At my last job, I worked with a woman who was broken. Because she was broken she acted in ways that were unacceptable in the work environment and it often landed her in trouble and disciplinary action.
She struggled with severe mental health disorders. Sometimes she would sit at her desk and cry all day. If she came to work in the morning and noticed that someone had moved something on her desk, she would become extremely upset. At one point she left a threatening note about how she would harm the person who had moved something on her desk.
She was one of the most difficult people that I’ve ever known and while I did my best to be kind and patient with her, I sometimes failed. We had the most opposite of personalities—she was loud, boisterous, and frequently had conflicts with co-workers. She could be incredibly belittling to others.
My position required that I had to edit her work and she did not respond well to that. At one point I feared for my life…no joke. Her work ethic was horrible. Ultimately, she was not someone whom I wished to remain in contact with after I no longer worked with her and therefore I cut off my ties.
Almost a year after, I experienced what it was like to be depressed. I found myself crying all day and unable to stop. I became that angry person and would start conflicts with my husband. I became a person that I did not recognize—I felt like a horrible human being. Part of the role of a SAHM is to keep the house and slowly the housework started to pile up. If someone didn’t understand, they might think I had a horrible work ethic.
And then I remembered my co-worker. I could not get her out of my mind. Some of the things I said to her in my ignorance felt like a sharp knife to my soul. I was ashamed of how I had sometimes treated her in my frustration. It kept weighing heavily on my heart and, after much thought, I knew I had to do something about it.
Recently, I reached out to her and apologized for how I had acted and the things I had said in ignorance. I told her that I now understood what it is like to be depressed and to have anxiety issues. I told her I was sorry for not being as kind and understanding as I should have been.
She accepted my apology and told me I was absolutely forgiven. She wished me the best in the future. And that was that—there was no need to try to become friends or any of that, but I was forgiven and our slate was wiped clean. I hoped that what I had done was the right thing to do and I felt like it was.
While I felt a relief, I didn’t feel 100% peace. I kept thinking of various things I had said or how I had acted toward her during her outbursts. I hated myself for having been so ignorant. I felt like a hypocrite because at the time I was doing what I thought was right—but now I understand it wasn’t. I felt ashamed and guilty.
That’s when I realized that while she had forgiven me, I wasn’t forgiving myself. My therapist pointed this out during one of our sessions, regarding a different situation. I don’t know how to forgive myself.
Forgive and forget. This isn’t just something that we do for others but we also need to do this for ourselves. The only difference is that instead of forgetting, we learn. I did the best that I could with what I knew at the time.
Today, I know so much more than I did yesterday—but I must forgive myself “for not knowing what I didn’t know before I learned it”.
It’s hard to think about how I may have unintentionally hurt another person. We are limited in knowing only what experience has taught us. While I am repentant and regretful, the experience has taught me and I will never make the same mistake again—I am a changed person because life has taught me that change was necessary.
Now that I have made it right with my co-worker, I have to accept that I can now close the book and place the lesson onto the shelf in my mind that holds the wisdom of life experience. I must also forgive myself before I can move on and truly be free.