Aftermath of Bipolar Depression
July 30, 2018 6:30 PM   Subscribe

I'm 29/f and have just started taking medication for bipolar depression. Thoughts of the destruction that I've left behind during these ten past unmedicated years are starting to terrorize my consciousness intermittently but consistently. How do you move on from the embarrassment and shame of past actions?

I would like to think that, if in a different state of mind, I would have made completely different decisions. I don't have a very good reputation, and I can't shake the feeling that I'm permanently branded as stupid, immature, and incompetent. I've internalized people's opinions of me. The difficult task arises from the impossibility of delineating which of my past actions come from an actual character flaw and which ones were generated from an aberrant mental state.

I'm seeing a therapist, but I'd like to inquire of others' viewpoints.

Thank you
posted by iusedhername to Health & Fitness (11 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Learning to forgive yourself and making amends are major tenents of the 12 steps. You might think about interpreting and adapting them to your particular situation.
posted by vignettist at 6:36 PM on July 30, 2018 [2 favorites]

I speak as someone with a sister who has had severe bipolar disease for several decades. Consider that your loved ones love you very much, and want only the best for you. They have forgotten, or will forget, your episodes of what you're thinking of as stupid, immature or incompetant behavior, and will treat them as symptoms of your disease. Not as character flaws. Not at all. Keep taking your medicine. Keep focusing on your health. The better you treat yourself, the better your outcome will be.
posted by BlahLaLa at 6:57 PM on July 30, 2018 [12 favorites]

I also went through this. My mental issues were different but the result is the same. I'm 32 F and seeing people from highschool and college mortifies me. I feel the same way a lot of the time about my own family. I moved away and have a happy constructive life with my partner and pets. My family only sees me on holidays and they can see that I've changed, but they mostly remember how I was. I guess they've also never had the chance to deal with their anger over that time, so they have a hard time letting it go. I guess what I'm saying is you aren't alone.

I would say that if you've been kind of a jerk, change takes time. You'll have to learn to forgive yourself. There's no point in berating yourself over things you can't change, all you can do is work toward being better in the future. That said, if someone is frustrated with you, you can't just shrug and say WELL THAT'S THE PAST. It's a good idea to apologize. Just admit that you were having a rough time and it wasn't okay, and you plan to be better in the future. And then actually be better. I like to tell myself I had to be that way to be who I am now. And that is an awesome, conscientious person who has a lot of patience with other people's flaws but will not be steamrolled. All you can do is take it one day at a time. The fact that you're worried about how you've behaved is a pretty good sign that you've actually never been that bad at all. Good luck!
posted by Bistyfrass at 7:09 PM on July 30, 2018 [13 favorites]

I’d suggest volunteering with an organization where your skills are particularly in demand. Or even just keeping an eye out for small ways to be kind. Even if your skills are just your willingness to do things others aren’t interested in doing, you have something to contribute. Feeling good about yourself is easiest when you’re focusing more on others and making a positive effect on the world.
posted by Rock 'em Sock 'em at 7:11 PM on July 30, 2018 [3 favorites]

Surround yourself with people who love and support you. Therapy may be helpful in processing past events and letting go of the shame.
posted by epj at 7:57 PM on July 30, 2018

A very, very wise friend helped me to forgive myself for actions in my past, by speaking about the person she had been in her past, and how it affected people who are in her life but were there also when she was troubled.

She said that she came to realize that that person, who she was in her past, and those people who were around her then, they are ghosts. They are present only if she summons them. They can harm her only if she summons them.

And that is the same for the people who her actions harmed. And if they are determined to hold on to ghosts walking in the shadows of their past, who live only in the past, only in their memories, then that is for them to learn to unhook. If they hold to that pain, it is their decision.

This may not be a fit for you but for me it unlocked decades of remorse.

It allowed me to drop that remorse and walk from it. Most, if not all of the people who I'd hurt had forgiven me years before; they were not wandering with ghosts in their past. It was I who lived in that shadowy land.

Somehow when my friend laid it out like this, I was able to see it, to understand it, and to quit watching ghosts, who only exist if I look at them.

Manic depression is painful, for us and those around us. But you're stable now, and if you look at the shadows you cast from now on it won't be painful at all. Still, I say don't look back -- look forward, and move forward, into your new freedoms. This life thing, it's really beautiful, mostly, I can't recommend it highly enough.

