I was asked the other day, what is the hardest part about being bipolar? This is a difficult question anyway, because there are a lot of tough parts. But the more I thought, the more the answer began to form. For this bipolar patient the hardest thing about the disease is forgiveness.
All diseases take forgiveness. Some more than others. The slips, the mess ups, the forgets, the denial, the anger…all of it on some level needs forgiving. But while it is rather easy to forgive my parents, my husband, even the doctors who couldn’t help me, it is very hard to forgive myself. And yet it is vital to my continued journey towards health.
I had to learn that forgiveness is essential because without it I am stuck in a pattern of hate, anger and frustration. I had to learn to forgive my parents when they said things that didn’t help, but made the situation worse. I had to learn that this disease doesn’t have a manual that you can read beforehand in order to understand the ins and outs. There is no guide; and my parents did the best they could in a tough situation.
I had to learn to forgive my husband for also occasionally making a bad situation worse. For saying things that hurt me, or tugged on my already abused emotions. I had to learn to forgive my husband when he reacted to my disease and forgot that I couldn’t hear what he was so clearly saying. I had to learn to forgive my husband for not being able to anticipate my moods, my troubles, my problems. I had to learn to forgive my husband for not understanding a disease that does not make sense.
I had to learn to forgive doctors who can’t help me. I had to realize that the majority of doctors that I see have no personal experience with mental diseases. They see patients in a controlled and easily contained sterile environment, not in the real world. They have no concept of the evil, the stubbornness, the doubt, the denial, the ups and downs and what those things really feel like. They have learned about this disease much the same way the majority of people do: through newspapers, through text books, and through fictional accounts. They have never felt it. They have never woken up one morning fundamentally different from who and what they were when they went to sleep. They can’t perceive the true terror, the true frustration, even the true joy when someone is in an unbelievable high. I had to forgive them for not being sick when I was.
But more than all of that combined I have had to learn to forgive myself. I had to learn that having episodes is part of my life. That when I go absolutely crazy, it isn’t because I am crazy but the disease. When I did things that I couldn’t take back, said things that I could never reverse, lost my temper, been unbelievable lazy, or when I was so high I literally could run miles a day with no problem (and no training) that it was the disease and not me. I had to understand that sometimes it wasn’t my fault. Sometimes I was just sick.
Mental diseases, unlike any other disease, are such an intricate part of you, the very core of you that it is impossible to separate the disease from the person. You can separate a cancer cell from a patient. You can separate a virus from a patient. You can even separate a kidney from a person. But you can not separate a person’s mind from them so easily. It is there in everything we do, everything we are. And when it betrays those that we love the most, it betrays us as well. Pointing out what is the disease and what is my own personalities is a struggle that I have fought my whole life; and will continue to do so until my death. I will never know my true personality under the disease. Because the disease is me.
For parents this is an important element to understand. Your son or daughter will not be able to forgive themselves long after their actions are done. They sometimes won’t know what they have done until long after it is in the past; but they will remember it. Events usually aren’t blackened out. They aren’t forgotten just because the high is gone, or the low is cured. Those events are just as real to the patient as to those around them. And while you will never convince me that it is solely a disease that causes the most harm, it has to be in some way already in the person, those attributes that might not be your favorite can be exaggerated during an episode.
I do things during certain times of the disease’s cycle that I would never normally do. Let me step away and say that I have no desire to hurt anyone but myself. When I was in my darkest episode and my husband mentioned that I was going to hurt my children, the only thing I did in reaction is grab my keys and prepare to leave immediately. I would not hurt my children even when I couldn’t see them, when I couldn’t hear them because I was so far gone. They were standing in front of me at the time, and while I did not know it, my first instinct even in that time of horror was to run away and protect them. To remove myself so I couldn’t hurt them. I may not remember everything in my episodes, and I may do horrible things, but I know to my very core I could never physically hurt my precious babies. Forgiveness came easier when I realized this. There will be moments of epiphanies such as this; they are crucial to the growth and healing of your child.
Why write this for parents? Because it is something that has to be facilitated by you. It is hard to remember that your son or daughter is in an episode when they are acting not in character necessarily, but normally enough that alarm bells aren’t going off. Maybe they are in a high and you like that they are cleaning, cooking, and mowing the lawn for you. However just as they can do great things, they can also do bad things. They can scream, they can cry, they can manipulate, they can anger. But while you can’t blame the disease, you have the blame the child not taking their medicine or simply doing everything right and having a bad day; you also have to find an easy way to forgive. Not for your sake, but for your child’s sake.
Your child has to learn forgiveness from the beginning. This does not preclude taking responsibility. Your child can’t just have forgiveness without taking responsibility for their choices during the episode, and the actions that precipitated the episode. However, forgiveness is still important. It is how they learn without dwelling. It is how they move on and try to make themselves better the next time. Staying and focusing on the past doesn’t help anyone. Your child must learn from it and move on.
I had to learn forgiveness or I would have given up this life long before now. I would have continued to question the point of my existence, and I would have continued to question my right to be on this earth. Without forgiveness I can’t find a reason to keep making the same mistakes over and over. They may take different forms, but I, like every mental patient, continue to have episodes, continue to forget my meds, and continue to go so high as to soar. Without forgiveness I wouldn’t have children, although they helped me to learn what it truly means. Without forgiveness I would have stopped breathing, stopped living long before this. Without forgiveness I would be someone much different from the person I am today.
Forgiveness is essential for your child. Don’t hold it back. This is not to say you let them get away with things, but rather you find the tools to move on. Don’t dwell on the fears, on the mistakes, on the problems. Move away from them. Finding forgiveness for yourself and your child. This can keep your child moving forward. Without it, they simply can’t. Without forgiveness life can slowly and surely bleed your child of all his hope, all his desire, and all his ability to survive in a world where forgiveness is very hard to find.