Bipolar disorder is a mental illness, but many of the problems that come with bipolar disorder are the actions that it provokes. The illness may be in the brain but much of the harm exists in the life around you. You may act out the illness in many ways through anger, hurt, overreaction, panic, hypersexuality, overspending or others. But the question is, are you responsible for your actions when you are in an acute bipolar episode? If you’re severely depressed or manic, are you accountable for your actions?
You Are Accountable for Your Bipolar Actions
I fall on the side of accountability. I feel people need to take responsibility for their actions no matter what – even with bipolar disorder. I feel this way about people with mental illness and people without. If I do something, it was me doing it and no one else. No doubt, what I’ve done may be highly influenced by a disease that is not my fault, but I still committed the action and have to deal with the consequences.
Because, here’s the thing, while we cannot control the bad bipolar signals coming from our brains, we can control our behavior and how we deal with those signals (in the vast majority of cases). The bipolar may make me irritable, but only I can choose to manifest that irritability by picking fights with my loved ones.
You Are (Generally) Accountable for Bipolar Manifestations
Another example of critical accountability is mania. Many people like the feeling of hypomania and so, when it comes, they don’t treat it and don’t try to quell it. This, of course, in many cases, leads to full-blown mania. And while the mania is not your fault, per se, and it’s an illness that’s not your fault, you did ignore the signals that would have prevented that state. You are the one that chose not to treat a minor or moderate problem and allowed it to become extreme. You are the one that allowed the disease to progress to the point where you were no longer in control.
This is not to say that everyone can avoid a severe bipolar episode all the time, but certainly, all of us are responsible for recognizing our prodromal symptoms to avoid the disease getting out of control whenever possible.
Exceptions to True Bipolar Accountability
Nevertheless, sometimes the disease does cause actions that truly are outside of our control, for example, psychosis. When a person is psychotic, he or she truly does not know what she’s doing and there is limited responsibility she can reasonably take for what she does in that state.
How to Take Accountability for Your Bipolar Actions
I believe it’s important when we exhibit hurtful behavior to stand up and say, “Yes, I did that. Yes, it was highly influenced by my disorder but I am truly sorry and I will work to avoid it in the future.” Even when it’s not your fault, it’s still important to take responsibility because the harm is real. You can’t just throw up your hands and say, “yes, I had an affair because I was hypersexual – it wasn’t my fault, it was the bipolar.” That just increases the harm that you have caused. I know it’s a bitter pill to swallow and it’s hard to take responsibility for things that are so influenced by bipolar, but I believe it is an important one. It’s important not only for our own wellbeing but also for the wellbeing of those around us.
So don’t shirk your responsibility and blame your actions on bipolar disorder. You are better than that. You are stronger than that. And the people who love you deserve better than that too.
About Natasha Tracy
Natasha Tracy is an award-winning writer, speaker and consultant from the Pacific Northwest. She has been living with bipolar disorder for 18 years and has written more than 1000 articles on the subject.
Natasha’s New Book
Find more of Natasha’s work in her new book: Lost Marbles: Insights into My Life with Depression & Bipolar. Find Lost Marbles on Amazon.