Author: Lee Formella
Before I was diagnosed, my obsessions and impulsivities were an unstoppable force. I’d wake up in the morning convinced I was NOT going to gamble that night, despite the triggers of the day. I promised myself if I did drink, I would NOT desperately text girls I had met, yell at my parents, pour that third (or 10th) drink, or black out. Four to five nights a week, for 15 years, I did these things. All of them and more. I had no control over myself and no hope of doing so.
Since diagnosis and accepting the parts of my life I can control, those specific behaviors have been eliminated. I no longer drink, only gamble a couple of times a year in controlled environments and am very honest, reliable, devoted and loyal to my family and girlfriend.
So everything is better?
Instead, I often obsess over a new hobby so much that I lose sleep thinking about it, dream about it, and wake up still focused on it, needing to “know everything” or how to become great at it. I still impulsively spend money on these hobbies, become obsessed with thoughts, creating content, graphic designing, fantasy sports, new topics/ authors, music, ‘novel’ ideas, plants, fishing, baking (huh?), etc.
The relationship between obsessions and impulsive spending or thinking is inextricable. Last spring, I found out I could bake with almond flour and honey. This was a problem. I realized I could make cookies healthy and (somewhat) tasty and made some flourless, sugarless, peanut butter banana bars. They were awesome. I was hooked (obsessed). By that night, I had two different kinds of almond flour, 2 bags of dark chocolate chips, two jars of honey (sugar substitute) and 3 dozen cookies. By the next night, I had 8 jars of almond butter, coconut flour and a bag of chocolate stars to make my version of peanut butter blossoms.
I was exhausted. I still haven’t attempted to make them. The chocolate stars are still unopened.
Reading is a cathartic activity, back to the times my siblings and I sat in a car in the rain bonding together. Education, a calming activity, distracting my mind, the benefits are seemingly endless. Unlike baking, books have always been a (cheap) way for me to spend money rather guiltlessly on things I love.
This doesn’t mean I need or more importantly should, go out and buy 4-8 books by the new author I love or on a random new topic that interests me. In reality, these impulsive purchases and overflowing bookshelves and full boxes with even more are a constant visual reminder of times I wasn’t in control. Then I feel bad that I haven’t read them yet, complicating in a harmful way my love for just sitting down and reading, it becomes a pressurized event. This is the nature of bipolar disorder. As you can see, obsessions and impulsivity often go hand in hand with each other. I become obsessed with something, let’s say fishing, then I impulsively buy a license, new pole, line, tackle and bait, go out three days in a row and never go again that year.
Sounds like a lost cause, but that’s never the case. There are things I have found that can help with these thoughts and behaviors. A fun example: I have NEVER been into comics. My girlfriend recently revealed the dark, wonderful world of the DC Universe movies. I loved it, we watched three that week. We went to the bookstore and I found myself in the comic book section, overwhelmed and excited by the options.
Then I caught myself and realized what I was doing. I needed to leave without anything and think about it. Not obsess over it, but honestly ask myself if this is something I need or something that I would even spend 10 minutes looking at. Realizing the answer was ‘no’, we left the store and it was the right choice. Honestly, I haven’t thought about them until right now.
This shows that change is possible and success begets success. I caught myself in the moment, due to identifying my triggers and previous habits. I asked for help, considered another opinion and ultimately removed myself from the area of temptation. The best part, it felt good. AND, it allowed me to continue to enjoy the DC Universe through movies without feeling bad I took it too far!
When living with bipolar, we have to identify behaviors that benefit us and intentionally strive to get better at them. This process isn’t easy, but it is worth it. Putting in the time and energy to truly reflect on what is beneficial and what is harmful to your health is priceless. You’ll reap the rewards forever.