This morning I sat with my journal in Costa and started working through some past issues that I haven’t properly dealt with yet.

My time at university has always been a period I feel very uncomfortable thinking or talking about. I quit after two years of a BSc in Neuroscience and Psychology in Leeds- a long way from my home county where my parents live. My mood was all over the place- I reckon I was probably rapid-cycling. My anxiety issues worsened too- mainly social anxiety and panic attacks. It was probably the most challenging experience I’ve had with Bipolar.

I’ve always been particularly harsh on myself when looking back at that time- subconsciously that is. In my mind I thought I should have completed the three years like everyone else. Many people with Bipolar manage to do it. The fact that I didn’t manage to meant I was a complete failure and that the two years in Leeds were a waste of time. Some part of me still syas that I was making up Bipolar- that all those symptoms weren’t even really there!!

Today I decided enough with the blaming and shaming and bullying.

How Do I Go About Forgiving Myself?

This is a question that I’ve often asked myself, but never really listened in my mind for an answer before today. I’ve always imagined that I’d be able to forgive myself in an instant!! Now I’m beginning to realise it takes time and commitment to changing patterns of thought and behaviour. Forgiveness is going to take PRACTICE!!

The first thing I thought of is that when any blaming/shaming thoughts come into my mind that I could let them go and say:

This is past. I forgive the past. I forgive myself and anyone else involved. I wont allow myself to keep churning up these past feelings. Time to enjoy my life.

What We Learn From the Past

But just doing this didn’t seem enough- there was no substance behind the words until I looked into reasons why my two years in Leeds were not a failure- what I had learnt from them:

Independence: looking after myself- being away from my parents.

My own limitations: what would and wouldn’t work with bipolar and anxiety.

What does and doesn’t make me happy.

If I hadn’t quit, Chris and I may not be in our relationship today (10 years this year!).

Even under pretty severe mental health conditions I still passed all my exams and gained a diploma out of my time at uni.

I’m happier and more stable at “home”- ie. Norfolk with close family nearby.

I need a nice house to be happy- not a scrawny student flat! (I’m such a snob really :)).

To find someone I can happily live with long-term is a very precious thing!!

I am happier socialising through activities like choir, band, yoga and one on one, etc, rather than in nightclubs with alcohol and drugs which hold no interest.

I AM capable of taking care of myself even when ill with Bipolar- I’m still here!!

I NEED the countryside and nature- Leeds is a big city and I felt completely overwhelmed in it!

I’m easily overstimulated and overwhelmed.

I still enjoy learning.

My interests are very important to me and can keep me going when depressed: music, cinema, ballet etc. I may have given up on them a few times, but they never gave up on me!

I really was very poorly and it was NOT my fault!!

Just because I breezed through school doesn’t mean I’ll breeze through life- I still have a lot to learn- mainly life skills.

I think I’m less big-headed now and have a much greater understanding and compassion for others.

See- I learnt loads!! I just didn’t get a fancy degree to hang on the wall. Hmm, maybe I should make myself one?!


As soon as I’d finished thinking back on my time in Leeds and what I’d learnt, I actually started to feel great respect for myself- for the hard times I’d gone through. I really appreciate myself for getting through it!! I feel this reflection on the things I have learnt has given me a good start in self-forgiveness. I think it’s something I’ll need to work on everyday, but it’s a step in the right direction!! Practice, practice, practice….

Photo credit: digitalart via


22 thoughts on “Self-Forgiveness

  1. Lynda Howell

    This is a another great post Rachel – what you say really resonates with me. Stop beating yourself up! One thing I’ve found is that since I’ve been teaching and working with people with learning difficulties I feel that my life is more worthwhile and I like myself a bit more! I try to reach out to others instead of being too introspective – very difficult but I find it helps. Keep the posts coming – it’s great to have someone to identify with.

    1. rachelmiller1511 Post author

      Thank you Lynda, I’m glad you can relate. I think you’ve hit the nail on the head with reaching out to others. I know I get stuck in my own thought processes sometimes so perhaps I should try that too! I definitely want to feel I’m living a purpose and feel fulfilled as a result, so this could be a good move for me.

