me feel that way is me. And I think maybe the reason I feel like a burden all the time is because I’m constantly apologizing for being one. People tell me the same thing over and over again — “Don’t be sorry!” — so I think it’s about time I listen. I think it’s about time I stop apologizing and start saying what I really mean.

And what I really mean is thank you. When I apologize for needing a ride to the hospital, what I really mean is thank you for going out of your way to help me. When I apologize for having to cancel or alter plans because I’m too tired or too sick to follow through, what I really mean is thank you for understanding and being within reach. And when I apologize to a doctor who doesn’t know how to help me, what I really mean is thank you for trying anyway.

Thank you for your time. Thank you for your patience. Thank you for looking out for me and making sure I’m not left behind. Thank you for caring. Thank you for making me important to you because you are important to me, too.

We are imperfect humans in imperfect bodies and as much as we might like to be able to handle everything on our own, we can’t, and that’s not something to be sorry for. So I’m going to stop apologizing for my existence, and start thanking other people for theirs. I’m going to stop simply minding my manners and start being mindful of how I mind them.

Less apologizing. More appreciating. Less guilt. More gratitude.

Mind how you mind your manners.

Follow this journey on Finding my Miracle.

Originally published: July 22, 2016
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