Impulsive Decision Making in Bipolar Disorder

block-party-pacific-beach-bike-jumping_w725_h544I try to make healthy decisions regarding my lifestyle. Things like eat well, take my meds, get proper sleep, limit caffeine, don’t drink or smoke. Some things are harder than others.

Today, I threw away my only pack of cigarettes with a new resolve to quit once again. I had plans to download a quit-smoking app to keep track of my days quit and to get active on the online smoking cessation forums which were a great support to me in the past. A half hour later I was retrieving the pack out of the trash and lighting one up.

Yesterday, I decided to start counting calories. My goal is to lose ten pounds. I lost more than this last year and have kept it off, so I know I can do it again, but by last night I was baking, and then eating way too many, chocolate chip cookies. My calories were blown for the day.

Impulsivity is running rampant in my life lately, and quite uncomfortably I might add. Initiating too many impromptu social visits is leaving me stressed and fatigued, but I can’t seem to curbed the impulse to do so. Shopping sprees are rampant under the guise of procuring Christmas presents.

Following these impulsive acts comes guilt and shame, plummeting self-esteem, and the beginnings of self-hatred. Up then down. Up then down. The wonderful life of bipolar disorder.

It helps to remind myself, however, that this cycle is not my fault. It is not a character flaw, a punishment, a sin, or a weakness. It is a biological, chemical, brain disease of which impulsivity is but a symptom.

I found a recent study where researchers looked at euthymic patients with bipolar disorder who were not taking antipsychotic medication and 20 case-matched controls performing a roulette task during functional magnetic resonance imaging. The controls showed higher brain activity during safe reward prospects while the bipolar patients showed higher brain activity during risky reward prospects!

The bottom line is impulsivity is part of bipolar disorder. Accepting this is what we have to do. It does no good to beat ourselves up over something we can’t control. Does this mean I am going to give up trying to quit smoking and losing weight? Absolutely not!

We must never give up trying to get better. We have to keep fighting our symptoms whether it be through medication management, lifestyle changes or both, all the while remembering that they are just that – symptoms, not who we are as a person, but just symptoms of a horrible disease that we didn’t ask for and don’t deserve. A disease that we do have and will continue to deal with the best that we can.

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