The bipolar symptom of impulsivity can upend your life in ways both large and small. What helps you stay away from rash decisions? And if impulsivity wins, how do you handle the aftermath?
NOW THAT I KNOW what my triggers are, I have learned to somewhat prevent impulsivity through self-talk. I have learned that when I start to feel elevated while shopping and I am grabbing lots of stuff I don’t need, I stop and breathe a few times, and tell my mind to be calm. I remind myself that I don’t really need the items (usually makeup). I might say for example, “Yes, nice eye shadow, but you have that shade at home.” It usually works! When impulsivity wins, I remind myself that I am challenged at times by my illness, and I try to learn other ways to prevent making these impulsive decisions. -Charlotte S., BELLEVUE, NE
FOR ME, THE GUILT from past impulsivity is what gives me that momentary pause before saying or doing something rash. -D.P. via Facebook
I REMIND MYSELF that during my cycles I don’t make any important decisions or have any important conversations. I journal, journal and journal. I am open with others in saying I cannot make a decision at this time or have this conversation right now. If I do indulge in impulsive decisions I am totally accountable for my actions and words and make immediate amends. That alone helps me not give in to impulsiveness. -Laurie A., TULSA, OK
I WORK HARD to fight my thinking in order to delay the decision, examine the choices, and evaluate where I am with my mood. Sometimes I bounce my wants off a friend to see if they sound unreasonable. -S.E., HARTLAND, WI
KNOWING ALL I CAN about my symptoms and educating myself about every aspect of bipolar disorder helps a great deal. When I notice impulsivity, I talk with someone about what I’m feeling. I also avoid putting myself in situations of compromise. Yes, impulses can sometimes gain the upper hand. When this happens, I take responsibility for my actions. That’s very important, as is understanding I will make mistakes at times, as we all do. So I understand I’m not perfect, but through the process I can learn a great deal, which helps me to cope and continue moving forward on my journey. -Billy L., ELDON, MO
I’VE LEARNED TO ASK, “What would Rick/Bruce/Rob do in this situation?” They are trusted “normal” friends whose behavior seems so boring when I’m manic, but in reality is a great yardstick or guide for what I should do. -P.S., AUSTRALIA
I HAVE IMPULSIVELY gotten tattoos, shaved my head, made large purchases, and the list goes on. Now my husband helps to keep me in check. We’ve set up healthy boundaries so that I don’t continue to make similar mistakes in my future. Having a great support system really is my saving grace. -T.A., HODGENVILLE, KY
MY PRE-DIAGNOSIS, pre-treatment behavior caused me to lose friends, boyfriends, ruin my credit, ruin my job history from self-destructive behavior and temper and impulsivity. I had a lot of wild/crazy experiences on my highs. I was kind of amazed I made it to age 30! The impulsiveness made for a lot of fun stories to tell (and to live), and people thought it was awesome, but they didn’t know about the illness behind it and the absolute life ruin that came with those experiences. Thank God for the meds! -J.S. via Facebook
MY BEST WAY to solve the consequences of my impulsivity is to admit I did something wrong and apologize to the person who was affected. If I can replace whatever was damaged, I will. In addition, I will inform my doctor and ask for a stronger dosage of whichever medication my psychiatrist deems better suited to reduce or eliminate the impulsivity, if possible. Whenever I feel agitated, I know I will be impulsive as well. That’s when I climb on my treadmill and get as much energy as I can out of my system, hoping to control both agitation and impulsivity. -Eva S., GREENSBORO, NC
MY IMPULSIVENESS IS part of what led to my bipolar II diagnosis in June 2016. I was spending money way outside of my means; I was having promiscuous, unprotected sex with strangers; and at the same time, I was drinking excessively (which ultimately turned into alcoholism). The easiest way to keep my impulses under control has been cutting out the alcohol completely. Everyone knows alcohol lowers inhibitions, which is the last thing you want if you already have a hard time controlling your impulses. -E.H., GLEN BURNIE, MD
I THINK ONE OF the things that has helped me is to try to talk to myself out of the impulse. I tell myself that it will pass and that I can still make a rational thought even though my body is telling me otherwise. -Daniela M. COCONUT CREEK, FL
MY IMPULSIVITY IS SPECIFIC to spending money on items that, at the time, I convince myself I will zealously use. Then two to three months later my interests switch. By then, it’s too late to return the items. There are three ways I try to protect myself. First and most importantly, I see my psychologist every two weeks. Next, I try to remember that three years ago I spent more than $40,000 within six or seven months. Today I can’t account for half that money. I had to remortgage my house and now I’m handcuffed to about $150 per week after mortgage, utilities, food and such. Finally, I “phantom shop” on the Internet. I fill up the shopping cart, then empty it a couple of months later. -Vijay P., PORT ELGIN, ON
TO PREVENT IMPULSIVE SPEAKING, I have a rule for myself: Never be in a discussion or argument after 10 p.m. When I am tired, it is much more difficult for me to stay calm. And any time I am angry or upset about something, I wait until the next day. The same for shopping for clothes or grocery shopping: If I am tired, upset or hungry, I tend to buy too much and come home with a lot of stuff which I do not need. I try to do my shopping in the morning. -Els J., FRANCE
I ALWAYS GET IN TROUBLE when I’m impulsive, usually when I’m hypomanic. Once I ended up in Hawaii with a guy I just met the day before. That’s how bad it gets. What helps me stay away from rash decisions? My husband helps me stay focused and make safe and sane decision. If impulsivity wins? It’s embarrassing. It takes extra time to go back and clear the mess I have caused from not thinking things out. Living with bipolar I is always an interesting journey, and impulsivity is just a part of it. -Wendy B., OAKLAND, CA
IMPULSIVITY UNCHECKED put me $30,000 in debt with credit cards. I had to file for bankruptcy. For several years after the bankruptcy I could only use cash in hand to pay for anything I wanted. I eventually learned to stop tempting myself. I stopped looking at sales advertisements. If I could not keep my impulsivity in check, I would go to a store and walk around with a shopping cart and fill it with stuff I did not need. Then, I would tell myself I didn’t need anything and I would walk out the store without making a purchase. I call it “ghost shopping.” I have credit cards again, but I use them reluctantly. -Timothy G, CHESTER, VA
I NEVER BUY ANYTHING unless my wife is with me. -Ken M., PITTSBURGH, PA
Printed as “SoundOFF! An Ounce of Prevention”, Spring 2017
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