The Disease Didn’t Do It — You Did

Many people in bipolar support groups counsel the newly diagnosed not to feel shame for things they did while they were in episode: it was the disease that did it, not them is the reasoning. This cleaving of the self, I think, does not help us get a handle on the illness and its effects on others in our life. In fact, it strikes me as downright irresponsible: you never have to make amends for anything you did.

Denial of the damage we cause is linked to this exculpation due to mania. Some say that making amends has nothing to do with apologizing. Warped logic causes it to mean nothing more than admitting to yourself what you did without making restitution or apology to those we harmed while addicted or in the throes of mental illness. I find this cheap recovery and I am suspicious of anyone who flaunts it.

Too often, I have seen people who insist that their sickness absolves them relapse repeatedly. Perhaps it is due to the fact that they do not understand the seriousness of their disorder. Or maybe they desire license to act on impulses that they would reject on moral grounds if they were in their better minds.

I take a different approach: I am responsible for my actions even when I do not remember them. Because of my denial of my illness, I harmed others. Therefore I either make peace with them or avoid them so they are not disturbed or shocked by my return to their lives.

(Families might find it better for their sanity to forgive things done in episode for the sake of their sanity while expecting the patient who now knows better to take proper steps to minimize further recurrences.)

But there is a bonus: because I am accountable, I get to own the good things I did with more resolve. I get to own the steps I have taken towards resilience.

Here is the grim truth: if I do not take ownership of the bad things I did while in episode, I cannot own the good things I accomplished. To claim otherwise invokes an irresponsibility that case workers and other mental health practitioners best not encourage.

4 thoughts on “The Disease Didn’t Do It — You Did

  1. I could not agree more with you, however I believe that whether the forgiver chooses to look at wrongful acts done through bipolar colored glasses is up to them ultimately. And there’s nothing wrong with them choosing to do so, but seeing it used as a crutch, excuse, no thank you.

  2. This makes total sense to me, and I do hear that all the time from psychiatrists and psychologists alike. I think at the core of it all, there is shame for what we did while in an episode. And I personally believe that it is the shame that we should not be responsible for. We should be responsible for the actions committed during an episode and apologize, but more than anything forgive ourselves and not feel ashamed.

  3. Pingback: Accountability and the Grim Facts of Depression | Pax Nortona - A Blog by Joel Sax

Comments are closed.