This post was inspired by an off-handed comment made by a Bipolar woman I know. I hope this perspective can help you see yourself in a more positive light.
We Bipolars are no strangers to screwing up and destroying the things we care most about. Behind each of us is a trail of ashes, shattered dreams, and broken relationships. The way you look at those things is important. I’ve talked to many Bipolar and Depressive people who shoulder the blame entirely. They feel that since they couldn’t control themselves in a moment of “weakness”; that they are only to blame for the situation. They shoulder the responsibility and do not want to use their illness as an excuse.
There is a problem with that. Let’s say you break your arm. The cause of the broken arm is irrelevant. It doesn’t matter if you did it to yourself out of stupidity or if it was an accident by someone else. The bottom line, you have a broken arm and you’re not going to be doing any heavy lifting with it until it heals. It doesn’t matter how you feel about it, the circumstances, how pissed off, sad, or judgmental other people may get about it; your arm is presently not working correctly.
An unwell cycle is the same. An unwell cycle means your brain is not working the way it should be. You’re sick and your decisions will be tainted by that sickness. How is a Bipolar person supposed to make decisions with clarity when their mind is feeding them misinformation about the world around them, their feelings, and their lives? Is it fair to hold yourself to the same standards that you would a normal person even though you have a “broken arm” at the time?
We wind up getting assigned or assigning ourselves the shitty labels of society for our actions. Are they deserved? Let’s look at an example…
A devoted Bipolar husband is faithful to his wife for 8 years. He loses his job, money and stress become an issue, his mind takes off into a manic cycle. His Bipolar brain concludes that the arguing is because his wife hates him and is preparing to leave him. His emotions are distorted due to the Disorder and that devoted love flips to smoldering hate. He walks out the front door and shacks up with another woman.
Eventually, his brain crashes and corrects. His thoughts are now clear and he can see the situation for what it is. His wife didn’t hate him, their arguments stemmed from the lack of income, a common stress in relationships. The husband’s emotions are snapped back to what they were before he swung unwell because that is the real him. The devoted, faithful husband who walked out on and cheated on his wife is back to being the devoted, faithful husband.
A common statement is that the husband had a choice. That’s absolutely true. He did have a choice. But how hard was it to make that choice? You don’t believe things when you’re unwell, you KNOW things with the same kind of ferocity and fervor that you know you love your mother (assuming you do, fill in someone that doesn’t suck if yours blows). He didn’t think his wife was planning to leave, he KNEW. And that knowledge fueled his rage and hate which made it even harder for him to make the right decision.
So where does that leave the couple? The husband’s perception of himself? The wife’s perception of him? Any family members or friends that happened to be privy to what was going on?
Everyone is going to be sympathetic to the wife when in actuality, the husband probably needs it more. He just ripped up and destroyed a core tenet of who he was, hurt the woman he was devoted to in a way that can never truly be repaired, and now everyone that doesn’t understand the Disorder thinks he’s an asshole. But he’s not an asshole. His brain was broken and not working correctly at the time. The wife knows he’s not an asshole because she knows there’s a difference between the loving man that she married and the stranger he becomes. It may or may not make it any easier to swallow the situation; that is really dependent on the individual.
Is it a reason or an excuse? Are you using the Disorder as a reason or an excuse?
Ideally, he would confess to his actions and do what needed to be done to repair the relationship. Sick or not, the onus is on each of us to take responsibility for our unwell actions and try to make it up to the people we damage in our wellness. Some people can forgive and move past it, others cannot.
Is it fair for the husband to think of himself as a betrayer and adulterer? I don’t believe so, even though he had an affair. What happens if you remove Bipolar Disorder from the equation? What are you left with? You’re left with a loving, devoted husband who would have not had that affair if it weren’t for that unwell cycle. Had he been “normal”, it would have just been marital stress and a spat that had needed resolved.
Once you add back in the Disorder, the metaphorical “broken arm”, now his actions take on a different meaning than what you would hold a normal person to.
And I can hear it now, “What about the wife? What about her feelings on the situation?” It’s not my place to tell someone how to feel about a situation, so I do not. I wouldn’t tell her that she should just get over it or even forgive him, because that’s not my decision to make. I don’t know her emotional tolerances, what she’s willing to shoulder, what she’s willing to try to work through. She has to decide that for herself. She is entitled to feel whatever she feels and it should be dealt with in a way that makes sense for the couple; not to everyone that has an opinion based on their stereotyped perceptions of “correct”.
Many of us Bipolars and Depressives have poor opinions of ourselves because of our long lists of failures. I was no different for a long time. I saw very little positive about myself though plenty of people tried to show me otherwise. After I was diagnosed, I was able to objectively look at my history, actions, and path in life. I came to realize that I wasn’t all of those negative things I thought I was because I wasn’t like that when I was balanced. It was only when I was unbalanced did things really come off the rails.
I know that’s a narrative a lot of Bipolar people out there face as well. They haven’t learned to see who they really are versus who they are while unwell. The person may think they are unlovable, unworthy, irresponsible, hateful, unfaithful, or just plain old crazy. But what happens if you set aside the mental illness? Who are you when you’re balanced? Do you even know? Or have you been dealing with it for so long that you don’t really know who that person is?
You are not your illness. You are not the walls you had to build to minimize the damage of the Disorder. Somewhere behind the Disorder and the walls is a person smothered by the weight of the illness and the pain it created in your life. So be kind to yourself. Give yourself a little leeway when the Disorder fucks things up for you. No one will ever get it 100% right. Most people won’t get it or “understand” our personal circumstances even if they want to; that’s just something we have to come to terms with. It doesn’t mean everyone won’t though.
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