We all do stupid things or say the wrong thing that we feel bad for at one time or another. Sometimes we get mad at ourselves, but we chalk it up to being human. When you have a mental illness, you at times do and say things you don’t mean to. You feel like you have no control over your actions and you feel guilty for everything you do and say. You can’t let the guilt slide off your shoulders. Others might forgive you, but you can’t forgive yourself. You can’t just let it go. Your guilt eats at you.
It’s hard to forgive others who do you wrong, but it’s even harder to forgive yourself. Letting yourself off the hook isn’t as easy as saying, “I’m sorry.” How do you apologize to yourself? Do you need to? How do you forgive yourself? Can you?
When I was sick, I found myself easily irritated by the smallest things people did. I’d get into fights with my brother, smack one of my sisters for something as stupid as her tapping her fingers on a table, and I’d blame my mom for not caring about me when she went out of her way to be there for me. Later, once I sat alone and thought about what I’d said and done, I’d suddenly become overcome by guilt and self-hate would fill my soul. Internally I’d rip myself apart.
Thoughts would race through my mind:
- I’m a horrible person for hitting my brother.
- I’m a total jerk.
- I hate myself.
- Why am I so mean to my mom?
- I am an awful person.
- I don’t deserve to be loved by anyone.
My self-loathing thoughts would go on like an endless road. I punished myself quietly and this threw me deeper into darkness. I’d apologize endlessly to my family, and even though they said they forgave me, I couldn’t forgive myself.
Then there were the emotional episodes of my Borderline Personality Disorder. This illness made me feel helpless. I’d be okay one minute and suddenly an exploding bomb the next. I’d scream, throw things, and say awful stuff. I’d turn into a raging fire of anger and hate. My feelings were out of control and so was I. I tore apart anyone in my path and shattered anything I could place my hands on. I got into fights with my siblings and arguments with my parents. I could never seriously hurt anyone, but what I did do was bad enough.
I’d run to my room and crumble to the floor into a crying mess. I’d pull my legs to my chest and begin my round of self-punishment for my actions. I’d self-injure. When I was younger, I hurt myself by pulling my hair, and then when I got older, I started cutting. My family said they knew I didn’t mean it and they forgave me, but I didn’t forgive myself. I couldn’t.
I couldn’t forgive myself for what I did and said. I also couldn’t forgive myself for letting an illness of my mind take over my actions. I should have been stronger than my sickness. I should have known how to control myself. I shouldn’t have said such things nor done such things. I shouldn’t have allowed myself to have mental illness. There was no way I could forgive myself for all that.
In group therapy we went over ways to stop emotional episodes before they became out of control. In regular therapy we talked about how to forgive myself. My therapist told me I wasn’t to blame for my illness or the things I did because of my illness, but there were ways I could learn to take control of my actions before they had a chance to take control of me. Things like journaling my feelings, taking my anger out on a pillow or punching bag, practicing calming techniques, taking a deep breath, or walking away when I felt my emotions building.
Once I learned to take control of my illness, I was ready to forgive myself. Forgiving myself wasn’t easy and it’s very personal. It was a matter of accepting I had an illness and in no way was that my fault. I didn’t give myself mental illness and I didn’t do the things I did of my own free will. I did learn how to be responsible for my actions by learning ways to handle my emotions and behavior before they controlled me. I sat alone in my room and whispered to myself, “I forgive you.” These three words freed my soul.
When you’re struggling with mental illness and you do and say things you don’t mean to, don’t wallow in guilt. Let yourself off the hook. You didn’t ask to have such an illness. You don’t cause your deep sadness and you don’t purposely hurt others. You’re human and you have an illness. Instead of hating yourself and allowing your guilt to rip you apart, allow forgiveness to ease your anguish. Take the steps you need to find ways to take charge of your illness and reach recovery.
By forgiving myself and taking control of my illness, I was able to reach recovery. I now stand in the light soaking in its warmth.