11 Commandments for People Living with Bipolar Disorder

Recovery from bipolar disorder is almost like a religion or an ethical system. Certain devotions must be part of our lives if we are to recover our balance.

  1. I shall hold myself accountable for all works of my body and my mind including those which I wreak when I am in episode.

    It is important, I feel, not to separate the illness from ourselves. We did the things that happened while we were in episode. There was no second soul seizing control of our bodies. Our mind is a stream that flows continuously, sometimes over rough ground, sometimes in placid stretches, and sometimes over cliffs. We own all these states of our being.

  2. I shall never use my illness as an excuse.

    Our episodes explain what we did. The difference between an explanation and an excuse is this: An explanation asks only for forgiveness. An excuse entitles us to both trust and forgiveness. We do not deserve the former until we have earned it.

  3. I shall stick to my treatment.

    When I talk to people who have relapsed and gotten themselves into trouble, one thing is too often the cause: a failure to take one’s meds. For awhile, my psychiatrist let me adjust my dose. I took the lower dose, naturally. I became argumentative and grandiose — quite without my awareness. Others noticed. When I complied with my psychiatrist’s wishes, I found myself in less trouble. I also found that my treatment improved when I told the truth to my psychiatrist about my symptoms and dangerous side effects and when I recognized that meds did not comprise the whole of my treatment. I had to exercise, eat properly, cope with my side effects, meditate, keep a mood chart, and educate myself about my illness.

  4. I shall not self medicate.

    Alternative therapies often don’t work as advertised; and streets drugs — including marijuana — and alcohol exacerbate our symptoms. We shall also not self harm or overeat.

  5. I shall do no harm — emotional or physical — to anyone else, but especially my loved ones.

    Recovery is not just about ourselves. Other people matter, too. I have often told people that if you want to know if you are manic or not, look at the faces of the people around you. If they look scared, turn your attention to yourself and do what you must to restore your balance.

  6. I shall not confuse the euphoria of mania with happiness.

    Doing so tempts us to use street drugs and alcohol to recreate those feelings. Learn to find true joy in other things.

  7. I shall make no major decisions while in episode and I will take steps to safeguard my finances and those of my family and my work.

    Many of us have destroyed the security of our families by overspending and making risky investments. We must remember that we are susceptible to confidence men and slick salesmen when our minds are flying. A corollary to this is the imperative to stay away from stores where we might spend money needlessly, deplete our bank accounts, and run up our credit card bills. I shall surrender my credit cards to my spouse or destroy them.

  8. I shall make amends for the trouble I cause as best I can.

    We shall apologize where appropriate. We shall restore what has been lost or destroyed by our recklessness where it is possible to do so. We shall make peace .

  9. I shall not punish myself for being depressed.

    Depression lies. It tells us that we are much worse people than we are. We are not lazy but afflicted. We are not useless, just fatigued. A corollary to this is that we shall not keep weapons that might be the instruments of our destruction in our homes so that we will not be tempted in a dark night of the soul.

  10. I shall forgive those who cannot forgive or trust me.

    Sometimes the people we have hurt want nothing to with us. We respect their decision and allow them to carry on with their lives. We shall bear no grudges. And we shall not take offense where none is intended. Where the intent is ambiguous, we shall grant the benefit of the doubt.

  11. I shall help my peers.

    Support groups exist so we can both receive help and give it to others. Many have found helping others in this context helps them ride out episodes, particularly when they are depressed. We shall be there for our peers when they suffer and give them appropriate assistance. Helping educate people who are not afflicted also helps both us and our peers. When people call us “lazy” or “evil” or “irresponsible”, it is a sign that they do not understand. We do our best to share our truths so that they do because we are the most effective spokespeople for ourselves and others like us.

What are your commandments?



Joel is the founder of DBSA South Orange County. He received a degree in Anthropology from Pomona College, one of Forbes Magazine's ten top undergraduate schools. His manic adventures include traveling to former Yugoslavia during the 1992 war, believing he was the Creator of a messed up Universe, road rages, and running up $40,000 in credit card bills. He lives with his wife, dog, and cat in Trabuco Canyon, California.