Please help me compose an email after disappearing on a client
September 20, 2015 12:15 PM   Subscribe

I work as a freelancer, but this summer I experienced a major health issue as well as a major depressive episode. I'm very ashamed of the fact that I couldn't cope and I disappeared on my client. Please help me compose an apology email.

I've been experiencing some major health issues that my client was aware of and was accommodating about over the past year. In July my GP and I tried a new medication that seemed promising at first, until I experienced a major depressive episode culminating in an attempted suicide. As soon as the medication was discontinued (and I began on antidepressants), I've slowly been able to mentally recover. But the damage to my career and this job has been done.

Those were some of the darkest weeks I've ever gone through and I'm trying to rebuild my work. I'm also incredibly ashamed that I just stopped replying to the company. They were great to work with and they were happy with my contribution to that point. There were a few emails/texts from them in July/August ranging from "Please call" to "Is everything ok?" but I wasn't in the right state of mind to reply.

I'd really like to be able to apologize via email, but I can't seem to find the right words (either I go into too much detail or it feels not good enough). I'm not expecting to get this contract back or anything like that, but I'd like to still be able to list the client on my resume and not have to run away if I happen to see them out (which given the nature of the field is something that will happen).

Please help me think of something that I can write to explain what happened and to apologize.
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (9 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Wow, you've been through a lot! I think most normal people would understand and feel compassion for you. You're right not to over explain, but try not to get paralyzed by overthinking. What's important is that you send a reply now that you're able to.

I think it would be just fine if you said something like, "I want to apologize for not returning your concerned emails this summer. I was undergoing a major health crisis and I wasn't able to respond. I'm recovering now, and I really appreciated reading your kind and caring messages. You have been great to work with, and although I know this contract may not be recoverable, I would jump at the chance to work with you again, now that I am in better health. Thank you again, and I'm very sorry I could not get this message to you earlier. "

Best of luck to you in your recovery.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 12:32 PM on September 20, 2015 [70 favorites]

Do you have a single point of contact that you have a specific relationship with? You might consider a handwritten note to that person. I really like the wording from hurdy gurdy girl.
posted by amanda at 12:44 PM on September 20, 2015 [1 favorite]

I feel like hurdy girl's script is about as good as it gets.
posted by samthemander at 12:54 PM on September 20, 2015 [5 favorites]

maybe send a potted plant? i did that once when i screwed up and it was appreciated.
posted by andrewcooke at 1:00 PM on September 20, 2015

I agree with hurdy gurdy girl's script above. I'm so sorry to hear you were so ill, and I'm glad you're doing better now! Most people really are understanding about sudden absences related to illness, especially when there's a follow up like you're doing now. Best of luck with everything!
posted by smorgasbord at 1:01 PM on September 20, 2015 [2 favorites]

If you feel like you owe this client an honest explanation alongside the apology, then I would couch it in somewhat more formal terms than you might usually go for. It makes the owning up to what happened easier on yourself by separating yourself from it in tone.

I think you're doing a brave thing in sending this message, and the right thing both for your client but more importantly for yourself. It'll be another brick laid in the foundations of your post-crisis life.

From some years more past the breakdown than you're at... my very best wishes for a continued, speedy and complete recovery, and much happiness beyond that.

Dear XYZ,

I'm writing to offer you my apologies for the major issues I caused you last summer, during and following the period in which you stopped receiving replies from me regarding the contract in progress at that time.

Unfortunately my health issues - those which we'd previously discussed on occasion, and which I'd always appreciated your understanding on - took a significant turn for the worse during this period, resulting in a breakdown and major crisis across every aspect of my life. I am now receiving stable medical treatment and am making progress towards recovery.

I deeply regret that these problems ended up spilling over into the professional sphere; given the sudden and complete lack of contact from me, I know that the situation will have caused you a much greater degree of stress and hassle than it ever should have.

Please accept my sincere apologies for breaking off contact, and the contract work, in this manner.

On a personal level, I would also like to thank you for the messages of concern you sent during this period; I only wish I had been able to reply, however briefly, to let you know what you needed to at that point.

Yours sincerely,

posted by protorp at 1:08 PM on September 20, 2015 [4 favorites]

As much as I would love to think clients would be understanding that mental illness is just as real and debilitating as other physical illnesses, I would never disclose as much personal information to a client as listed above in Protorps script. In a perfect world where the stigma for mental illness was non-existent, it would be great. Unfortunately we do not live in that world, and as you are a freelancer- a lot of your work is going to be based on reputation and recommendations. You don't want to be labeled as "that crazy graphics guy" by an insensitive jerky client.

I would stick to Hurdy's script and bend over backwards to reply to every email/request/deliverable within a quick and professional time frame. The best way to salvage the relationship is to remind them why they wanted to work with you in the first place.
posted by Suffocating Kitty at 2:54 PM on September 20, 2015 [10 favorites]

I like the "major health crisis" wording. I would also call and apologize to one of the senior people, and possibly explain the medication catalyst, if you think they would be receptive and use the information to the benefit of the business relationship.
posted by michaelh at 2:58 PM on September 20, 2015 [1 favorite]

I liked the opening in protorp's message with the heartfelt apology to the contact person most affected by the situation. From that point on, less is info is better....crisis is past, and then offer sincere praise/thanks without any expectation of future work. If you'd had direct correspondence with their boss, I might send a similar email, taking responsibility...maybe trying to cover your contact person's ass a bit. Other than that, leave it be.

It's shocking, just when you think you've destroyed a professional relationship,...everything turns out to be ok. You may have demonstrated some kind of core competency that they've had great difficulty finding elsewhere. It may just seem more calamitous from your vantage point.
posted by bonobothegreat at 3:36 PM on September 20, 2015 [1 favorite]

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