Good luck.
posted by dancestoblue at 8:46 PM on July 30, 2018 [11 favorites]

The most useful mantra for me has been "I was doing the best I could with the tools that I had at the time"

Now that you are on medication and getting help, your best is improving so much it is hard to look at back at your prior self. But even she did the best she could (even if her best wasn't all that good)).

No one is permanently immature or permanently imcmompentant. You are growing into a better person. That is good. Next year's self will be better than this year's self. That is good. Last year's self is didn't do as well as you wished - of course - you are a growing, evolving person. Your reputation with some people may be based on your past actions. Your job with those people is to sincerely apologize and show that you are actively working (as best you can) not to make those mistakes. Some will forgive easily. Some will need to see the new you show and deliver. That's OK. You are doing the best you can with the tools that you have.
posted by metahawk at 9:51 PM on July 30, 2018 [10 favorites]

If a memory or thought enters your head and mortifies you, look at situation objectively. Why are you mortified? Should you be? What would you do differently now? Why did you act as you did? Have you learned something? Good, now you can move on, having learned something and made a mental pledge to do better in the future.

Note that there will also be times when you look at the situation objectively that you see you are being overly hard on yourself. I've beaten myself up for slights I seriously doubt other people were even aware of. I've cursed myself for quite natural feelings and very human failings. It's as important to catch these and learn to be fair with yourself as it is to learn from past mistakes.
posted by xammerboy at 10:25 PM on July 30, 2018 [1 favorite]

Hi there, I'm in the same boat as you are, though a few years further down the treatment line. I try to do what I can control which is my reaction to the obsessive and frankly devastating memories that flood me when I'm idle (usually while trying to fall asleep at night). It's easy to let these memories and obstacles creep into the forefront of your mind.

I've read a lot about mindfulness, and being able to acknowledge a thought, examine why it is popping up, and then releasing it. It's so hard to do, but gets better with practice. It is really important to do. Almost a mental shrug.

Others have suggested seeking forgiveness, but I think that isn't necessarily the best strategy. It can actually open old wounds wider than before. It can reopen damaging relationships, rip scars off and in my personal experience create very vivid nightmares that are related to the wake of destruction that I had left in my path.

I really strongly recommend battling the memories within you, through combined DBT therapy which will teach you stronger coping skills and reading more and practicing mindfulness and meditation.

I wish you strength, healing and peace of mind in dealing with your diagnosis. Feel free to me-mail me if you have questions or even need support.
posted by Draccy at 5:15 AM on July 31, 2018 [4 favorites]

Response by poster: Thank you all for your responses.

Draccy, I can relate well with the obsessiveness. My psych told me that I have "inserted thoughts", involuntary intrusion of thoughts, similar to individuals afflicted with PTSD. It's upsetting to realize that I've traumatized myself. I will strive to incorporate DBT and mindfulness skills. I've also been introduced to tapping, which I've been told alleviates anxiety.

I'm really grateful that there are people here who understand. It can feel lonely and terrifying to be chained to a painful history that no one in your immediate physical proximity seems to comprehend. I suppose that that's part of the hero's journey, and, as cliche as this may sound, I really hope that, for myself and for everyone facing their own breed of monsters, the journey will result in a fortified spirit.

Tangentially, I've only recently started rummaging through Metafilter and I really like this community :)
posted by iusedhername at 12:50 PM on July 31, 2018 [3 favorites]

Rather than thinking about it as traumatizing yourself, it might be more helpful to think that your traumatized brain was/is doing the best it can to deal with the extreme overload of the trauma. And sometimes when the best it could do was to lock it away and pretend it wasn't there, when you unlock the door and try to deal with it, that part of the brain gets weird - it can't use it's old coping mechanism (pretending it didn't happen) any more and it is still try to learn the new techniques that you are developing through therapy/mindfulness/etc and so the overwhelmed part starts leaking out when you don't want it to. It's not trying to traumatize you, it's just overwhelmed and struggling to cope. If you can have compassion for that part of yourself that is struggling to figure out what to do with all the trauma that it took in, then maybe the thought that it is coming from inside your brain won't be as distressing.
posted by metahawk at 4:15 PM on August 1, 2018 [2 favorites]

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