Stop Using Bipolar as an Excuse (The “Stupid” Post, Again)
There were a lot of people who didn’t like the original post, but there were also a lot of people who did. And many of those people do have bipolar disorder themselves.
Granted, I was a bit unwell myself at the time and that translated into one inflammatory post, but I still believe the essence of it is true: Bipolar should not be used as an excuse for rotten behavior. Rather, people need to take measures to try to prevent a bipolar episode that will lead to rotten behavior.
Or, conversely, people need to recognize if they are indeed using their diagnosis as an excuse for their behavior, when in fact they do have control over their behavior. While the majority of people with bipolar, I hope, are people who truly want to be stable and to treat others with care and respect, it is naïve to think that there aren’t people with bipolar disorder using their diagnosis as a means to an end.
It happens in the general population; it’ll happen to the bipolar population, as well.
I have made some tweaks to the original post. Here it is…
What prompted the original post was that my husband’s coworker said it was OK for him to hit his wife during arguments because he has bipolar disorder and was currently in an episode. I say not. Not at all. If hitting people was a symptom of bipolar disorder, it’d be listed as a symptom in the DSM. Bipolar causes lack of insight and impulsivity and terrible errors in judgment, and it can be a reason for hitting people, but it is not an excuse. This man should be feeling great remorse, and then use that guilt as an impetus to getting well. It is never OK to hurt someone, whether or not you have bipolar disorder.
I am sick and tired of people using their diagnosis as an excuse for their rotten behavior. Unless you are currently in the throes of the psychoses of mania or the delusions of depression, you DO have control enough over your behavior to not do something really bad, like hitting your wife. Even if you are depressed or hypomanic, you are still in touch with reality – your impulse control may be well-the-hell off, but you are still “here” enough that you know that you’re breaking a window or abandoning your family or telling your boss to shove it. It’s not like you’re doing something and then later have no idea what you were doing; if that’s the case, then you are in fact psychotic and this article doesn’t pertain to you and you need to see your doctor immediately.
As you’re doing it, if you know inside that your behavior is extreme, you have some control to stop it. You may not be able to stop it while you’re doing it, but you can head it off…you can walk away, stomp out the door in a huff before you put your fist through the wall. You can’t stop the bipolar mood swing, but you can keep yourself from killing people – which means that you do indeed have control. Otherwise, murder – what I would think to be the ultimate in lack of behavior control – would be listed as a symptom for bipolar in the DSM.
If you can stop yourself from killing someone, you have the capability to stop yourself from doing less rotten behavior. It may be difficult, but you’re not too far gone to no longer have free will. Again, if you cannot keep yourself from killing someone, and this includes yourself – if you think about it obsessively – this article does not pertain to you; you need to see your doctor immediately.
While the moods that come with bipolar disorder can make rotten behavior really tempting, that rotten behavior is not in and of itself the symptoms of bipolar. The DSM lists such symptoms as risky behavior, not specifically hitting people. There’s a reason. It’s the moods that make bipolar what it is. It’s what you do because of those moods that ruins your life and signals to you and others that you need to see a doctor or spend some time in the hospital.
Bipolar is a mood disorder, not a self-control problem. True, there are people with bipolar disorder who have self-control problems, such as those with attention deficit disorder, but it is not correct to say that everyone with bipolar disorder has self-control problems. And that’s what this abuser was doing – he said that it was bipolar causing him to hit his wife, when in reality, he is causing himself to hit his wife; bipolar is making it easier for him to make that choice, because hitting his wife is how he is expressing his bipolar symptoms.
Whether or not someone with bipolar disorder has self-control problems, he or she needs to get help if they feel pressure to do extreme, rotten behaviors. Way back when, my husband hit me during a bipolar episode. But then he went and got some help. This is excusable. What is not excusable is to hit someone, say it was because of the bipolar, and then “forget” or refuse to get help. Not caring is not the same as a self-control problem.
In the general population, there are smart people and there are people who do stupid behaviors over and over and someone could label them as stupid. Not that they’re necessarily unintelligent, but that for whatever reason, they are doing stupid things and then not taking action to learn from those mistakes or to prevent them in the future.
It stands to reason that the same case can be found in the bipolar population. If you are bipolar but are using your diagnosis as an excuse to keep on doing rotten behavior, like hitting your wife, you are the bad labels being thrown at you: You are lazy if you choose to keep hitting your wife and not getting help, you are selfish if you choose to keep hitting your wife and not getting help, you are a jerk if you choose to keep hitting your wife and not getting help. You are NOT lazy, selfish, or a jerk if you are bipolar and you’re doing something about it! You may not always be successful in stabilizing your bipolar, but you are trying – and that is what separates you from the people with bipolar who just keep hitting their wives and using bipolar as an excuse.
If you have bipolar but you are continually working to get stable, even if you’re not that successful at it but at least you’re trying – because I’ve talked with people who have tried EVERYTHING out there and nothing works to stabilize them, whether it’s because of sensitivities to meds or just plain resistance to treatments – then this article is not for you.
But if you ride the mood swings with no thought of taking on the work to try something to stop the roller-coaster, if you blame everyone else for your problems (“you made me hit you because you made me mad”), this is who this article is chastising. Those are the types of people with bipolar who are giving everyone else with bipolar a bad name. If you want to get well, even if you’re not right now, you’re with the majority of those with bipolar (at least I hope it’s the majority). I’m talking about those with bipolar who give everyone else a bad name – the people who hit their wives or do some other bad behavior and say, “Well, it’s because I have bipolar. I can’t help it.” Yes, there is something you can do, and should be doing: GO GET HELP!
You are not bipolar. You are you. You just happen to have bipolar. Bipolar makes it a lot harder to live a stable, good life. But bipolar is not your identity. You have the ability to make the choice to try to get better, or to continue doing rotten behavior and using bipolar as an excuse. You may not always be successful – it can years to find the right meds or therapy exercises that will help stabilize you or head off a coming episode, or you may never be all that effective – but at least you care. At least, if you hit your wife, you can feel remorse.
You have the full ability to make choices, even if you have bipolar disorder, and I hope that anyone out there who is hitting his or her spouse takes a page out my husband’s book and makes the resolve to get better…rather than using bipolar as an excuse to keep doing it.
Brhel, R. (2012). Stop Using Bipolar as an Excuse (The “Stupid” Post, Again). Psych Central. Retrieved on April 19, 2015, from http://blogs.psychcentral.com/moody-marriage/2012/02/stop-using-bipolar-as-an-excuse-the-%e2%80%9cstupid%e2%80%9d-post-again/