Every once in awhile, I will sit down and write an Open Letter style post that a reader can hand off to a loved one who may be struggling. This one is on the crushing guilt that many of us feel after the unwell cycle ends and we are confronted with the devastation we unleashed on the lives of our loved ones.
To Whom It May Concern;
Hey there. My name is Dennis. I’m a 35 year old, Type 2 Bipolar with severe Bipolar-Depression and High-Functioning Autism. I spent 15 years undiagnosed and unmedicated, with all of the “fun” that goes along with that. About six years ago, I started working towards my recovery. A few years after that, I began my own advocacy efforts to help people such as you and your loved ones find your way through the confusion, chaos, and misery that often accompanies Bipolar Disorder.
If you’re reading this, which you clearly are or you wouldn’t know what I was saying, chances are pretty good that you’ve done damage to the people you love due to an unwell cycle and feel awful about it. Many of the people that reach out to me are the friends, family members, and loved ones of people such as yourself who are trying to figure out how they can help you.
I know, from personal experience, that their words aren’t going to cut through what you’re feeling. There are two potential reasons.
The first? Escalated cycles of Bipolar Disorder are often followed by a very severe depressive cycle when your brain finally crashes. As anyone with depression can attest, there isn’t a whole lot of light, hope, or positivity in that mental space.
The second? Pretty words don’t take the guilt away when a Bipolar person genuinely feels bad about how their unwell actions upended the lives of their loved ones. A severe unwell cycle can unleash devastation into the lives of the people you love with the magnitude of a hurricane.
You may blame yourself, but it is not your fault. Would you have done those things if you were not severely unwell? Probably not. The fact that you feel bad or guilty about it is actually a good thing. There are plenty of assholes and toxic people in this world who just don’t care how their actions affect the people around them. I hear from the loved ones of those people on a regular basis as well.
No amount of feeling bad or guilty is going to unmake your actions. The past is the past. It’s done, though it may not be over with. Bipolar Disorder is certainly the cause of many horrible actions, but the Disorder does not prevent you from rendering apologies, working to repair the damage that your mental illness was responsible for, and working to ensure it does not happen again.
Do you want to repair that damage? Start with an apology to the people you wounded, but never apologize for being Bipolar. This is a point that is often confused in advocacy circles a lot, particular on the internet. “You shouldn’t apologize for being you!” No, but you should apologize when you deal damage to the people you care about. Not because you’re sorry about being Bipolar, but to acknowledge that you understand you caused them hurt and want to make that better.
Do you want to make it up to the people you damaged? Commit yourself to making sure another severe unwell cycle cannot happen again. Bipolar Disorder can seem like a daunting, intangible beast. The big reason for that is how it strikes each person who lives with it in a slightly different way. What works for me won’t necessarily work for you and vice versa.
But you can learn to interpret the Disorder. You can learn how it affects you specifically. You can visit your doctor or a therapist to develop better skills in coping with it. You can go to a support group to be around and learn from other people who have already experienced problems similar to yours.
There are many things you can do to work towards controlling Bipolar Disorder instead of allowing it to destroy and destabilize your life over and over. It will if you let it. We can, however, learn to manage it and exert greater control over it.
You and your loved ones do not have to continue to be victims of Bipolar Disorder. You can fight it tooth and nail. You can build your body of knowledge on the Disorder and use it to fight for recovery.
It’s not an easy path. It’s really easy to get confused or lost along the way. It’s easy to get frustrated with the tedious nature of pursuing meaningful wellness. It’s not a fast process for most people. It takes time to see what works and what doesn’t. But when things start working? Well, just imagine if you had been able to intercept and head off just one of the severe unwell cycles you’ve experienced in your life. How different would things be? How much better could they be?
Bipolar Disorder is a severe mental illness. It’s not something you can just ignore and everything will work out okay. It’s a problem we need to commit ourselves to combating.
I did it. You can do it, too. You may not get it perfect. I sure as hell don’t. But you can pursue a higher quality of life and reduce the impact of your mental illness on the people you love.
The first step, whether you are new to the recovery process or simply stumbled on your path, is talking to a knowledgeable mental health professional. Find yourself a doctor or a therapist, tell them what happened, ask questions, and see what options are available to you for pursuing wellness. Whether it’s lifestyle changes, therapy, or medication; the only way to know what works for you is to start trying.
You don’t have to be a victim. Stand up. Fight. Fight for yourself. Fight for the people you love. Don’t spend too much time mourning the past, build yourself a better future.
Believe me when I tell you that you’re not the only one who has ever felt the pain and guilt that you feel. Many of us have done things that are just as bad and worse.
I’m not a doctor. I’m not one of your normal friends or loved ones trying to comfort you. I am a Type 2 Bipolar with a history that includes one active and six passive suicide attempts, homelessness, drug abuse, alcohol abuse, two broken engagements, multiple broken relationships, multiple lost jobs, and more. As someone who has lived a path similar to yours, I am telling you that things can get better if you work to make them better.
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