Gratuitous Guilt and the Burden of not being a Burden

I think I apologized to a wall once…


A few weeks ago, I accidentally disposed of my recycling in the dumpster instead of the recycling bin. I felt so bad about it that I considered trying to go in and get it. I did the same thing earlier today, and actually used a bungee cord to fish the bag out of the (thankfully empty) dumpster so I could move it to the bin.

A couple of days ago, I turned down an outing with friends because I wasn’t interested in seeing the movie they were going to. I felt the need to apologize several times to the friend who invited me, even though I know she is a kind and generous person who wouldn’t be angry at me for that.

And just the other day, I learned that my ex seems lonely across the country in his new life. While at first I was sort of glad, later on I cried over it, feeling so guilty about it. Even though it was his decision and his decision alone to break up with me and move away.

When we were together, he told me I apologize too much. My first instinct was to apologize for that. I apologize for everything, even things that I have no control over. I think I apologized to a wall once.

If a butterfly flaps its wings in the Amazon, I’ll apologize for the typhoon it caused in Japan.

A corollary to my guilt over everything that happens ever is that I try to avoid that guilt by never bothering anyone ever. Apparently what I wanted to be when I grew up was “not a burden.” My motto is “I’m okay. I’m always okay.” I have worked to be self-sufficient so that I don’t have to burden anyone else with my foibles, my quirks, my crazy brain.

I know I was not a burden to the ex. And yet, based on our conversations around the breakup, I ended up feeling that way. That he left because I was too much trouble. My logical side can counter this with example after example of how I have managed to take care of myself over the years, and how I not only took care of myself, but also took care of him during our relationship. And I know that the times he took care of me were not infrequent, but also were totally normal in the context of a serious relationship.

And yet. I go to my friends for support and feel guilty for doing so. I have been asked how I would feel if the roles were reversed: if one of my friends needed me, would I think of them as a burden? “I would just want to help them,” I replied. “So why is it different for you?”

I have no clear answer for that, except to say that I have this deeply ingrained need to not bother anyone, as well as this guilt for the times in which I may have done so. I don’t know where it comes from. If one were to liken the human brain to a library (which, of course, I would do–see the name of the blog), mine contains a book that holds the answer to this and many other “why am I so weird and crazy?” questions. That book is large, with densely printed text and massive amounts of scribbled marginalia. But the book has been mis-shelved on a range of shelves with similar looking books. That range of books is in an old dusty room with a locked door whose key is missing. And the door is hidden behind a massive microfiche cabinet that no one has touched for years. And I don’t know the room exists anyway.

I’m tired of feeling guilty for being who I am. It’s a hard habit to break. I want to do what is expected of me, to make sure everyone around me is happy (or at least content) and that I am not causing anyone any trouble. But it’s exhausting. Sometimes I feel as if I’m standing at the edge of a massive storm, and the only thing holding it back is me doing everything right. This is a ridiculous thought. But I know that there are others out there who feel the same way.

Someday I hope to discover that secret room, to break down a wall and avoid that locked door entirely. Perhaps I will discover why I strive so hard to please others at the expense of my own peace of mind. Or, at least, I’ll make sure the books in the room are shelved correctly.