Bipolar Impulses | How to Deal With Them

Author: Rebecca James

Bipolar disorder has always made me impulsive, whether I’m manic or depressed. One sure way to know that I’m either manic or I’ve missed my medication is to observe an impulse to break up with my best friend. He has been here for me before, during, and since my diagnosis, and he’s one of the best parts of my life. But my inherent neediness and dramatic personality come to a boil when I’m manic. I become convinced either that breaking up is the only way to find out if my best friend really loves me as I love him or that I am simply too difficult, and he is better off without me. So bipolar disorder tries to steal one of my best supports through sudden, almost irresistible impulses. When I’m depressed, some impulses might be to hurt myself or to stop talking to those I love to punish myself and to see what they’d do.

Bipolar impulses play a huge role in my life, and I’m learning how to deal with them. These are some of the strategies I try to use:

  • Use bipolar impulses as a tool. Impulses can give me signals about my illness. If I think of them as guides, they become useful, and they also become less powerful. If I get the sudden urge to end a long, healthy friendship, I know I’m moving into mania, or I need to make sure I haven’t missed any medication. I also let others know that this is a signal. If I suddenly feel the need to scrub all the walls in my apartment, I know I’m manic.
  • Indulge safe, healthy impulses. If I need to scrub the walls, I go ahead and scrub the walls. If I’m manic, and I need constant sensory input, I keep my headphones half on. If I’m ablaze with energy, I go ahead and dance. If my impulse is to obsess over a particular movie or musical, I do it.
  • Find safe, healthy alternatives for impulses. If my impulse is to talk endlessly, I can write someone a long E-mail with all my scintillating thoughts. That way, the person doesn’t actually have to listen to my pressured speech and can absorb my thoughts when time allows. If my impulse is to hurt myself, getting a dramatic haircut or dye job has helped me express myself while staying safe.
  • Make boundaries in advance. I don’t drink alcohol because I know that if I became impulsive or depressed, I would likely abuse alcohol. Because of that risk, alcohol is not a part of my life at all. My husband doesn’t drink, and alcohol is never in my house. The people close to me know this and are not going to give me alcohol. This is an extreme boundary, but it’s what I have to do to stay safe despite bipolar impulses. Spending is also a major impulse, so I only use one credit card for shopping. The others are reserved for emergency family expenses. So I may run up that one credit card, but that’s as far as I go.
  • Identify the need behind the impulse. When I want to break up with my friend, I usually want to feel loved or to protect him. I try to say, “I need reassurance,” or tell him what worries me. I give him the opportunity to remind me that he loves me and that my friendship, though maybe not easy, is worthwhile. When I want to scrub the walls, I need to feel clean and organized, so I can work on that. When I want to buy a dozen books of poetry I can’t afford, I want to feel like a poet, so maybe I should write a poem or read one of the books I already have. When I want to buy excessive clothes, I usually want to feel attractive. I can ask my husband for a compliment or try out some makeup I’ve been saving.
  • Warn others about impulses. Those closest to me know which impulses indicate mania for me. If I notice something new or see a pattern, I tell them. I will also say, “I’m feeling manic/unstable/impulsive. I’m sorry if I say something foolish.” Then, my loved ones know what to watch for.

Bipolar impulses don’t have to rule your life whenever they arrive. With some planning and strategies, these impulses can just be another tool to manage your illness and another way to express yourself.

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