I’ve made a lot of mistakes in my life. I’ve made a lot of bad decisions and bad choices that resulted in consequences I’d rather have avoided. Some of the mistakes have been minor and inconvenient; others have been life changing. I’ve never been one to blame others, and have tried to take responsibility for my own actions. Being bipolar certainly influences decisions made, but does it justify making the decision?
A good example might be my decision to drop out of high school at sixteen. I didn’t have a lot of friends at my school, and the few friends I did have were at other schools around the county. So I started skipping class to be able to hang out with my friends. After skipping a day I’d be behind in my work, and would skip again to avoid trouble. One thing led to another, and I went weeks without going to class at all. After a while there just didn’t see a reason to go back at all, and I dropped out. It didn’t help that I was severely depressed at the time though. But the question is: Did I start skipping class because I was depressed? Or was I depressed because I knew I was screwing up my school. I was lucky this time as I was able to get back into school and even graduate a little bit early, so in spite of all the problems it turned out all right.
One of the reasons I was able to recover from the drop out was I was in a long term manic episode. I was carrying as many classes I could to catch up, and still managed to take a class at the local community college while working three part time jobs. Somehow, I also managed to have a social life. Sleep was definitely optional. After graduation I convinced myself that going on for a college degree wasn’t necessary. I was then working full time, and making as much money as my Father was with a degree and decades of working with the same company. Who needs a college degree anyway? That decision has haunted me my whole life as I’ve had to work twice as hard to get ahead, and there have been a lot of opportunities that just weren’t possible as a result.
And don’t even get me started about my four failed marriages. It would be very easy to blame those decisions on the illness. But is it really fair to do that? The failure of marriage number three for example happened because I decided to have an affair. There’s no question that I was manic at the time, but was that really the cause? We had gotten married for all the wrong reasons, and to no surprise we were in trouble. The decision to cheat was because I was so unhappy and used how poorly I was being treated by her as my excuse. But deep down inside I knew that there was a better way to handle it, and that choice ended up costing me a great deal. Did I go into a bad relationship because I am bipolar? Is that why I cheated? Or was I just stupid.
There have been so many bad choices that have impacted and shaped the life I’ve had. Some of them of course were made with the best information I had at the time; they just didn’t turn out as expected. But others were definitely influenced if not caused outright by my disease. I do know that during the highs and the lows my judgment has been clouded and my brain functions were not normal and changed the way I was thinking. Can I be responsible for decisions and actions that happen when I’m out of control? There’s a saying at one of the support groups I attend that answers that question. We may not be responsible for our actions when we are crazy, but we are responsible for cleaning up the mess it causes.
And that’s the bottom line. Being bipolar has caused a lot of trouble and explains a lot of the poor decisions I’ve made. I’m not able to control what happens when I’m in the throes of depression or out of my mind in a manic episode. And there is some comfort in knowing that there is a reason I do so many dumb things. But I still own the results, and have full accountability for the consequences.
It’s not my fault, but it’s my responsibility.