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 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.

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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.

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

  1. I have heard people say that. What is the disorder and what is me? For me, I can’t determine a split. I am a person with a disorder. I do use knowledge that I had a mood disorder when I look back at past behavior. Not as an excuse, but as a way to understand.

    • I think there is nothing wrong with that, Lori. Many things started making a lot of sense when I was told and accepted that I lived with bipolar disorder. There’s no question that it is a component of my behavior. What I have problems with are those people who say “Oh, the disease did it, so you don’t have to feel sorry/bad for it.” I’m still the person who did those things. I am better off by owning them and owning my recovery.

      BTW, hope to see you soon. 🙂

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