  2. Shelly

    you got it right…practice. and lots of time. it took me over 2 years to accept and forgive myself for many things…many of which were totally out of my control yet I took on as my own. (actually it really has been a life-long process but you know what I mean…)
    Respect! I’m very proud of you for taking a look and then finding all the positives. ‘DO Dwell on them. Print out this list and post it where you can read it every day. It helps on those ‘less than’ kinda days. (unfortunately it doesn’t work so well on the really bad days).
    You can. You will. Pat yourself on the back.

    1. rachelmiller1511 Post author

      Thanks Shelly! Good to know you’ve come through it and I’m on the right track. I know what you mean about taking responsibility for things that weren’t your own. I think I do that too. I think I’ve really believed that everything is somehow my fault!! Isn’t it silly?!! I wouldn’t put all that on my worst enemy!!

      Thanks again for your positivity xxx

  3. Tallulah "Lulu" Stark

    You hit it right on the nose there. Practice. Everything can come with practice. And as for everyone else, like I tell everyone else, it’s always going to be apples to oranges to mangos. We are all unique people that have specialized needs and talents. What one person can do is not always going to be what another person can do. When we look at those that are achieving, we should also be looking down the other way. There are those that are worse off. I look at the people who have been crippled by illness far worse than me. I look at those that are still in very fragile states. And I thank heavens that I don’t spend most of my time in a perpetual nightmare of symptoms.

    Practice. I’m still practicing forgiving myself. I blame myself for a lot of things that aren’t my fault. Even to this day, after I’ve worked out a lot of things in hindsight, I still can’t make a practical application in my present. And that’s the ultimate goal. Being able to discern what is and isn’t my own doing, and then forgiving myself and others. Forgiveness allows people to let go. We can then move on. And that’s exactly what you are doing.

    Don’t sweat college. I made it to four credits away from graduation, and I fell short. I don’t tell people that often, because it’s one of the most shameful and painful things in my life. I’m stuck, because my financial aid won’t let me transfer. I don’t have enough money left to finish elsewhere, and I can’t finish there without going somewhere else to get the credit. It’s a Catch 22. And I’m in a serious hole. I don’t know what I’m going to do, honestly, other than work a poorly paying job over the rest of my life in a field that I don’t really like.

    So forgive yourself. There are worse places where you can be. And you’ve moved on. You’ll continue moving on.

    Thanks for some insight too into my own situations. I feel better for reading this.

    1. rachelmiller1511 Post author

      Aww, thanks so much for sharing that- 4 credits away from graduation must have been a really tough thing to go through. I never realised how painful university would be for me- and the guilt I’ve placed on myself for not finishing is massive. I’m only just realising how cruel I’ve been to myself. Time to let go!

      You’re so right- there are many people who are worse off. Some of them have the most inspiring, positive attitudes you could imagine. Thanks for the reminder.

      You also mention different people having different talents. This is something that I need to work on- accepting I can’t be good at everything!!

      It’s also interesting that you mention blaming yourself for things that aren’t your fault- that is exactly what Shelly commented above. We really do pour a whole lot of responsibility on ourselves!! Time to lighten the load I think.

      Thanks again for sharing your experience of college Lulu- that makes me feel less alone. xxx

      1. Tallulah "Lulu" Stark

        Four credits. I still needed three more classes in the program, but I would have been done in less than six months. It was devastating. But, I realize that there is no possible way that I could have done it. I was in too far over my head and in too much of a bad way in my head. There is no “what if” here. It’s just “what is and was”. Now, I know I need help trying to move forward, because I am out of ideas. I am probably going to contact my local Occupational Vocational Rehabilitation program to see what they can help me with. If I can just get enough money to get that credit, I might be able to go back. But, by now, the problem might lie with having the correct courses for graduation (it’s been a few years), and even having the money to do it, because I was skimming on paying out of pocket at the time. The interest has probably gathered too much.

        Or, I have to just working on accepting it. You reminded me that I have to stop looking at it like I ruined my life. Not everyone who goes to college gets a great job. And some people who didn’t get incredible jobs. I have a few friends who went and a few who didn’t. One who didn’t is almost up to $20 an hour for what he does. Granted, he works 50 something hours a week, but he does so willingly. He loves his job and it’s perfect. How many people can say that?

