In asking you to not define yourself as mentally ill (ground rule #1), I stated that while you’re exempt from responsibility for being ill, you need to take responsibility for getting better.
Here’s the forth ground rule from the introduction to my new book, Practicing Mental Illness - Meditation, Movement and Meaningful Work to Manage Challenging Moods:
Ground rule #4 expands on that thought and insists: You must take responsibility for all your actions.
I remember when I was dating my wife. The night I told her I have bipolar disorder she touched me deeply when she asked if I had a difficult period what could she do to help. I returned that kindness by vowing to never use my illness as an excuse for bad behavior.
Now I’ve done some pretty reprehensible things in the past, especially while manic. It would be easy to excuse these faults of conscience as prompted by an episode and performed completely outside of my control. There have been times when I was irrational, psychotic even. It is easy to blame some of the worst things I’ve done, like hurting loved ones, abusing drugs, or failing financially, on this lack of reason and bipolar fueled delusion and irresponsibility. I may not have even been aware of what I was doing at the time.
Forget about matters of blame. The idea is to not get hung up on excuses. Accept myself? Yes, but accept, too, the things I have done.
No matter how much a fault in judgment can be explained as an act committed without thought during an episode of my disorder, I still have to own the consequences. I still have to take responsibility for all I’ve done, make what amends I can, ask sincerely to be forgiven, and strive to be ethical, compassionate, and forward looking in my actions.
I ask you to take the same responsibility for your actions, no matter the cause. And then, as best you can, make the situation better.
Forgiveness and the opportunity to make restitution are earned and important. We must learn from our failings and do whatever we can to not repeat them. Mental illness can strongly influence our behavior and interfere with our ability to choose well. But we do choose. We must try to choose best. We must live with, and rectify, all the bad we do – to ourselves and to others.
Most of the practices I detail in this book involve being fully in the moment, experiencing the present, and relinquishing the pull of thoughts that take us away from our current experience. However, this must not be seen as a method to release awareness of or responsibility for what we have done in the past, even as we seek to not get hung-up re-living our mistakes. Also, a present moment focus does not relieve us of planning for a responsible and independent future.
There is a moral component to this. We do not want to be a burden to others, yet we can’t get to good health entirely on our own. We rely on so many people and programs to help us recover and heal. We have a duty to take responsibility for what we do and how we heal as a means of thanking those who help and paying them back. We must reveal ourselves as worthy of their assistance.
I believe there is a moral law of cause and effect at work in the world, and a lot of that cause and effect concerns how we treat other people. Society is moving toward a great emphasis on rights for all sorts of groups of people, including those of us with mental illness. We must never abdicate our responsibility for society or ignore the consequences of our actions as we demand these rights. What matters most as we advocate for and develop ourselves is how we treat others. Even if we misstep under the influence of the worst episodes of our disorders.
So take responsibility for your actions. Always.
The book comes out in just a few weeks. Please pre-order a copy here today.