Saying ‘I’m Sorry’


There’s a stereotype about Canadians that we always apologize even when it’s not our fault. There is some truth in this. My daughter actually calls us out on it some times. My wife and I will both apologize if we get in each other others way in the kitchen, for example,  regardless of whose fault it is. If my daughter is there she frequently chimes in with “stop being so Canadian”.

I know that I’ve been saying it a lot lately, and not for accidentally bumping into someone, or in response to them bumping into me. Actually, I realized that I was doing it while reading Option B by Sheryl Sandburg and Adam Grant. Sandburg describes how she was constantly apologizing to people after her husband Dave suddenly died. She apologized to people who had to change plans to attend the funeral, to her mom who came to help her in the weeks after, to people she missed appointments with, and to people she was working with because she couldn’t focus. That last one really hit home for me.

What Sandburg describes is a response that many people have when faced with loss (whether a person or a job) or a serious illness.  It’s a symptom of the person apologizing blaming themselves, even in part, for whatever has happened. 

In the past few months I’ve apologized a lot. Some times it was, “I’m sorry” for something like I can’t make a meeting at particular time because of my reduced hours or I can’t take on a particular project. I’ve realized that’s also what I’m saying when I thank co-workers for taking on extra work to make up for my work time and work load being reduced, or for taking notes at a meeting for me because there are days that my focus sucks, which has only been more problematic as I try to adjust to the medication I’ve finally agreed to try.

Sandburg’s co-author and friend Adam Grant made her stop saying I’m sorry or any derivative of it. While she said she found herself “biting my tongue over and over and started letting go of the personalization”, I’m curious how she really stopped apologizing for things that were out of her control, and how she was able to remember that they were out of her control.

Today is Bell Canada’s annual #BellLetsTalk day, where they give money and try to raise awareness about and reduce the stigma around mental health issues. Today was also the day that somebody I have to deal with related to my care (not a health care provider or somebody at my university) made a comment about how month to month assessments by my doctor to determine how much I should work doesn’t work for them and they just want to know if my treatment plan is working. 

I’m meditating, exercising, working less, saying “no” more, making time for me, visualizing, reading more for pleasure and  less news, and now, taking medication. I don’t have a broken leg. The doctor can’t put a cast on it and say it should heal in six weeks. I have depression. Yes, it’s a nebulous condition that doesn’t show up on an x-ray or under a microscope. Unfortunately everybody responds to treatment differently. Believe me, I more than anyone wish that somebody could tell me what will work and that I’ll be all better in six weeks. I’m sorry, but it just doesn’t work that way. I’m sorry that I or anyone has to continue to try to explain that.

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