Here is a topic that I have wanted to talk about for a long time. At first this may make some people upset, and that is OK. Keep reading.
I cannot tell you how many times I notice someone acting out and before anyone can say or do anything about it, the person’s friend or family member is telling everyone, it’s OK they have “x” illness and it isn’t their fault. At the beginning of my recovery I found myself in this place as well. It is an easy thing to do. We want to be understanding. We want to be comforting. We want to make the person with the illness think everything is OK. Guess what? Everything is not OK. You have a mental or behavioral condition that by it’s very nature makes everything not OK, a good deal of the time.
When I first started my path of recovery from Bipolar Disorder I had a therapist named Robert. For most of my sessions it was me doing a 45 minute brain dump and Robert trying to find a way to keep me alive until our next appointment. I was not ready to do the work necessary to get better. Robert’s job was literally to keep me going until he could see me again. In fact, I would have to confess that my moods and behavior got worse after the diagnosis than they were prior to seeking help. Part of this was having to deal with the label and the stigma of being “crazy”. A bigger problem was how everyone around me treated me. Everyone started apologizing for me and making excuses for the behaviors that resulted from my mood swings. While this is necessary at the beginning, continued use of these crutches truly damaged my ability to recover and gain some sort of normal life.
The last therapist I had taught me so much about living with mental illness. She saw that the time had come for me to do some work and get better. The first thing we did she had me read everything I could get my hands on about the things I was diagnosed with. I became an expert in me. This had a couple of effects. I took charge of my health care. I was driving the bus, not my doctor. Together with my doctor we reached informed conclusions about my meds and treatments. That in itself caused me to get better because I was getting better treatment.
The second thing that happened was that She told me, that under no condition was I able to throw my diagnoses around as an excuse for behavior that resulted from them. I had learned about my illness, the warning signs of changes in mod, tools to deal with my conditions, and an awareness of how my illness manifested. Katherine, my therapist, told me, “You know what is going on and what to do about it. Your behavior is now your responsibility. No more excuses.” At first I got angry. How dare she? She knows I am sick. I can’t help it. But she was right. I knew how to manage my health care and it was my responsibility to mange it. This also meant I needed to own my mistakes.
Did this mean the mistakes went away? No. Mistakes keep happening to this day. I own up to weird or bad behavior, take corrective action, and we all move on. Believe it or not, this actually also helped with the guilt. I was able to own my problems and I could, and should do something about them. It was taking responsibility but it was also empowerment. My illness was no longer in control. I was in control. If something went wrong it got dealt with.
We still ask for understanding when things go wrong but we don’t expect people to just allow me to run wild and act stupid. If I do something wrong. I apologize. If I feel it is needed I can say that “I am sorry. I am having some weird mood swings and having problems dealing with it right now. I didn’t mean to do ‘the thing’. Let me catch my breath a minute and we can try this again.” I give myself a time out. I get centered. I pull out my tool box and I deal with my issues. Then, once I have it together, I deal with damage caused.
Katherine’s rule was simple. If you are an adult, or even the kid, and you are aware of your illness, you are then responsible for recovering and getting better. No crutches. It is still OK to not be OK. It is not OK to treat people badly or make poor decisions when you are not OK. It is OK to say, I am not OK. I need your support. Help me not be an ass.
Because of this my family has a rule. If I get weird, they go to mom. My wife comes to me and says, “Hey you are doing the thing”. Ideally I say, “wow, OK, I’m sorry lets fix the thing”. That isn’t quite how it works so we have the second rule. Once she says, hey, it seems like you are doing the thing, or the kids are worried or whatever she says, if I get mad at being called on it, She gets to say, “you asked me to call you on it. That is what I am doing.” At that point I don’t get to be mad anymore. I have asked for help from my support system and I have received it. I don’t get to be mad because I got help. That is what being called on your BS is. It’s help. It needs to be done in a supportive way, but it needs to be done.
Does this mean I never slide. Oh heavens no. I slide all the time. The thing is now I don’t stay there. We pick up the pieces, glue them back together and get back up. I still have huge anxiety attacks. I still have weird behaviors due to mod swings. I have tools to minimize these things and the support to deal with the aftermath. Having a support system that calls me on my crap is probably one of the biggest keys to my recovery.
Are there some diagnosis that come with uncontrollable behaviors? Yes. Those must be managed in ways that make sense to the diagnosis, but when the behavior is controllable or manageable, eventually you need to manage it.
Accountability allows and empowers me to recover. Making excuses for me keeps me comfortably sick. At first it’s easier and more comfortable to be sick and stay there. Once you start to get better, you start to want to make decisions and participate in life again. That is a shock to the system and can actually cause problems at the beginning. Everyone was used to the sick you and you went and got better.
In year, I hope that if you are suffering from mental illness, you can learn to recovery with the power of accountability.