I have finally settled on a motto that says it all for me – I Want To Be A Better Person. For me, that simple phrase addresses many of my issues; my arrogance, my bad behavior, my admission of having done wrong, my acceptance of who I really am, and most of all, my need for hope. I Want To Be A Better Person reflects my belief that in spite of my bipolar condition, I can overcome my bad tendencies and become someone to admire, instead of someone to fear or feel sorry for.
My journey to wanting to be a better person was long and convoluted, painful, yet even funny at times. My hope is that by sharing it with you, I will have an even greater desire to live up to my dreams and give someone else hope as well. There are countless details left out and many details may be wrong, but I hope to paint a picture of how I got to this point.
Long before my diagnosis of Bipolar, I exhibited behaviors that were considered horrible, to put it mildly. Thinking I was smarter and better than anyone, I would justify my behavior as the fault of whoever was my victim. It was always “your” fault that I was acting so horribly, and if it weren’t for you, I would be a saint. My extreme rages were outdone by my delusions, my denial that I was responsible for my behavior, or even believing that my behavior was perfectly justified.
After getting sick of my own behavior, I bought an estate that was next to the monastery that I once lived in. I volunteered to manage the computer systems department and was put under the direction of Lee, a senior monk who I have known for over 20 years. One day, I had a falling out with a friend of mine that I had hired to do some work for the monastery. We ended up in a heated email exchange that was rapidly escalating to the point that it was harming the monastery. Because I was representing the monastery, Lee insisted that all emails that I sent be approved by him. It has been almost five years now, but that experience is one that I have finally grasped.
Mike would send me an email that my deluded mind thought was rude. I wanted to reply with the full force of my rage, but knowing Lee would not approve it, I would rant and rave around the office until I calmed down enough to write the first draft.
I would read my draft to my co-workers and they would tell me, “There is no way Lee is going to let you say that.” I would go for a walk, try to soak up some of the peace from the monastery, and go back for another try. My co-workers would again tell me “no way” and I would repeat the effort all day.
Finally, by the end of the day, or sometimes the next day, I would have a draft ready for Lee. He would calmly change what I had written into something that a saint would have written.
The process of receiving an email and taking all day to respond, went on for over a month. Towards the end, I told Lee that he was expecting me to act like a saint, to which he replied: “Did you expect anything less?”
A year or so later, I was diagnosed as being bipolar; I was back in form. I had quit my volunteering and went back to my old ways. Overtaken by delusions, I was sure everyone was out to get me. My preemptive strikes caused me to vent my rage at anyone I thought was a danger, literally everyone. The lesson Lee had tried to teach me had not only failed to sink in, I had never noticed it in the first place.
The diagnosis seemed like the worst thing that ever happened to me, but now I see it much differently. I finally saw that there was a reason for why I was acting inappropriately. As I resolved to get a handle on my “disorder,” Lee stepped in again and tried to help me understand. He told me that it was not a “disorder,” it was a “condition” that I had to overcome.
I put together a workshop so that I could gain the insight of other bipolar people. I decided to call it “Bipolar in Order” because I wanted to get the “disorder” under control.
Like most of what Lee tried to teach me, it has taken many years to understand what he meant by “condition.” Does it really matter whether my actions are the result of a mental illness, or just the accumulation of bad habits? I don’t think so. It is who I am today that matters. I finally realize what Lee was trying to help me understand. I now want to be a better person, and that desire makes me try to say and do the right thing, whether Lee is there to correct me or not.
Everything that happens to me — a post on a bulletin board that I do not agree with, an event that happens on the street or in a store, my daily interactions with my wife, my friends, and everyone I meet — creates the same process in me. My first thought is to go into a rage. I then think, “I want to be a better person” and try to temper my reaction. If I am doing well, I choose to not react right away and I think about how I would react if Lee was there. I sometimes even act in ways that would make him proud.
I am finding that my desire to do the worst is starting to go away. My ability to do the right thing, or at least something close to it, is getting stronger. Very slowly, I am becoming a better person. I don’t beat myself up about it, but I do put a lot of thought into analyzing my efforts. My introspection is getting easier because I can honestly say that I have become a better person than six months ago.
It might sound simple, but putting it into practice is the hardest challenge I have ever faced. It is also the most rewarding. Some day I might even live up to Lee’s hopes and become that saint.