I’m Sorry

Janet Coburn
4 min readNov 5, 2023

The other day, my husband was putting together a magnifying lamp that I had bought to help me repair some jewelry. I was trying to adjust the lamp to a height where it would be usable and comfortable. The lamp was a cheap piece of shit and it broke.

Instantly, I apologized. The clamp broke. I apologized again. It turned out that the pin holding the clamp together broke. I apologized again. My husband determined that it was not fixable as it was. Guess what I did? That’s right — said, “I’m sorry.” I said I was sorry for ordering the cheap thing. I said I was sorry for wasting money. I was sorry for wasting my husband’s time. I was sorry for everything.

The week before, I wanted to go to an art house in a nearby town to see the documentary about Joan Baez. The whole way there, I was nervous — about the route we were taking, whether we would find parking near enough to the theater, whether we should eat dinner before or after the movie. And especially whether Dan would like the film. On the way home, I kept asking him, “Was that okay? Did you like it? Is it okay that I chose the movie? Is it okay that I chose that movie?”

On the way home, he reassured me. He liked the movie. He learned things he hadn’t known about Joan Baez. We were lucky to find the parking place so near the theater. It was a nice evening for a drive.

Then he said, “Where’s all this coming from?”

“I chose the movie and the time and bought the tickets and decided which theater to see it at. If anything went wrong, it was all my fault.”

“Ah. Old tapes.”

In these recent cases, things went right. Dan figured out a way to fix the magnifying lamp by cannibalizing another lamp. We got to the movie on time and got good seats. We found a handicapped parking spot open right across from the theater. The movie was great. I felt better after we got home.

Dan was right, though. The excessive apologies started in my past — not with Dan — further back in time than that. If something was my choice, and it didn’t turn out great, it was wrecked. I realize this is all-or-nothing thinking, which is counterproductive.

Even before the old tapes, though, I had a habit of feeling sorry for everything and saying so. I apologized for everything. And I punished myself. If I said something “wrong” or even a tiny bit off-color, I tapped my cheek with an open hand, symbolically slapping myself for doing something bad. (I think it’s important to note that my parents never slapped me as a child, so I don’t know where that came from.)

And I apologized endlessly. For everything. My friends noticed. They asked why I did it. They let me know that it was annoying. I tried consciously to stop. And after a while, after having friends who stuck with me, after practice, I did stop. For a while.

Then I got in a relationship with a gaslighter and again felt guilty for everything. He blamed me for things I did and things I didn’t do. Once, he even claimed that when I did something wrong in front of company, I had offended his honor. And of course, if I selected anything — where we went, what we ate, what music we listened to, I was at fault. I was at fault for liking mayo on my sandwiches and for not offering him a bite of my sandwich. I was seriously wrong not to wait for him even though he was past the time for a meet-up with friends. Wrong to hook up with a friend while he was hooking up with one of mine in the next room. Eventually, I shut down, afraid to do anything.

Years later, I got past the apologizing, for the most part. The past two weeks, I’ve been backsliding. I think it may be because money has been extra tight, which makes me extremely nervous, and I’ve had to tell Dan he can’t make some purchases now. That feels treacherous, even though he doesn’t complain or blame or shame me. But it puts me back into the mindset of blaming myself before someone else can. It’s not comfortable for either of us. It’s all I can do not to apologize for feeling this way, for my disorder having this effect.

I’m hoping that writing about it will help me work out how I feel. And maybe make the apologies back off. At least for a while.

--

--

Janet Coburn

Author of Bipolar Me and Bipolar Us, Janet Coburn is a writer, editor, and blogger at butidigress.blog and bipolarme.blog.