Learning that I suffered from a mental illness changed how I regarded myself. I had considered that my behavior – the unpleasant stuff – was mostly because, for some reason, I was just an asshole. I didn’t like that idea; I didn’t want to be an asshole. I didn’t want to hurt or offend anyone; but I often did. And so I figured that’s just who I was – a rather unpleasant, often hostile jerk.
Then I learned that much of my behavior was a result of mood swings that I’d been having without realizing it. I was well aware of the episodes of bleak depression. Those are hard to miss. I was less conscious of those times of anger, distrust, anxiety, irritability – those things just seemed normal to me, a reaction to people getting on my nerves or pissing me off. I learned that these episodes were also symptoms of an illness.
When I explained this to the people who had known me for years, they agreed that I was certainly subject to mood swings. One friend commented that she realized I wasn’t as big an asshole as she had thought. Some of it was caused by a mental illness.
I resisted the temptation to use this illness as a sort of “get out of jail free” card – to say, “I can’t help my behavior, I’ve got this mental illness.”
True, a mental illness drove my moods, and because of that I often behaved badly. That may make my behavior more understandable, more forgivable – but it doesn’t absolve me of my responsibility.
Someone once told me that I’m not guilty for my behavior, but I am responsible. This isn’t just playing with words.
Taking responsibility for my behavior includes going to people I’ve hurt and explaining to them that I know I hurt them, and that I regret doing it. Responsibility also requires that I remain alert to my feelings and behavior, and try to avoid hurting anyone; and that if I do hurt someone, I admit I was wrong and make such amends as I can.
It seems likely that I’m always going to have mood swings to a greater or lesser extent. It’s the nature of the beast. Because of that, I’m probably going to hurt people at times. I don’t have control over that. I can’t help it. What I can control, though, is what I do about it afterwards. I can stop the hurtful behavior and make amends as soon as possible.