Internal forgiveness is one of the hardest psychological tasks that we can expect from ourselves. Forgiving yourself for years, and I mean years, that mental illness took away from you is even harder. There are addition underlying symptoms within your mental illness that can also make it a lot harder to accept your own apologies.
Most of the apologies are based around guilt. The guilt of many things. My biggest source of it was always my absence during important times. This would have taken place anytime during my compounding mania or during a disappearance into deep depression. During stage mania it’s pretty easy to superficially forgive oneself, and sometimes even trying during stage depression could send me further down my disappearance rabbit-hole.
You never understand how much time you waste and the moments mental illness takes away from your life until you’re stable. You start to let the facts sink in, to feel that pain, but have to still try to make sure you maintain that stable state.
You may feel awful for things that have happened so many times and for so many years. At this point in our thought process, we have to get it into our brains, hearts and souls that those years were taken away by mental illness. Not by our weaknesses, our inability to control ourselves, our “insanity faults” (yes, that is an actual, and very old phrase), or our intentional hurtfulness toward anyone else.
In a situation where someone has treated a loved one of yours poorly or with malice, forgiveness is difficult, if not seemingly impossible.
So trying to forgive yourself for the exact same thing goes beyond seemingly impossible. I have researched the subject of forgiveness and forgiveness in mental illness. I understand the reasons behind actions of mine that I want to be forgiven for. I have also admired the way that my support group has been able to forgive me. I take in and live all of this research, all of these facts, and all of this love, yet don’t know that I can be convinced to forgive myself for what I considered to be selfish, unaiding behaviour. To carry on my life in the wonderfully positive way that I have been, I could ignore my past, block out the mistakes that I have made or pretend to have forgiven myself and carry on from that day forward. But it would all be under short-term false pretences. It will always come back to the surface. It is all still buried inside, because it hasn’t been dealt with. So my plan has been that to be able to fully forgive myself, I have to look deep inside and tell myself that it’s ok to not be ok, and that these forgivings that I want to happen, good or bad, are for a full-blown reason….mental illness.
Underlying symptoms of mental illness make it harder for us to accept our own apologies. When I am in a state of mania, I feel like I am capable of forgiving myself for anything because I can excuse my way out of pretty much any situation in my mind. I truly do show myself a lot of love during mania, but I can’t properly absorb it, so it’s rather superficial. The darkness of a depression can stay at the same level when thinking about forgiveness, because you can feel totally numb during these times, or it can send you spiralling even farther down because you feel so lowly for your actions. When your shoulders are sore from having the weight of the world on them already, adding the extremely hard task of forgiving can push you darn near underground. Maybe surprisingly, even in my stable states, it’s still a long process. But stable, I can recognize where forgiveness should be given, where it is deserved, and not to forget myself. It’s our own hearts that need to be mended and taken care of so carefully. Let’s put the work in there.
Guilt is definitely the number one reason that I start feeling like I need to be forgiven. I feel guilt the most about my absence during heartbreaking bouts with my mental illness. Physical and mental absence. The fact that hurts the most and is definitely the most important is the time that mental illness took away from my family and support system. Oh goodness my poor kids. They went through more than they should have had to as little ones, and had to learn very young what mental illness was. “That’s why Mama has to take so much medicine. That’s why she was at the hospital. That’s why she takes us to the city sometimes and we go to movies and shop so much and have lots of busy fun! But then she wants us to keep going when we’re tired and that’s not as much fun. The next day, she sleeps for the whole day…and a bunch of days after that.” So guilt, yeah I have felt the most painful guilt.
The physical absences that I had from my friends and my family were for a lot of different reasons. If I was manic, I had a tendency to be away from home. I was a stay at home Mom and felt pretty caged in during the day. So in the evening, I could have been out drinking, playing slo-pitch, in the city, out for coffee, so on and so forth. Just never home. Which meant that my husband was always home with the kids when I wasn’t. During depressive states, it’s mostly my friend’s lives that I disappear from. Obviously, the feeling here is the opposite of mania. I want to be at home, with the curtains shut, not accepting company and preferably sleeping. It’s hard to be in communication with anyone when you bury your head. But at the time, that’s the whole idea and exactly what I wanted. It’s hard to expect forgiveness from any of the people who I harmed during my mental illness, but all I can do is apologize and hope for the best. Most people are more understanding than one might think. It’s me that has the hardest time accepting the apology.
When I settle in after a state of mania, the lucky times that I don’t slip into a depression, all of the dusty latest events start to settle in. I remember all of the things that I’ve said, all of the things that I’ve done, and mostly just any indicator of me acting shitty. You feel so terrible realizing that you hurt people. In my eyes, the phrase “Hurt people hurt people” just didn’t cut it for me. I use it from the other perspective to be able to forgive others and it’s actually quite easy. But it’s hard to excuse my own behaviour when hurting others, especially the ones that I love. Taking in all of these emotions and all of this information is overwhelming. So it has to be processed piece by piece, or you can let it envelope you and fall into a depression, still not actually dealing with any kind of self forgiveness. So stay strong, stay stable and stay loving, never become hard or jaded. You’re a loving soul and deserve to take care of yourself.
We need to feel all of these emotions fully. Understanding emotions before and after any kind of mental health event is pertinent in our journey toward self forgiveness. You accept responsibility for your actions, now this is an explanation for your behaviour. Mental illness is a fickle bitch and this stuff is not your fault. When you have a mental illness, the battle that you have to fight and the bridges that you have to cross are not your fault either. It is not because of any weakness that you have. It isn’t because of an inability to control yourself or something that people used to call “insanity faults”. We know that it is definitely not because of any intentional harm to anyone else. Because even though you have hurt people, you are looking for forgiveness. Which means you’re aware and doing your absolute best, while being inhabited by mental illness. That is strength.
So after all of this, do we think that we can forgive ourselves for the years that mental illness took away from us? It’s hard. I am doing the best I can and think that I have come pretty far with my forgiveness. When I think about the absences and exposures to my kids, I still feel a little sick to my stomach. In my current state, I’m trying to flip my guilt into something more positive, like writing about it to maybe help somebody else with the same mental health issues. Because I am very stable at the moment, I have a great husband that helped fill the gaps when I was absent, and my kids are a lot older now, forgiveness is coming to me step by step and a little more everyday. If all of these thoughts and realizations hit you too hard all at once and start to pull you down, don’t let them! You’re capable of forgiveness, and even more importantly, you’re desperately deserving of forgiveness.