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?