“Chronic remorse, as all the moralists are agreed, is a most undesirable sentiment. If you have behaved badly, repent, make what amends you can and address yourself to the task of behaving better next time. On no account brood over your wrongdoing. Rolling in the muck is not the best way of getting clean.”
― Aldous Huxley, Brave New World
Humans, in my humble opinion, by nature, are innately flawed and imperfect. That is what makes us beautiful, dangerous, and unique.
People make mistakes; it is an inevitable, inescapable, unavoidable fact of life.
In my opinion, some are fortunate enough to accept this fact and live a life full of choice and consequence, living peacefully, able to reconcile their actions with the result; if they do good, good things happen and if they do bad, bad things happen.
Seems pretty simple and logical to me; it’s the way things should be, right?
For someone who suffers from bipolar disorder, reconciling the fallacy of that seemingly simple thought and absolutist idealization is a world of pain.
Those who suffer from bipolar disorder tend to be extremely sensitive to sensory and social stimulus; we are sponges, soaking up every sound, syllable, sight, gesture, etc. and as the input keeps pervading our senses, our minds kick into overdrive. The world is a very scary place, full of wonder, mystery, danger, and most of all, threats and temptation.
Lots and lots of threats and temptation.
As a byproduct of my condition, I have very poor impulse control; I will flip the nitrous-oxide switch at the drop of a hat, shift my transmission in a split second, and you better sure as hell get out of my way lest you be run over by my 10,000 horsepower top fuel out-of-control dragster of a mind. That’s why when temptations and threats loom, reason bids farewell and gives way to “LET’S DO THIS, LEEEROOOOOY JEEEEEEENKIIIIINS!”*
*Kudos if you got the obscure computer gaming reference; you’re a geek just like me.
Impulse gives way to action; action gives way to consequence.
And therein lies part of the crux of dealing with bipolar disorder; how do you deal with a mistake, an error in judgment, and the consequences that come along with it?
The sad answer: not very well.
Guilt will make you do many things; some funny, some dastardly, most quite desperate.
Guilt has led me many times to demean myself, to humiliate myself, forcing me to lose my dignity, my sense of self-worth and self-esteem. I have committed acts of self-humiliation and self-deprecation, broken rules of social engagement, disrespected myself and loved ones, all for the sake of hearing those sacred words of validation and forgiveness I so desperately seek when I feel I have failed and disappointed.
Instant gratification of impulse is a dangerous drug whose addiction is a daily struggle for bipolar disorder patients; guilt is our delirium tremens, the come-down, the desperation of withdrawal, the horror of acknowledgment.
So, how do I deal with guilt you may ask? It is not an easy thing for me to do, to be completely honest; it is something I still struggle with on a daily basis, but it is something that I have accepted, something that I will constantly work with for the rest of my life. I have alienated many people in my life due to my erratic behavior and abusive tendencies when I do not medicate nor follow the treatment protocol as designed and prescribed, but the following tips have helped me so far mature in that respect; hopefully these little morsels of wisdom may help you as much as they have helped me:
1) Accept responsibility: Let’s face it; we all make mistakes. Accept responsibility for your actions, accept that you are flawed, and accept that it is ok. Doing bad things does not make you a bad person; it simply makes you a normal human being. Acceptance is the first step to make amends.
2) Forgive yourself and others: To err is human, to forgive, well, the world isn’t very big on forgiveness these days. That does not mean, however, that you cannot learn to forgive yourself. Forgiveness is the second step to make amends.
3) Rectify and internalize: Do what you can to remedy a situation, but only as far as you can go, within measure and reason, and ONLY after the situation has passed – it is not healthy nor wise to try to fix a ship’s broken sail in the middle of a storm. Let the storm pass; cooler heads always prevail.
Patience. Temperance. Clarity. These are key traits that need to be exercised every day like you would work out a muscle group to build up body strength.
Those steps are just the beginning to dealing with the fallout of manic episodes; episodes leave you weak, drained, and most of all, vulnerable. In this vulnerable state, I tend to lash out at myself for hurting others, and that leads to an everlasting cycle of depression. I have learned, through hard work and introspection and retrospection, to not allow myself to succumb to the manipulation of guilt. I stop and think about what happened, I try to fix the situation, and if the situation cannot be fixed, then I accept the consequence, allow myself to be sad for a bit, and then I move on.
You will make mistakes.
Some people may never forgive you.
And that’s ok.
It is not your responsibility to be forgiven; it is your responsibility to forgive yourself.
To love yourself.
Life goes on.
You will grow, learn, and evolve.
Leave penance to the extremists, self-flagellation to that albino monk in The DaVinci Code, and stop blaming yourself for something that is hard to control. What you CAN control, however, is how you deal with the aftermath of your actions in a healthy, mature manner.
Drop that cat ‘o nine tails, kid, and pick up a broom; instead of making more of a mess, just clean it up, lift your head up, shed a tear, then smile and move along. Better days will always come.