Not My Fault. Still My Responsibility.

We are each completely responsible for every single decision we ever make. We have to live with the consequences of all situations and decisions, even ones that are not our fault. “Living with consequences of your decisions” is another way of saying “being responsible for your life”.

I do believe that some decisions we make are not completely voluntary, in the sense that sometimes the mind allows us to believe things that are incorrect, especially during psychotic episodes. Other times, there are decisions of inaction caused by severe depression. But no matter where in your brain the decision came from, no matter how impaired you were when you made the decision, even if it was not your fault, you are still completely responsible for what happens afterward. Many common situations in mental illness will not be your fault at all, but you’re still responsible for how you decide to react.

If you’re mad right now, then you’re not listening. Calm down, and I’ll explain.

There are tons of things that are not our fault but are still our responsibility. Mental illness is not your fault at all. But how you respond to it is still completely your responsibility. If I have a panic attack in a grocery store, that panic attack is not my fault. But I will still have to take responsibility by deciding what to do about it. I could decide to leave. I could decide to do a breathing exercise. I could strip naked, wear my underwear as a hat, and run through the store screaming the lyrics to “I Will Survive”. I could even decide to ask someone else what to do, and yes, even for that decision I am responsible.

Deciding to delegate to a stable person or choosing inaction are also still decisions. I know all too well that deep depression can keep me inert. I may not be able to get out of bed some days. Just like with the panic attack, this is not my fault. But making decisions is still always my responsibility, which means I will be directly affected by any action or inaction that I choose. Whatever decision I make, I am responsible for how I respond to that situation, and I will be responsible for the next situation that my decision brings me to. Making a decision about anything is taking responsibility.

Everything in your life affects you in some way, and your reaction to each situation directly affects you with its outcome. You are already responsible for yourself and your decisions, so actively recognizing the power you have always had is a tool that can vastly and rapidly change the way you see yourself and your personal power to affect change. People who can correctly identify the times in which they can choose between different outcomes have a higher sense of stability and self-worth.

Whether we actually have free will or not, we still are forced by our own brains to live as though we do have free will. Taking responsibility for every single decision you make, plus the consequences of each of those decisions, is the single most empowering thing you can do with your mind (I’d rank mindfulness as the second most empowering). Once you take complete responsibility for everything in your life, regardless of whose fault it is, you realize that you contain immeasurable power, including the power to change yourself and your life through the decisions you make every day.

 

How I Learned That Change Is Always On The Way (or Hope In Water)

 

Above the Spiral CC

 

One time, about 5 years ago, I was on an antipsychotic medication that was known for being very safe and having few side effects. I will not name it here, because I don’t believe that telling others about my bad experiences with medication is safe or appropriate. This medicine helps millions of people; I was just in a minority of people who had horrible, devastating, contraindicative effects from it. This effect is possible because each medicine reacts uniquely in each person’s brain. A medication is prescribed based on the typical reaction it produces, but the typical reaction doesn’t happen to everybody. For me, this medication was very harmful, and it took several months for my doctor and me to connect the dots between my ever-worsening depression, insomnia, paranoia, delusions, hallucinations, and mixed-state bipolar episodes to that medicine.

I was on this medication for five months, growing progressively worse. Every time I got worse, my doctor increased my dosage. I stopped sleeping more than 4 hours a night and fell deeper and deeper into a dark hole that was filled with overwhelming sadness and psychosis. By the time I got to the point where I had felt sincere suicidal desires for about a week, I started making plans.

I did this most waking hours. Bread knife across the throat, hanging myself with an electrical cord from a tree in the park, strangling myself with duct tape, and buying a gun were all considered. I was hurting so badly that all I wanted was out. The breadknife across the throat was the most troubling because when I was lying awake at night with my soul on fire, that was a legitimate plan for exit; all I had to do was walk to the kitchen to end it. I remember literally “white-knuckling it,” clutching my bedding so hard that my hands cramped. Continue reading

A Manic Introduction to a Realistic View

What will I be without my illness?

This question terrified me. And it terrified me to admit that I was terrified because that meant something was wrong with me. And there is. There is a pretty massive thing wrong with me: I have a broken brain.

