Should You Apologize for Your Mental Illness?
By Daniella Lepri
Of course it’s difficult to have someone with bipolar disorder, or any mental disorder, in your life. We all agree that it can be hard on you and have you drained. But what you don’t realize is that we know this already. We live with our own struggles and with the guilt of making others struggle as well.
We’re always stopped from voicing this, though. Instead, we get repetitive variations of “You’re not a burden” and “You can always come talk to me”. We believe you when you say you’re here for us. Our loved ones may have the most genuine intentions, but not realize their own limits. They can be there for you– until you actually need them. Then they run away the second your struggles actually become apparent. But we don’t blame you.
That’s where apologizing comes in. We recognize the damaging effects we have on people and are truly sorry for dragging you into our mess. But when we’re told, “I’m here for you”, it becomes confusing when you’re not. The confusion never translates into our disappointment or anger with a loved one. Rather, it adds to the discouraging thoughts that we are undeserving.
Just like most others, I tend to get suicidal thoughts when I am going through a depressive episode. I begin thinking that the only way to rid myself of the effects of bipolar disorder is to end my life. Prayers for it to disappear is why I understood when my friends decided that I was too much to engage with. To rid their lives of bipolar, they simply had to cut me out. They quit being in my life so that they could be free. But they’re the same people who protested against my wishes to die when I wanted to quit and break free; when I felt I was too much for me, too.
They’re the same people who insisted that my presence in their company mattered. If I committed suicide, I would be missed and their lives would never be the same. But now they all remain together and I wonder if they see what I’m seeing. They have yet to realize that they’ve cut me out of their lives as though I never existed. As though I was dead.
When my friends left, I did a lot of reflecting on my latest episode to figure out where I went wrong. I must have done something so bad for them to decide that my friendship as a person wasn’t worth my illness. I felt the need to apologize for my irredeemable friendship-ending actions.
My friends don’t understand that my erratic behaviour during hypomanic episodes is not my own choice. I am not being irresponsible with my disorder. I am not making poor decisions about how to manage it. I am not choosing my own actions. I am not living my life incorrectly according to your professional medical opinion.
There are people who are never expected to apologize for their illness. Cancer patients are never made to feel guilty for the emotional distress they’ve placed on their loved ones. And certainly, they would never be abandoned to fight on their own. So why do those with mental illnesses have to endure so much guilt and desertion?
I am not saying that friends are required to stay by a person’s side when their mental illness is negatively affecting them. It is understandable if a loved one needs to distance themselves from the disorder when the episodes are too much to handle. Nobody wants to be in public with a screaming manic or a crying depressed person. But why stay completely detached from them as a person when they’re in stable periods? Do they still not deserve your friendship when they are just themselves, without the illness making an appearance? If bad choices, risky behaviours, and self-hatred wasn’t part of what they dealt with, would you still want to be around them? The bottom line is- would you still be their friend if they did not have bipolar disorder?
I will always feel the need to apologize for my mental illness. I’ve realized, though, that the issue isn’t a question of “Should I apologize?”. The issue is educating people to respond to such an apology with the acknowledgement and understanding that it is not their fault. It was out of their control, so there should be nothing to apologize for.