Here’s another big thing that happened during my hospital stay.
I had a wonderful case manager named Ted (name changed to protect his privacy) who visited me, sometimes more than once a day, to talk and do a little therapy. Like most people with a psychiatric history I deal with a lot of guilt and shame, especially when it comes to the fact that I have one. As I told Ted, I can’t help it. It’s the way I was raised. I would never in a million years judge anyone else with a mental illness, but with myself I’m as tough as nails. I have no right to be sick. I have no right to seek help when I need it. And I certainly have no right to let my condition affect others.
So when he mentioned writing a letter of forgiveness to myself, I automatically demurred, citing my upbringing as the reason for hanging onto the guilt and shame even though the people who perpetrated it are long dead. But then I thought about it: what might happen if I did forgive myself? Would the world come to an end? Or might I be able to move forward in my life and leave all that behind?
Alone in my room that night, I began to scribble notes for my letter. At first it felt false and unnatural, but as I warmed to my subject, the words flowed more smoothly and the thoughts behind them came more rapidly. Here’s what I wrote:
It’s been a long time coming, but I need to write this letter so I can finally let go of the self-flagellation and self-hatred I’ve hung onto all these years. This will be a hard habit to break. Fear and loathing are all I’ve known since I was very small. But break it I must if I am ever to become a whole person.
I forgive myself for having a mental illness that I never asked for, didn’t want, and can’t get rid of. It’s nobody’s fault…..not even my own.
I forgive myself for my behaviors during mood episodes. I am not always in control and that frightens me as much, if not more than it frightens others. But I am doing my best to minimize the disruption to our lives by taking my meds and getting enough sleep and seeing my doctor regularly.
I forgive myself for being an inadequate mother. The children have already done so, and so far not one of them has seen the need to sit on a psychiatrist’s couch in an effort to get me out of their systems. I did do some things right.
I forgive myself for not being the woman I think my husband deserves. Not once in all our married life has he ever said I lacked anything as a wife—I put that judgment on myself.
I forgive myself for scaring the hell out of my loved ones from time to time. Will looks worn out and I know part of that is due to worrying about me, but he says there’s nothing to forgive and I’ve got to let it go.
I forgive myself for being afraid to NEED. It’s OK to call my doctor when I’m feeling fragile instead of waiting until I’m desperate. It’s OK to ask for support during difficult times. So many people have offered to help, and it’s OK to let them do it. Really.
I forgive myself for losing jobs, being irresponsible with money, and generally causing problems. It’s done and I can’t undo it. All I can do is keep trying to make it better.
And perhaps the most important of all:
I forgive myself for not being all things to all people, and even for disappointing them every now and again. I’m only human and I can’t meet everyone’s expectations all the time. It’s time to let go of being a “people-pleaser” and avoid getting sucked into their dramas. And it’s time to regard myself at least as well as I do others—to draw boundaries and have them respected.
Now, I can’t guarantee that I won’t still be hard on myself sometimes—over half a century of self-criticism doesn’t go away overnight—but I have this letter as a reference point. It’s all good. 🙂