Along with that broken brain came a personality developed from the results of mental illness. There is a lot I have not been that I want to be. I have rough spots and ugly edges. Now I know that I can make those edges any way I’d like them to be. I have the power to do all of the things I want to do. They are all completely possible. I can step out of the cage and grow into whatever I want to be.

I had a seizure, and it changed me. I woke up in a slightly different world. It’s beautiful. I have the power to make all of the things I want into reality. That is an incredible gift. My life is going to be meaningful.

Now that I have all this power, I have to start looking at what it is I want. If I could pick anything… and I can pick anything… then I need to think hard about what I want my life to be.

Of course, any joy this high comes under scrutiny. Mania is always possible, and it can give one delusions of grandeur. That is what this looks like from the outside, and I know my family will be worried. But having a seizure made me wake up different, and now I’ve got everything figured out. Or, rather, I know how to figure anything out. I will have to work hard, but I know that I can. I just have to keep putting small thing on top of small thing until I make something big.

The paragraphs above were written during mania. I rarely have “happy” mania, but I definitely did when I wrote this. I remembered today that I started writing an article a few nights ago and I wanted to sit down and finish it. I remembered that the article had a positive perspective, and I was excited to see what I had written. Then I read it and immediately went “Oh. Delusions of grandeur.” It made me smile.

It made me smile because I can appreciate the more ridiculous things about my disorder. For years, when I had to come face to face with a shortcoming, weakness, or disability, I would cry and feel deep hopelessness. It felt like I was worthless and broken. Now, I have gotten better at accepting that I am disabled, and I don’t need to be ashamed Continue reading

Why I Won’t Have Children

I have always desperately wanted a daughter, and wanted to have several babies. I worked in infant care for seven years, and babies are my favorite people. I feel so much love toward them and from them, and have so much purpose when caring for them. From a very young age, around four or five, I have looked forward to becoming a mother. I wrote down “get pregnant and have a baby” on a bucket list I made when I was eight years old.Holly CC

When I was 19, my bipolar disorder presented. My ultimate diagnosis was bipolar II (mixed-state, rapid-cycling episodes with psychotic features), major depressive disorder, and generalized anxiety disorder. I have had extreme difficulty keeping myself functional and safe over the years, and it is literally dangerous for me to do something like cook when I am in an episode. I had to leave my job working with babies and go on disability because I had an episode at work in which I was not safe and I was endangering the babies. That was eye-opening. And I did not like what I was forced to see. Continue reading

The Abnormal Life

 

A person with multiple severe mental illnesses, like myself, will never lead a “normal” life. We are not neurotypical, and cannot lead neurotypical lives. We live our own special brand of abnormal lives. These lives can be worthwhile, rich, and rewarding, even though they do contain immense suffering.

Of course, trying to get as close to normal as possible is the first big goal of treatment. Medicine, therapy, and coping skills are meant to help minimize symptoms and pain. Medication is more than half the battle, so seeing a psychiatrist and making sure you keep up to date on prescriptions is the biggest single step you can take. If you do not yet have medical treatment, you will need to work out a plan to get to a psychiatry appointment. You can involve loved ones in this. Do not be shy about asking for help. Your quality of life is on the line, and I guarantee you that you have at least one person in your life who does not want you to suffer. Ask that person to take you to the doctor. You deserve to have treatment. You deserve to live in less pain. You deserve to have your needs met.

Finding the right medicine can take time, but sticking with it until your cocktail is correct is worth the time and suffering of the trial and error process. The long-term goal is remission, and the short-term goal is the amelioration of pain. It can feel hopeless, but please don’t give up. Medicine is the cornerstone of your recovery.

Mindfulness is another coping skill available to you. Mindfulness, an immensely helpful tool, is the practice of experiencing the present moment exactly as it is without passing judgment. The present moment is not good or bad, it’s just what is. You can learn to step back from your thoughts and accept the present moment, and doing so can give you some immediate relief. When you are mindful, you are not worried about anything that is going to happen in the future and you do not regret anything that happened in your past. You ground yourself firmly in the present. There is an abundance of information on how to be mindful on Mindful – healthy mind, healthy life, which is full of techniques for developing this skill that can serve you for years to come. Learning to be mindful will be helpful almost immediately. Continue reading

Can A Bipolar Person Ever Be Happy?

I’m happy. Not always. Not even every week. But my life has meaning, regardless of how ill or healthy I am in the moment. Because of this, on days when I feel normal, I am happy.