        So maybe it did work out for the best. Or maybe all of that happened to give me the reason to stay at home with my son for awhile. He was diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder a year ago, and is now finally getting into a program. While I was working, that was impossible. Now, I’m able to attend appointments and set things up for him.

        Everything has a way of working out. I don’t know why I don’t trust myself and the universe.

        I have a difficult time accepting that I’m not great at everything, too. I have the hardest time with things I think I should be good at. I should be good at time management, but I’m not. But, at least I can accept the things that I know I’m bad at for what they are and stop trying to push it. I will never have a good memory, and with the medications, it’s even worse. I keep sending my boys off without lunches and things like that. I’ll never be great at math. So what?

        I’m glad that you feel less alone. It hurts to be in the boat alone. Not like this is a misery loves company situation, it’s more of a camaraderie thing. There’s a club, and we all get to party on the yacht together, instead of licking our wounds in the corner, feeling like we’re the only ones.

        I’m glad to hear that I’m not alone too. It still kind of brings tears to my eyes when I mourn the future I never had. But, I have to stop myself. It was a future that wasn’t meant to be. That’s that. There are greater things for me.

      2. rachelmiller1511 Post author

        It really is a grieving process I think- you’ve lost a part of yourself in a way. I felt I’d lost the academic achiever I always believed myself to be. I had to completely rethink who I thought I was. I’m never gonna be a teacher or have a standard career, but there are other things I can be which potentially will make me much more happy.

        I used to really blame myself for having a mood disorder- I totally thought it was my fault. It’s taken me ages to realise that it’s an ILLNESS!! I didn’t ask for it. There’s only so much you can take in life and you make the best choice for you at the time. You have to put your health first.

        You must have such a tough time just being a Mum to a child with autism- I’ve known some mothers really struggle very much with this.

        You’re right- there are better things for you. If it did’t work out how you wanted- maybe it worked out the way the universe wanted because you’re destined for a different path.

        Let yourself grieve over the course and the loss you feel. Don’t worry what others think you “should” be doing, thinking, feeling. Do what you need to do. Be what you need to be.

        Remember all the stuff you achieved at college too. Even though I only did 2 out of 3 years, I still learned a hell of a lot- both academically and in life. Going through Bipolar is so hard- plus you have other stressors thrown in. You did great to make it so far!!

      3. Tallulah "Lulu" Stark

        I know I did lose a part of myself in all of it. I considered my intelligence to be one of my assets. I realize now that achievement is no measure of intelligence. It’s a measure of functioning. And I wasn’t very functional at the time.

        I still have a hard time discerning what it disorder and what is not. For me, it’s important, because I want to know how much I can forgive myself for, you know? And I don’t think that’s fair at all. I am human and to err is to be human. It shouldn’t have much to do with my disorder or not. I’m not a measure of myself against my disorder.

        Having a child with autism is not as bad as I imagined it could be. I have a brother with autism, so the diagnosis was no surprise. I saw it long before it arrived. But, I never expected it to hit me the way that it did. I wrote a post on it on my other blog a long time ago. If you want, I’ll link.

        To say the least, it hit me like a ton of bricks, just like it would have if I were surprised. No one wants to get that news, and a person can never be prepared for it, no matter how prepared they think they are. And I know I’m still not really prepared to deal with it. That’s why I’m assembling an army of professionals. Unlike my parents, I will face it, because I know it’s what’s best for my son. I will not wait until I think I am ready, because it has nothing to do with me, and everything to do with his future.

        I do think about my other achievements. I was a working mother to an infant and toddler at the time. I already have two associate degrees under my belt in a triple major program (I have a diploma too). I had just started treatment for bipolar disorder and I was raising a child with special needs.

        You’re right though. And you made me feel a whole lot better when I put it in perspective. It’s too bad that almost doesn’t count except in horseshoes and hand grenades! LOL j/k. I don’t even know if I’m ready to start a career yet anyway. And maybe there’s something else in store. I’m not done having kids yet, I don’t think. (I’ll have to see, because I’m unsure about that too.)

