4 Easy Ways to Clean Up Mood Messes

Mood Episodes Leave Messes in Their Wake

Sometimes, when we’re manic or depressed, we can be insensitive. I mean, even more insensitive than we might ordinarily be. I was thinking about the hurt feelings that the people closest to me began to take out of closet in the last couple of months since my depression of multiple years has finally ended. They bit their tongues during those years but… they’ve started to tell me about how I hurt them now.

It’s not a fun experience. It’s like waking up from a coma or other serious hospitalization to find out that everybody’s mad at you because you were sick. That’s one of the hidden costs of mental illness — people hold your failures during sickness against you. Unlike with physical illnesses, if you weren’t there for someone because you were caught up in the selfishness of depression, they remember that and hold you a little bit accountable for it — maybe not as much as they would have if you weren’t depressed but more than they would have if you had been in the hospital getting chemo.

So, I put my nose to the grindstone to come up with 4 Things to Share with Those Closest To You. You can share them when you’re in the throes of a disordered mood or, later, when the mood is over but they may be holding you accountable for things you said or did while in that mood. I hope they’ll help you mend some fences.

1. That was me, yes. But I was not fully in control.

Studies have shown that mood-disordered brains are up to 30% physically inflammed. And scientists have long theorized that brain chemicals are off-balance. With all of these structural, chemical and, perhaps, electrical problems with my brain, you have to understand that the me that is talking to you right now was not fully in control of my inflamed, chemically off-balance brain when I was sick. It’s like trying to drive a car with a faulty transmission and steering system. You can try to point it in the right direction, but there’s no telling whether it will get there anytime soon or whether it will end up someplace else completely.

Science About Brain Inflammation

2. I don’t remember that.

Memory is substantially hindered by bipolar disorder. There is some question about whether it’s the manic and depressive moods, the disease itself, or side effects of medications. But most people go a little more gently on a person when they understand that the person has no recollection of the event at issue. If you don’t remember doing or saying the thing that bothered them, say so!

Memory Loss is Common Among People with Bipolar Disorder

3. My brain is actually smaller.

A recent study found that people with bipolar disorder (along with those with schizophrenia, major depression, addiction, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and anxiety disorders) actually had gray matter loss in three brain structures that are associated with high-level functions, including planning and decision-making. The study did not reach any conclusions about whether this loss was worse when people with bipolar disorder were in a mood episode versus not in a mood episode but you don’t have to explain that part. Just say, hey! The bipolar disorder caused me to lose gray matter in brain structures associated with decision-making (and planning, if that’s relevant to their complaint).

That certainly makes bipolar disorder more like heart-disease and less like you feeling cranky one day and taking it out on them arbitrarily.

Gray Matter Loss is Real 

4. I’m sorry.

Even if you feel that you shouldn’t be held accountable for something you said or did when you were, quite literally, out of your mind, sometimes an apology is the best way to get from point A to point B. If you’re dealing with someone who just is not going to understand that your smaller brain was overly inflamed and that you don’t even remember the incident they’re upset about… just try a straight out genuine apology.

How to Apologize

If you feel that offering an apology is not fair to you, then offer one in the spirit of being sorry for what they experienced rather than being sorry for what you did or didn’t do.

You’ll feel better when all of these “emotional debts” are paid off and behind you.

Of course, if the person is a bully who’s going to hold your apology over your head for the rest of your life, well, you might not want to tell a person like that any of the things in this article. You might want to tell a person like that to shove off before you repeat your performance.

But I doubt any of your nearest and dearest fall into that category. If they do, you have more to talk about than a single incident.

For those friends and family members of people with bipolar disorder who are reading this article, try to be understanding of your loved one if they’ve had a mood episode. They aren’t in nearly as much control of themselves as they would like to be during those episodes, and they’re much less happy about it than you are. Try to forgive whatever transgression they’ve made while under the influence of their illness without bringing it up to them: they were ill. Think of their transgression as similar to an involuntary jerk of a person in a coma who inadvertently hits you in the face. Would you blame that person for hitting you once they woke from their coma?

It’s true that a mood episode is not an excuse to do whatever you want as a person with bipolar disorder. But it’s also true that the person does not have full volitional control and is not herself or himself while in episode. It’s not fair to hold him or her fully accountable. Even the law recognizes that with the insanity defense.