I Forgive Myself, and You Can, Too
I wrote this song to be a tool I could use to take care of myself. A salve for the wound of a troubled heart. A lullaby for a burdened mind. A reset button before a system shutdown. I wrote the song I needed to hear.
It didn’t take long for me to think about friends of mine who suffer from depression, panic attacks, anxiety, PTSD, and other afflictions of the mind. Self-care is itself a burden. You didn’t break yourself, but yet you are left to fix yourself. And there’s no manual, no budget, and no oversight. So sharing knowledge, experiences, and resources is important. This is me sharing a resource that has helped me in the hopes that it will help you.
This is your song, too. Sing it a cappella. Play it on a keyboard, a uke, a guitar. Program a beat for it. Slow it down. Speed it up. It’s yours now.
It’s super simple to play and sing because I’m not a great songwriter and because why should it be complicated? Anyone can and should be able to learn it (and feel free to improve on it). Here’s the progression:
G Em I forgive myself, I forgive myself C D For all the dumb things I have done G Em I forgive myself, I forgive myself C D Cuz holding on ain’t helping anyone CHORUS C D It’s okay to make mistakes C Em Because they help me grow C D Next time I’ll do better C G D Thanks to what I now know FINAL VERSE / ENDING G Em I forgive myself, I forgive myself C D For holding all this in so long G Em But most of all I forgive myself C G D G For not forgiving myself until I sang this song
And since this is your song to sing, make the lyrics your own, too. The words will come to you because you know what you need to hear. Once you start saying you forgive yourself, you’ll know what to forgive yourself for. Sing them all, even if they don’t rhyme. Who cares? Take the things you’re embarrassed about, sing them one at a time, and forgive yourself for each one.
These are the lyrics I sing. Feel free to use these as a base and change the words to fit you.
I forgive myself, I forgive myself For all the dumb things I have done I forgive myself, I forgive myself Cuz holding on ain’t helping anyone I forgive myself, I forgive myself For that thing I said when I was five I forgive myself, I forgive myself For that thing I said the whole time I’ve been alive
It’s okay to make mistakes Because they help me grow Next time I’ll do better Thanks to what I now know
I forgive myself, I forgive myself For trying to be one of the dudes I forgive myself, I forgive myself For trying to be cool instead of trying to be good
I forgive myself, I forgive myself For not always coming to my own defense I forgive myself, I forgive myself For not getting help when I’m depressed
No one but me remembers Each and every oversight So I won’t stay embarrassed I’ll move on with my life
I forgive myself, I forgive myself For being such a narcissist I forgive myself, I forgive myself For sabotaging my own success
I forgive myself, I forgive myself For wallowing in my regrets I forgive myself, I forgive myself For fixating on my eventual death
I won’t just let myself dwell On all of my mistakes When I overcome my downs It’ll make my ups so great
I forgive myself, I forgive myself For being crippled by anxiety I forgive myself, I forgive myself For what other people have done to me
I forgive myself, I forgive myself For downplaying all I’ve overcome I forgive myself, I forgive myself For not letting myself have fun
Even if I screw things up Again and again and again I’m a queen in progress And my work never ends
So I forgive myself, I forgive myself For not being perfect I forgive myself, I forgive myself For ever trying to be perfect
I forgive myself, I forgive myself For holding all this in so long But most of all I forgive myself For not forgiving myself until I sang this song
WHERE IT CAME FROM
This all started as I was having a panic attack some months ago. To try and calm myself, I decided to take a shower. I stood under the hot water and took some deep breaths. Just like if I had scraped my knee, I had to take care of this psychological scrape. Only, I can’t just wash my inflamed thoughts and put triple antibiotic ointment and a bandage on them. I realized I didn’t have a go-to tool to calm me down and make me feel better mentally the way I do for physical problems.
That realization was just as likely to make me feel worse, but on this day, luckily, I was able to concentrate on how illogical it was to not have such tools at my disposal during a panic attack. It became a problem that needed solving, a mental exercise. In a moment of clarity, I wondered, What do I need to say to myself right now? What do I need to hear?
I forgive you. I thought the words, then I said to myself aloud, “I forgive myself,” because it was just me there in the shower, freaking out. I wanted to hear someone forgive me, but I recognized that needed to take the power to fix this situation myself.
I paired it with an exhale. “I forgive myself,” and a long breath out.
It felt like magic. It felt like speaking the words of a spell. It was a bit odd to speak aloud, but it always felt natural to sing in the shower. So I began to sing what I wanted to say to myself. By the time I got out of the shower, I had two verses. After a few hours, I had a whole melody and a set of lyrics, with chorus sections added in. My panic attack was long forgotten.
I can sing, and I can create melodies, and I can write lyrics. But when it came time to figure out how to play some sort of accompaniment, I had a rough go of it. I can’t read music and I can’t identify a chord or a note by ear. I tried singing into a tuner. I tried free trials of music notation apps. I tried singing and then finding the note on a guitar.
After a lot of work, I still only had portions of the melody nailed down with chords. Finally, I called in my brother, an accomplished musician, who I used to sing with as an acoustic duo. Thankfully (and frustratingly) he was able to name the missing chords with ease.
I played the song a lot on my acoustic guitar. Then some time went by where I was doing good, and I was busy with various projects. But every once in awhile, I went back to the song, even if I was just singing it in the shower, to calm myself down before an important presentation, or after a fraught interaction with someone.
A lot of people, and especially women, I think, tend to internalize criticism or personal missteps. Instead of repelling them as unasked for, unwanted, and uncharacteristic, flubs of speech as well as the mean comments of others seep into us and stay inside, where we repeatedly trip on them and experience them all over again. As time goes by, instead of fading from our memory, internalized experiences compound their impact, becoming part of the negative narrative we tell ourselves when we’re not doing well.
But I don’t want to keep being embarrassed by things I did and said when I was younger, dumber, and less of who I am now. Who does it serve? No one.
I meant to record this and share when it first came to me, but I decided to wait and make sure it actually worked for me over time. And then I got busy. Then I went to record it and realized without renting a studio and recording it properly, my guitar was just way too loud compared to my voice. I tried using my electric but it was too loud with the amplifier on and too quite without it.
Then I decided to move, and looking at places, settling on a place, packing, planning, actually moving, and settling in takes some time. Finally I decided to try the song with a ukulele. Finally, I got the volume I wanted. Then I just had to learn the chords with the ukulele string configuration. And now, here we are.
“I Forgive Myself” is a tool you can use to give yourself a break. I hope it works for you. It’s definitely helped me.
My favorite LCD Soundsystem song is called “Dance Yrself Clean.” To that I would humbly add, “Sing yourself some peace.”
DISCLAIMER: This song doesn’t absolve me or you of blame for things we’ve done wrong to other people. Those utterances of forgiveness must come from those we have wronged, and they must be asked for. A school bully who hurts other kids shouldn’t forgive themselves for being a bully, or at least, shouldn’t forgive themselves before asking and getting forgiveness from those they hurt. But when you can’t take back that corny joke you made at a party in 2007, the least you can do is stop punishing yourself for it by being ashamed of it.