  4. rachelmiller1511 Post author

    Wow- it sounds to me like you’ve achieved loads already!!

    I guess I’m reframing my idea of success- I’m basing it more on how happy and healthy I am, and the state of my relationships.

    I like the way you say achievement is about functioning rather than intelligence. I think that’s a great observation. Balancing our health with goals and achievements is always gonna be more tricky for those of us with Bipolar, so that we can have the best of both.

    By the sound of it you’ve achieved a lot already. I hope you can see this and feel proud of yourself.

  5. Sandy Sue

    I had the same kind of experience in school—my first big meltdown. I had to quit early my sophomore year.
    Because most of us bipolar folk are generally very intelligent and creative, dropping out of school is especially painful, I think. For me, academics was always a place where I could excel and feel competent. To fail there destroyed my whole sense of self.

    I did eventually go back to a smaller school, got a nursing diploma instead of the fine arts degree I wanted. I never wanted to be a nurse, but I knew there was something “very wrong” with me and that I could probably do some kind of nursing. I lost all faith in my ability to teach or write. And I got married because I knew I’d never be able to support myself. I was terrified.

    We all have these horror stories. Before we understood the illness, before we learned tools to manage it, when our family and friends thought we were just spiteful or lazy. It’s so important to do what you’ve done—rewrite our histories. To take what we know now and apply it to then. To feel compassion for the very ill people we were then who struggled and fought the best they could.

    Practice is a perfect term for this. The old ways of thinking about the past are hard to shake off. Forgiveness and acceptance take time to grow.

  6. rachelmiller1511 Post author

    Thank you for sharing that Sandy. I agree that the bipolar folk I know have all been highly intelligent and creative so yes, I think you’re right that this is especially painful. We’re going along as teenagers doing well in school then BAM! You’re hit with this massive barrier to all you’d ever hoped or dreamt of. I really do think there’s a reason for this involving our life purpose: maybe we were never supposed to be teachers or nurses. Maybe we were meant to be creative- something that didn’t seem to be so encouraged at school- with me anyway.

    I understand your terror- I felt it too. I still do. I feel much more dependent than I ever wanted to.

    I too have lost faith in my abilities with art and music. Lulu commented above that achievement is about functionality rather than intelligence or talent, which I think was a great observation. I am regaining that functionality in regards to music and art. I’m still panicky in lessons in any type of performance scenario, my confidence is really shakey.

    It really is gonna take time, patience and practice! But I feel more hopeful that I can get there now!

    Thanks again Sandy.

  7. bethany Lee

    This is really awesome! So many times, when we fail, we shame and bully ourselves for years after that failure. I know there were things in my life where I failed and I did this. I essentially have done the same thing you are doing–I reviewed the things I DID learn or accomplish while trying to reach whatever goal I was trying for. I totally think you need to make a certificate/diploma for yourself, and I think you should take this a step further–start making and presenting them to other people. You could have people write in about the things they learned during the times they thought they failed, and you could draw up a diploma/certificate unique to each of them. I think you have a great idea here–we truly need to recognize our life accomplishments!!!

    1. rachelmiller1511 Post author

      We can be so cruel to ourselves!! That’s such a great idea about having people write in with the things they’ve learned and doing a certificate!!

      Great to hear from you Bethany xxx

  8. hellofromupnorth

    Wow. this is exactly what I keep getting told. But it’s hard to let go sometimes and to keep beating yourself up over things that are in the past is a hard habit to break. I’ve been told that if it happens, question it and then say why do I need to think about that. doesn’t always work though

    1. rachelmiller1511 Post author

      You’re right about it being difficult to stop beating yourself up- it takes a whole new way of looking at and relating to yourself. That always takes courage to change. Even though we are hurting ourselves this is part of our identity and therefore something we cling to. What happens when we give up on bullying ourselves? Will things be worse? The unknown is a scary thing!

      Thanks for visiting Helen!! xxx

  9. Pingback: Self-Forgiveness | My Bipolar Life

  10. Pingback: Self-Forgiveness: A Work in Progress | My Bipolar Life

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