A couple years ago when I began attending a bipolar meetup group in the area, I was worried I’d fall into a hole.
This pit would be full of dark things, like the words “mental illness” and “disabled”, and the black sea of gook would engulf and drown any accountability I felt I had in regard to my actions.
I had seen this slip in places before, where one embraces whatever diagnosis is thrown at them after some turmoil, then relinquishes all control over oneself in favor of using the diagnosis as a scapegoat.
I ruined my relationship? Oh, it was just mental illness. I didn’t have anything to do with that.
I was desperate to retain some semblance of control. To retain me, my integrity, and the accountability that the general population is held to in regard to their actions.
I will not allow myself to use mental illness as an excuse.
The ride has been a bumpy one, and I’ve since rescinded the absolute nature of my goal.
This last year, for example, I had to come to terms with the fact that I could not keep up physically with the people around me. I couldn’t perform at work as well as the people around me. And trying to hold myself to the same standards of others (physically) was making me crash and burn, over and over and over again.
Is it beginning? I wondered. Am I using bipolar disorder as an excuse as to why I can’t work as hard as my co-workers? Am I watching my accountability slipping away?
I’d like to believe that the fact that I felt tortured because I couldn’t do those things somehow makes up for the fact that I couldn’t do them. Since I was struggling so much and wanted to work hard, is bipolar still an excuse, or an adversary?
My boyfriend, wise as he is, told me I couldn’t do more than I could do.
Maybe it was my personal standards that needed to change? If my standard was how much I can actually do, as opposed to how much I want to do, the excuse is no longer relevant. I am only capable of doing what I am capable of doing, and as long as I still push myself to do everything I can, I can keep those torturous feelings of inadequacy at bay.
You better believe that took some getting used to, and the adjustment seemed much more difficult than, say, just having my brain transplanted into a new robot body. Or rather, since the brain seems to be the issue, having a new brain transplanted into the body I have now.
Anyway, that compromise was very difficult for me. It wasn’t one I had really intended to make, but I was driving myself into deep depression anytime I tried like hell to keep up with the rest. Realistically, after something hasn’t worked for the last 8 years, I guess trying a new approach might produce better results.
But then that leaves that other, daunting situation, where mental illness is an excuse for bad behavior. Treating others badly, treating myself badly, and the like.
I’ve done some terrible things, terrrrrrrible. Did I do them when I was totally irrational? Some of them. Did some of them involve insensitive outbursts at people who didn’t deserve them? Yup. Did I leave a trail of emotional carnage in my wake like some kind of bipolar Godzilla?
And I am definitely not proud of those things (which is why you will not be seeing a detailed list here pointing out what those things were).
I am certain bipolar disorder had at least something to do with these incidences, but I was there, I was the one who gurgled out poison words. I kind of wish I had some kind of clone to blame everything on, but I don’t. It was me.
But facing that fact is hard. It is much easier to say, “well, I wasn’t quite myself, so I wasn’t part of what happened,” but the distinction of whether it was me or not (internally) is only made by myself. Maybe if bipolar episode Sarah had a “B” emblazoned on her forehead everyone could tell whether I was the one creating mayhem or not, but as it is episodic, irrational me shares a body with sane (ish) regular me. There is only one mouth for those words to escape from, and if sane mouth is going to have any credibility, that means taking responsibility for crazy mouth.
And I know those moments, because you might be thinking, ah, but what about when my consciousness seems to be floating apart from my body and I’m subject to just watching it do whatever it wants?
Sorry. Still counts.
Even if, at this point, someone close to me can tell that I am not behaving normally, those actions and words are linked to me.
I dated someone for a handful of years who clearly had periods more lucid than others. He would repeatedly attack me verbally, or threaten me, or worse.
I told myself over and over again that it wasn’t really him that was doing it, I knew him well enough to be able to recognize the little marker on his forehead when he was being completely irrational. But it didn’t make his actions or words hurt any less. Hell, I’ll be lucky if I can get over the shit I went through with him sometime in the next 10 years!
I waited for him to snap out of it. To grow out of it. It got worse.
I thought, maybe mental illness is making him an asshole?
Then I realized that wasn’t the case. He was just an asshole. He didn’t apologize for his actions, he didn’t try to do anything about them. He didn’t take any responsibility for hurting me over and over again, even though he knew he was doing it.
After being on the receiving end of that behavior, it seems so unfair that it hurts so much more when someone says something awful to you than it does to say those things yourself.
Like that Family Guy episode where the inmate (waiting to stab Peter’s friend Joe) sits on the bunk in prison and says, “I wonder what this feels like?” before jestingly stabbing himself in the leg and screaming out in pain. “Is that what I’ve been doing to people all these years?!?”
Maybe it was the growing up I needed to do in order to take responsibility for what I was doing. Getting emotionally pulverized for 3 years really made me realize that regardless of what is going on in my head, I am responsible for the things that come out of my mouth. Period.
So bipolar disorder? Not an excuse.
And I still have outbursts, and irrational periods, and urges to do weird, nonsensical things, but the difference is that I have a system set up, something to counteract those things when they occur. Whether that is a system of thought, a system of medication, a system of people to call, or a plan in the event things get totally out of control.
If none of those help and I make a mistake, then ok. It was me that made it.