With bipolar disorder comes impulsivity. After dealing with the fallout of decisions made in haste or when unwell, I know it’s essential to take my time when making choices that could have a substantial impact on my life. Here’s how I move forward when faced with big decisions.
Bipolar Disorder & Living in a State of Uncertainty
Mental health conditions like depression and anxiety—unlike bipolar disorder—describe one state of being. By definition, the term “bipolar” indicates two states of being, and they’re opposites. By nature, this mood disorder is characterized by fluctuations between mania and depression. Because of that, those of us who live with this illness are often in a state of flux. Combine that with the impulsive nature of this mood disorder, and it can be a recipe for disaster.
Unpredictability and uncertainty have become an expected part of my life. My moods change, my state of mind can be erratic, and I don’t always know when I’m in the throes of an episode. I can’t always trust my judgment. I’ve made some mistakes in my life, many of them because I’ve made snap decisions.
Impulsivity & Its Consequences
I’ve been impulsive in the past, and my actions have hurt me, to varying degrees.
Overspending: I once spent way too much money on a Gucci sweater because—although I couldn’t afford it—I’d convinced myself to put it on my credit card. I was sure I’d have enough money by the time the bill came around. I didn’t.
Rushing into a Relationship: I got married at twenty to a man I’d only known for a few months. I let myself get carried away by my emotions, and I didn’t take time to think about what I was doing. I didn’t even really take time to get to know my fiancé before I said, “I do.” I was divorced less than a year later.
These are just two examples from my past, but there are many more.
Learning to Wait before Making Big Decisions
Because I never know where I will fall along the bipolar spectrum day-to-day, I’ve learned that it’s incredibly important for me to wait before making any big decisions. My idea of what’s right for me in any given moment may not be a good decision in the long term.
Over time, I’ve found some effective ways to prevent myself from jumping into anything headfirst, so I don’t end up in a situation I didn’t mean to get myself into.
#1 Question Myself
The first step in preventing a problem is admitting I have one in the first place. If I stay mindful and aware of the fact that I’m susceptible to hasty judgments and spontaneous actions, I keep myself in check. Sure, it’s no fun to stay vigilant by assuming I may not always be choosing the best path for myself, but it’s way easier than cleaning up the mess left behind a lapse in judgment. Every time I find myself at important crossroads, I step back and remind myself that I need to be careful before leaping ahead. I need to practice some critical thinking skills, get help, relax, and—if I can—take some time.
#2 Consider How Long I Can Reasonably Wait
One thing I’m super guilty of is having a go-go-go mentality—always feeling like everything needs to get done NOW. But many problems don’t need immediate solutions. Not every question needs an immediate answer. If the little voice in my head claims that some unforeseen disaster will happen if I don’t make a move right this second, I ignore it. Just because I think something doesn’t mean it’s true. Hurrying can result in not having enough time to consider and weigh all the options and possibilities in a given situation.
It’s important to note that this step isn’t the same as procrastinating. Waiting, in this case, means taking time to think, and maybe even discover new information that could affect an outcome. I estimate how long can I reasonably wait to make a decision without hurting myself by delaying the process. Is it going to hurt me to wait? If not, it’s better to give myself time. With that time, I do research, ask questions, and then make an informed decision.
#3 Approach Challenges from a Solid, Healthy Foundation
Making a life change like deciding where to live, whom to marry or date, or whether or not to start or leave a job or school is a big deal. I need all my faculties—especially my mental health—in good working order when making important life choices. When I’m in this situation, I must ensure I’ve gotten enough sleep, I’ve been compliant with my medications, and I’ve eaten a healthy meal that’s fueled my brain.
If I’m fuzzy-headed or feeling unstable, chances are I’ll make a mistake. I’ve jumped the gun in the past because I was impatient, irritable, tired, hungry, or just unwell. If I’m coming from the best possible place in my body and mind when facing a big decision, I’m less likely to regret the choices I make.
#4 Get Help Making a List of Pros & Cons
It’s always good practice to make a list of pros and cons when looking a challenge in the eye. For those of us with bipolar disorder, it’s also important to get help with this from a trusted friend or family member. I’ve learned from experience not to assume I—and only I—know what’s best for me. Mood disorders are often accompanied by a stunning lack of insight. Getting feedback from someone on the outside who understands my long-term goals and my immediate needs ensures I take everything into consideration. I know now not to impulsively jump at the first, easiest choice when forced to pick between options. Just because something seems like it will feel good in the moment doesn’t mean I can sustain that lifestyle for the long haul. I can learn from past mistakes by making informed choices based on my own knowledge and the resources of others.
#5 Take Time
One habit of highly successful people is to wait 24 hours before moving ahead on a project. If possible, I take all the time I need (and can) when weighing options. I step away from the problem. I sleep on it. And while I’m thinking, I try to relax. Doing yoga or meditation to center myself helps me feel more balanced and emotionally stronger, so I can approach situations head-on with confidence.
Distracting myself from the matter-at-hand helps, too. I try to let go of worry by temporarily walking away and thinking about something entirely different. Watching a good movie or reading an engaging book helps shift my attention off the challenge I’m facing. I can then come back to it with a more level head and, often, fresh ideas I hadn’t thought of previously.
#6 Let Go of the Fear of Regret
A healthy level of caution can be a good thing. It keeps me from repeating past lapses in judgment. But it’s essential to not become so overly cautious that it becomes problematic. Allowing fear of failure to dictate my actions isn’t helpful. My choices should reflect my hopes, not my doubts or misgivings. I’ve made mistakes in the past, but beating myself up later doesn’t do any good. Then I end up living with the results of my errors and toxic remorse at the same time. I try to learn from my mistakes and move on. I’ll do better next time. I refuse to let regret drag me down.
Moving Forward with Confidence in Tough Situations
As I write this, I’m dealing with a totaled car and the prospect of having to buy a new one for the first time in 11 years. That’s a big, potentially expensive decision. With this comes a slew of new, huge choices I’ll have to make:
Should I buy a new or a used car?
What kind should I get?
What options should it have?
How much can I spend without breaking the bank?
Should I get a car loan, dip into my savings, or borrow money from a friend?
Do I even need a car at all?
What will the costs be for insurance, taxes, parking, gas, repairs, and so on? …
So many people are juggling new challenges right now, facing questions they may never have had to think about answering. Everything is changing, from work to education to health matters. Knowing how to move forward with confidence in our current circumstances is extremely important, especially for those of us who live with a mood disorder like bipolar. With awareness and the right tools, we can weather this storm and emerge on the other side as better, stronger people who did what was right for us when faced with tough decisions.
Carrie Cantwell is an Emmy-nominated film industry graphic designer with bipolar disorder. She grew up with a dad who had bipolar and whom she lost to suicide. She has written a book entitled Daddy Issues: A Bipolar Memoir, about how accepting her diagnosis taught her to forgive her dad and herself. Her blog is Darkness & Light.
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