In Shedding Shame, Decoding Bipolar writes
Learning to manage the guilt and embarrassment resulting from acts committed during an episode is difficult. In the moment, you usually don’t have the insight to think on potential disasters or negative outcomes, but once things swing back around to middle ground after an up or down, that is when reality sets in and you have to deal with the emotions and consequences surrounding the acts committed during an episode of mania or depression.
I suspect all people with a bipolar disorder have had this experience at least once in their lives. For me, it was like waking up from a really great dream and finding out that I’ve destroyed my bedroom and my partner is crying beaten and bruised in the corner. I’ve had many manic episodes but I had a series of large ones in 2010 and 2011 before I was diagnosed. In the end, I’d alienated friends, had affairs with seven women cuckolding two men in the process, walked out on my family, and wounded my wife perhaps irrevocably. Three of the women I had affairs with were deeply wounded by the way I treated them in the end.
So, how do you make amends? When my wife understood why I’d been behaving this way, she decided to take me back on the basis of the vow “in sickness and in health” against the advice of nearly every family member and friend. When my AA sponsor heard my story a few months ago he said she should have left me years ago. I apologized to my wife. I swore I would never cheat again. Her conditions were that I take my treatment seriously and that I remain faithful for the rest of my life and that would be my amends. My amends to her is to be the kind of husband she deserves, and I will never be done with that amends until I die; a living amends.
I felt like that was a pretty good deal, so I decide to make some more amends. I contacted the three wounded women and told them how sorry I was but that I had bipolar and would be getting better now. Their responses were nearly identical. “I’m glad you’re getting help, but it’s no excuse. Don’t ever contact me again and FUCK YOU!”
I was perplexed. These women were involved with a married man who’s wife had taken him back and THEY were the one’s making a fuss? And how could I have even helped my behavior? I was SICK!!!
And this is what is so hard about a mental illness. There is very little blame put on people with a physical illness. I had a friend with cerebral palsy. He urinated on my couch. He really couldn’t help it. He didn’t want to do it. He was embarrassed that he did it. And he apologized profusely. Honestly, I felt worse for him than I did for my couch. So why is bipolar so different?
People with bipolar say hurtful things, make emotional scenes, show poor boundaries with the opposite sex, cheat, lie, and commit crimes because of their illness, their disability. Blame makes sense if the person is refusing treatment. That’s on them. But how is blame fair if they’re doing everything they can do to stay well and illness still takes over?
Perhaps it’s similar to alcoholism. It’s considered an illness. It won’t get you out of any sort of ticket or consequence. You are expected to take responsibility for it and do something about it. In AA step 8, we make a list of all of the people we’ve hurt, we make amends with them as long is it doesn’t harm anyone. No where in the book does it say to tell people that you’re an alcoholic. To those three women whom I treated so poorly, they did not need to know I had bipolar. In fact, the only thing they wanted to hear was that I was very sorry.
So if you’re bipolar, you’re stuck with this: I did this when I was sick, but the only thing that can make this better is making amends not excuses. Helping people understand is good, but making things better is what is most important.
It’s unfair that I have this disorder. It’s unfair that the damage I do when I’m sick is inexcusable to many. But that is reality. It’s very simple, demonstrate that you’re sorry and do everything you can to prevent it ever happening again; a living amends. A living amends means that we become the kind of father our children deserve, the kind of spouse our partner deserves, the kind of employee our employer deserve, and the kind of friend our friends deserve.
This post really bothers me. I really struggle with the notion that I have to apologize for my illness. That’s what it feels like. But the post is correct. I stand by it. The reality is that if we hurt people, we apologize. If I bump into you on the street on accident, I still apologize. Some people, we they find out that you are sick, WILL understand, but I don’t bank on it.