Learning to Trust Instincts

Author: Stacey Isaacson

Trust your gut. That’s what they say, right? But what if your gut sometimes leads you in the wrong direction? What if, in a spurt of creativity, you come up with a fantastic idea, only to find it less than fantastic when you carry it out in a cooler moment? A particular challenge of the inner workings of bipolar disorder is the vague knowledge that sometimes you shouldn’t listen to that urging voice, and yet not quite knowing when you should.

To wit: in late 2000, my then-fiance/now-husband and I were scouring New York City for our first apartment. This was a bonkers time for NYC rentals, cash deposits carried to first viewings for fear of losing out if one were to run out to the ATM (this happened to one of our friends). We racked up over 60 viewings (we counted), our wish list shrinking and “must haves” demoted to pipe dreams. After finally finding a place and being swindled out of it on the day we were to have signed the lease, I was out of steam. Over 24 hours of anxiety loops and a dash of hypomania, I was inspired with a solution: we’d move to Philadelphia. It’s where we’d gone to college, and my fiancé was still living there for another few weeks. Surely he and I could both find new jobs and find an affordable and habitable apartment by then? He was skeptical, I was relentless, and my mania prevailed. We sent out resumes. He had a flurry of interviews and then a job offer. He did the scouting on apartments, found one that was perfect, and negotiated all terms with the landlord. It was perfect! It was all working out! Goodbye to NYC drama!

Except I didn’t want to. The morning of the Philly lease signing, I ran out of my NYC office building, sobbing into my cell phone while I paced the sidewalk. I didn’t want to leave! I loved my job, loved New York, had always wanted to live in Manhattan, didn’t want to leave my friends and family behind. Suffice to say, it was a full-on freak-out. My fiancé listened, surely confused and probably irate but nonetheless patient. (If you’ve read any of my other blog posts here, you may recognize this recurring thread.) He was left to untangle the web I’d woven, canceling the lease signing and turning down the job offer. And then joining me in resuming the apartment hunt in the city we’d call home for the next 12 years.

I thought my gut was telling me something, but it turns out that it was a bit of stress-induced hypomania and a healthy dose of fear talking. And truth be told, I’m still a bit wary about misunderstanding my instincts. It’s not easy to learn to recognize an impulse as just that. Distinguishing a great idea from a flight of fancy takes a sizeable amount of self-knowledge and requires the scaling of a steep learning curve. Does a plan feel scary because it’s outside my comfort zone or because it’s something I shouldn’t do? As I write this, I’m finalizing arrangements for my new job that starts next month. And I’m excited but simultaneously terrified, interrogating my gut for any indication of trustworthiness. So while I wish this could be a post tied up nicely with a solution and shiny bow, it’s a bit messier than that. We try, we listen, we learn, and we try again. Wish me luck.

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