Guilt – It’s Who You Are

28Nov12

Guilt is defined by many to be the feeling of doing something wrong or an inability to meet some standard.

As a dad with a mood disorder I often feel immense guilt because of the great expectations I have for myself. I’m sure most parents feel this guilt about some things, but I can tell you that from my perspective, this guilt can be crippling.

Great Expectations Part One:

Growing up, I didn’t have a dad. Almost everyone I knew did, and I remember how confused I was about this obvious difference. Without delving too deep into history, I can say that I was able to see a lot of great men be great teachers to  kids; even if I wasn’t one of their kids, I could watch from the sidelines and get as much wisdom as I could. Because of my earnestness to hear, I think I may have walked away from childhood having heard more from men than many of my friends who had dads. Setting all of this aside, I can say that I grew up with a desire to know what a great man was. I wanted to know what a great dad was. I needed to know these things because I knew that my kids would have such a great and amazing father that perhaps this would make up for my loss!

Of course, you can see how great the expectations were, that I had already laid out for myself, even before I had begun. You might think that this is noble and great in ‘today’s world’, but I can only speak from my world and I can say that the expectations I have put on myself, which were ultimately born from fear and jealousy, and a longing desire to be made whole, are unachievable.

Two thoughts are born from this: One is that all (good) parents seek the unachievable so as to give their kids the absolute best of themselves and prepare the children for a brave new world. This is pretty romantic, and I’ve dressed it up a bit, but I think we can all understand that good parents want goof things for their kids. So we can agree that, at least in this part, all good parents want good things for their kids. The second thought that follows is that good parents with mood disorders (I’m speaking from my own experience with BPII) set expectations that are unrealistic, and do not give themselves any mercy when they are not met. An example:

Example:

A friend of mine is very much like me in most ways (family, job, lifestyle, etc.) but he does not have a mood disorder. We have both put our kids in sports and we have both been in situations where we just couldn’t get our kids to the game or practice on time and so we had to skip. We both feel bad and say sorry to the kids and we both make promises to do better next time. The difference, I have noticed, is that I have this specter of mood following me through the day getting closer and closer until I am overwhelmed with guilt for ‘letting my kids down’ and ‘being a horrible father’. This feeling dwells for far too long and may even leave me shut up in my bed because I feel so bad for ‘letting them down’, which of course makes things worse. Meanwhile, my friend has moved about his merry way and probably has forgotten all about the missed match or found a way to make it up to his kids. Looking back I can say that every time, every time, every time this example has played out, my kids have never cared. IN fact sometimes they were happy to get to sleep in and miss practice.

The difference between ‘normal’ and ‘abnormal’ here is that people with mood disorders often cannot avoid or shake free an awful mood, and they are often overwhelmed by them – and what’s worse is that these moods are usually generated by irrational thoughts! The so-called normal person may feel bad because they let someone down, correctly and rationally gauge and exhibit how bad they should feel, and choose to find a way to resolve their guilt in a healthy manner. And this ‘bad’ mood or feeling that the person with the mood disorder gets isn’t something that goes away with a simple apology – even when others forgive that person, the person with a mood disorder often doesn’t believe them, or cannot find a way to forgive themselves.

So, in the end, the expectations that I put on myself are sometimes overwhelming and irrational and I cannot gain or accept forgiveness . . . and this doesn’t last for a few hours. This is ever-present.  And at the best of times, this blight is kept deep within me in such a way that I don’t give it any attention. But when the mood sways, these scars are all too present. (When I am braver, I’ll write in the future about how these scars build up, and how this is why people with BP are the most likely to commit suicide among st those with mood disorders) . Forgiveness can happen, so don’t think it’s impossible, but it takes a great effort for some to forgive themselves.

“Life is an adventure in forgiveness” Norman Cousins

For people with BPII, they set unrealistic expectations for themselves, and do not forgive themselves when they fail to meet them. This is a hard lesson to learn. And it is one I have to relearn every day. Sometimes I can catch my expectations as they soar upwards. When I don’t, I have learned to ask myself “Is this reasonable” over and over; I wonder if my friend (the guy I was talking about in the example, the guy much like me) would feel as I did in that moment. If I think he would feel the same I continue on, but if I can see that I am being waaaaay too hard on myself, I try to ease up (sometimes I am wrong and sometimes I am unsuccessful)

Learn to see what is reasonable. Learn to forgive.

Great Expectations Part Two:

The second source of expectation is the one I think that the kids have for me. You see, I’ve already told you that I grew up without a dad, and so without that ‘dad template’, it is really hard for me to tell if I am doing a better or worse job than whatever the standard is. Therefore, I try to imagine what my kids expect from me in given scenarios, and I have often been very wrong. I’m blessed with amazing kids who expect a lot less from me than I imagine. However, the nagging voice in my head says that they are deeply scarred and horribly emotionally ruined when I sleep in and can’t get them to their 6am practice on Sunday. I try to tell that voice to stuff it but there are times when I simply cannot – and that’s the difference isn’t it? There is a reasonable expectation, and an unreasonable one. Those people with mood disorders often have a difficult time seeing what is reasonable.

Conclusion:

So in the end, Guilt becomes you. Guilt is who you are when you constantly see your self never making the grade, never succeeding enough to even be ‘good’. Just having a mood disorder can make you feel like you’ve already failed and so you feel guilty from the gate, from the start. It becomes very dangerous when you feel like your actions are actually causing you to do actual harm. So what do you do? Get a great support system, a great friend is the best, who can tell you when you are being reasonable and when you need to forgive yourself. If you have this problem, imagine what you would say to someone like you in your situation (Since you are the greatest friend ever right? Since you have made such great expectations for yourself, you’ll find a way to help yourself)

Guilt is not the end, or at least it doesn’t have to be. Forgiveness is not a static thing. I don’t just forgive someone ‘once’. If I have truly forgiven them, I forgive them ‘always’ since, if I need to forgive someone, then they have harmed me in some way. And since I am no fool, I will always remember this hurt. therefore, my forgiveness is given always; not once like a snap of the fingers, but always, like a stream of water.

You don’t have to be guilt. You can be forgiveness. Make a choice

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4 Responses to “Guilt – It’s Who You Are”

  1. 1 Sarah

    Wow, excellent post! I’m definitely going to need to follow your blog, as I am a twentysomething year old woman with no children and bipolar I (so similar but quite different) and it still felt like what you said was resonating with me big time. Keep it up, I definitely want to know more! 😀

  2. Och.. stopping here. Saving for later. You’re blog is way too interesting but must sleep. Again. Wonderful post!


  1. 1 Do you have a Second? « Bipolar 2 Dad

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