Making Decision Without Emotion

One of last year’s goals for therapy was to learn how to make decisions without having to rely on my emotions. Having bipolar disorder, my emotional state seems to be changing from each minute to the next, and attempting to rely on it is an extremely unreliable way to make decisions.

It is true that sometimes I believe people should follow their heart, but what happens when matters of the heart are present out of delusion or triggered by something else entirely? What is someone who wants to make smart decisions in their life supposed to do?

Well, I’ve been meditating on these questions for the last year or so and I thought I would share what I’ve come away with.

Usually there are two situations where I find myself in need of some personal guidance, and for each the plan is different.

Firstly, I find myself struggling sometimes with decision making when I am quickly being overtaken with a tidal wave of emotion. Right after being triggered, lets say, while my being is filling up rapidly with either an outrageous emotional response or the beginning of an episode, it is in these moments that I panic.

The immediate question is usually what do I do next?

In these situations I’ve found that I can usually hold on to the scrap of level-headedness I have left if I concentrate hard to make some last minute decisions about what to do before I am fully engulfed by the wave of emotion.

That might mean planning a retreat someplace safe, like leaving work, or going home, or making a run for the bathroom.

Or it might mean clearing my schedule of the plans I was expecting to participate in that day.

Being able to make quick plans about how to take care of myself in the event of an episode has really saved my butt the last few months. This sort of last minute decision making has really helped me prevent being irrational or out of control in front of co-workers, friends, and even my therapist. The trick is being able to detect that things are going sour before you’re already engulfed. With a little practice, I can assure you it isn’t such a tall order.

The reason I came up with this goal for therapy, however, was for another situation entirely. I wanted some kind of method to discern how to tell a good decision from a bad decision while in the throes of an episode. If I’m delusional, how do I keep myself from making a bad decision?

I think anyone with bipolar disorder has probably experienced this at one time or another.

You’re depressed, and your instincts tell you to kill yourself. This is not a good decision, but it can feel like one.

You’re in a mixed episode and your instincts tell you to break up with your significant other. This may or may not be a good idea, but is it a good idea to pursue this idea while under the influence of the tricky bipolar beast?

Bipolar disorder can play tricks on your mind and heart, so it can easily make you believe things that aren’t true. Acting on these beliefs can cause a huge crapstorm of confusion and pain for everyone involved, so what is there to do?

I wish I could say I learned an amazing secret here on this one because this has haunted me for a while now.

The best I’ve come up with is not to let myself make major life decisions while in an episode.

Admittedly, this isn’t the best be-all end-all rule in this situation though. I mean, what about those times you’re in an episode (or episodes) for years at a time? What about those life decisions that can’t wait? Are we just supposed let life pass us by without making any big decisions?

Realistically, I don’t have an answer. What I do know is that I’ve reached the point where I require myself to really stop and think (for days, or weeks if I have to) about something big before taking action if I am in an episode. I’m normally a pretty impulsive person, so this has been a big change. A helpful one though, to be sure.

No longer letting myself make big decisions while experiencing bipolar episodes has been both liberating (my anxiety is a lot better off not constantly worrying about making them) and grounding (I’m not making as many impulsive, questionable decisions). I realize this is an idealistic sort of model, but I really just mean it to be something to think about.

Think twice, are you becoming engulfed in emotion? Are there things you need to take care of before it hits?

And before acting on those big, life-changing decisions, should you really be making them now?

5 responses to “Making Decision Without Emotion

  1. Good stuff. I’ll probably re-read this one a few times to truly let it set into my mind, and mindset.

    I often look at bipolar like being influenced by alcohol. You reach a point of no return where you can no longer make sound decisions. And if you are bipolar, and drunk. Serious problem as I have learned.

    Anyway, the point being that you are right. We have to put safeguards/plans in place ahead of time, so that we might have a fighting chance come the time.


  2. Great observation. I will refer to this, when I need some clarity.Thanks!

  3. I am in the process of weaning myself from success-triggered hypomania. Feeling a bit hypomanic this last couple of days, as a matter of record. One of the surprising things I found in my research was STH means I base decisions based on confidence from my moods, not better actual achievement! Hmha!?
    So this piece is spot on. Many times for quick decisions in the flow of my living I can have ready-made preferences sorted out in advance, like a default. For example, in the first few weeks of college as a freshman I made a commitment to always eat every meal and always get to sleep every night.
    And for the bigger life decisions, the best advice in general is to use all available resources and use the time to commit at the last possible moment.
    This is an ongoing life exercise, but I suspect we can improve over time as with learning music or an athletic skill.

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  5. I know this is late but I would like some insight. I don’t take meds but I have struggled for years with decision making and I am now at a crux. My dad passed and left me a home in anither state, it’s paid for but not in a city that I really like.I have been up and down like a roller coaster because I keep getting hit with stressors. I also don’t have any family there. But an hour away from that place is my hometown where my son has been living with his dad for the past year. His living was heart wrenching because he had been with me up to that point but felt he needed his dad’s presence obviously as he is now 13. I am in VA where I live with my 78 year old mom. I am an only child and she’s all I have but it’s a rocky relationship and always has been. I also teach high school which I have been doing for 15 years but I need to find another line of work because the stress of it is not good for my mental health. I have lots of student loans and don’t have a job lined up in another state but I don’t want to impulsively act on emotion. Is it wise to just see my son every summer and stay with my mom where I am, and just find another job or should I go live in the house I inherited and try to pay off bills and start fresh, knowing I am closer to my son. I have gone in circles for the last couple of years aND given all that I have gone through this past year, I can’t see myself returning to teach in the fall and I terribly miss my son. Any insight??? Thanks so much!

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