I’m from Texas. I’m on disability income because of bipolar, and I live in my hometown. I have a healthy sense of self, loving friends, a cat, a good psychiatrist, a great therapist, and parents who live nearby. I also have mixed-state episodes, major depressive disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, panic attacks, psychotic episodes, dissociation, random pains and sometimes insomnia. Sometimes I also have suicidal ideation.

My life now, at 31, is better than it has ever been.

Episodes are awful (I’m heading into one right now, and I am not at all excited about it). My brain’s response to stress is to shut down completely, dissociate, hallucinate, panic, and cry. My body shakes and spasms, I get dizzy and lightheaded, and I have very uncomfortable physical sensations. Because of this, I do not hold up at all in the workplace. No one really appreciates that kind of behavior on the job. I was lucky enough to get granted disability, which lets me live with just enough money to get by. I can’t make any “fun” purchases, but I can pay for my rent, electricity, and Netflix. I save what I can to make occasional “major” purchases, like getting an eye exam for a contacts prescription, which is what I’m saving up for now. I do struggle sometimes. But I’m satisfied.

When I was 18 I was on top of the world. I graduated high school in the top 5% of my class, I had won several contests for classical singing, and I was accepted to a handful of colleges, including Oberlin Conservatory, which is world renowned for their undergraduate vocal program. I had tons of friends, and I had high self-esteem and a fun life. I went off to college at Oberlin and the fun intensified. There were so many interesting people and ideas that were brand new to me. I turned 19, and after a couple months, bipolar presented. All of those happy and wonderful things, bit by bit, were taken from me.

Between 19 and 30, I longed to go back to age 18. It was the happiest I’d ever been. When I turned 31, I shifted into the new “best” time in my life. I am happier now than I was at 18. My happiness is deeper and more fulfilling. My life is beautiful. But that is not the important part.

The important part is that I still have episodes. I still have depression. I still have severe psychosis, dissociation, anxiety, paranoia, and panic. I have to find my happiness in the time between episodes. I am so lucky that I get to have those times now; for years I did not. It took 11 years to find the right combination of medicine, and 4 years of weekly therapy to learn enough coping tools to not jump straight to suicidal ideation in episodes. But I did it. Now I’m here.

Not having a job is not the worst thing in the world. I used to feel guilty for accepting government help as well as the help of my family before I realized that societies and families exist for the purpose of us keeping each other safe and alive. That is the point of communities and social support systems. I would have died if I did not accept the help that was offered.

My work is keeping myself healthy. I have to exercise, eat well, stay on a sleep schedule, take all my medicine on time, shower, do laundry, go to all my appointments, and socialize with someone in person at least once a week. Those things take up every bit of my ability, and I can’t achieve all of them every day. If I’m depressed, for example, I can eat and sleep, and maybe shower. My overall goal is to do all those things when I am expected to, but it is important and healthy to lower your expectations of yourself when you’re struggling with mental illness symptoms. I do all the work I am able to do, and I adjust according to my current capabilities.

I’m glad to not have a job. I would be having episodes every day, and I don’t like that idea at all. I also like being able to determine my own priorities for how I spend my time. In the time between episodes, things can feel so wonderful, and I’m free to do things like write on Quora, go for walks, or work on my website. I am very sensitive to the moments when I feel okay or calm. I’m able to be grateful for a happy thought or feeling. I can pay close attention to the good. Mindfulness helps me tremendously with that.

Even though I can still feel miserable, I am at peace with my symptoms. I will probably have them for the rest of my life and will need to stay on top of my treatment. In all the healthy minutes, hours, or days I am granted, I am able to see how lucky I am. I’m living my own personal happily ever after, just with the addition of episodes of misery. When the episode goes away, my happiness comes back. My real life is beautiful. I often can’t see that in episodes. Sometimes I believe things are so bad that I should kill myself. But when the storm passes, I get my life back, and it’s still beautiful.

So yes, there are bipolar people who are still sick and have good lives. I can be happy, and then sick, and then happy again. My life’s work is staying alive, and I’m even starting to get good at it. This website is a byproduct of exactly that. It’s all about survival at first. Once you get past survival, it becomes about living. Here I am, happy. Here I am, living.

 

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