Impulse control is an issue of contention for most of us who live with Bipolar Disorder. It rears its’ ugly head in many forms, with a total disregard for the possible or even definite negative consequences, people might do things such as binge eat, buy things, start projects they won’t finish, get sexual gratification from the wrong places, exercise over strenuously, start arguments and so forth – the list is endless.
So what do all of these behaviours have in common? It’s a sense of urgency, of need, of desire and of irrational reasoning. The person feels that there is a true need to do whatever it is and that it needs to be done right away; they really want to fulfil that need and they create rationalisations to excuse the negative outcomes of the behaviour and over-ride them with (sometimes artificial) positive outcomes of the behaviour. They feel a pressure built up inside themselves, a tension and it urges them on to carry out the behaviour in order to suppress that tension and ease the pressure.
In the moment they will argue their case with anyone that takes issue with the behaviour they intend to carry out. They will justify their position and despite defying logic, they will list all the reasons why it is necessary to do whatever it is and why it needs to be done straight away. Alternatively they may hide the behaviour from others so that they don’t have to justify or defend their decision.
So they do it, and while they are doing it they feel great, elated, high even. They are so happy and really enjoying themselves. It is like a weight has been lifted off their shoulders and they feel like something is finally going their way. They feel free from depression and they don’t recognise the signs of mania that may be occurring. The world is a wonderful place and it’s going to get even better once they do this……
This feeling lasts for some time after the behaviour is finished and then suddenly it comes crashing down. It might be that someone found out what they did or it might just be that they can’t stop thinking about the reality of what they’ve done; but in any case they are now faced with the negative after effects of their actions and they can now see that those negative results far outweigh the positives. They feel guilty, depressed and angry with themselves and they are confused as to how they convinced themselves to do it in the first place.
As time passes the depressed feeling may subside, they forgive themselves and for a while life goes back to normal but then without warning they find that the old pressure is building inside again and the tension returns and the cycle starts once again. The question is did they learn from the last experience and if so will they be able to contain themselves, control themselves, stop themselves from doing something irrational to ease the pressure. Will they find another more positive, rational way to channel that energy (like writing a blog…..).
I should say that although my impulse control has improved since I started blogging, I still have issues with it. I lose control less frequently and the outcomes are less damaging in most cases, but it still happens. The blog takes up some of my time, which helps, but it also focuses me on my mental health and reminds me constantly to stay on track and put the effort in to fight the impulses. I don’t think they’ll ever go away completely but I hope that I can continue to find ways to strengthen my ability to overcome them by redirecting my energy.
There are of course many other ways to channel the energy positively, but it is no easy task to train yourself to do it. It takes time and patience and forgiveness (for when you don’t succeed at first). It really helps if you have someone in your life who can hold you accountable, as my husband does me. But no matter who you have watching over you there will always be opportunities for impulsive behaviours when nobody is looking and so it is a battle you have to fight against yourself, and you have to continually remind yourself that the depression, guilt and self directed anger, you will feel after the event, far outweighs the temporary high you feel while you’re doing it.