Last time, I talked about irritability being a major bi-polar symptom for me. But compulsive behavior is my worst symptom. Whereas irritability comes and goes, compulsiveness is a CONSTANT problem. At all times, I’m having to talk myself out of something: another cookie, another book, another project, another nap, another TV show. Those don’t sound so bad but – a new car, a new couch, a new outfit (and not from Target), a new … a new … a new …
As I sit here writing this, I know I’m going to get a salad at a local café when this is finished. This place has amazing breads (peach, lemon-blueberry, pumpkin). My compulsive mind is already running full throttle. Here is what I’m hearing right now: “You know you’re going to get it, so quit fighting me and enjoy.” AND “You exercised a lot today and the house is a disaster, just enjoy the treat.”
Now there is NOTHING wrong with my eating an entire loaf of this. The problem is the compulsive nature—the need—to do this. What’s wrong is my mind’s unwillingness to slow down and re-consider. What’s wrong is that choice seems unobtainable – I don’t get to choose. I’m being led around by the nose.
Normally, admitting this, quiets the beast. But not today. She’s angry that I’m exposing her and now she is desperate to win, to eat, to laugh at my other side. Self-control has been devoured in the wake of a piece of bread. And, it’s not the bread that frightens me. It’s the complete inability to deny myself.
With irritability, there is usually no upside. But, with compulsivity, I get a box from amazon and it’s like Christmas. Or I suck down chocolate and it tastes yummy.
I thought the best way to share what bi-polar compulsivity looks like is to provide you a recent example.
My mother passed away and left my brothers and me $1,000 each. I thought for a while about what I wanted to do with that $. I knew I didn’t want to just toss it in the bank, and it go the way of Starbucks. My mother was constantly buying new bedding. Seriously, about once a quarter, she’d tire of the comforters and pillows and artwork in her bedrooms and she’d buy all new. Drove my father nuts.
I was wanting a new bedding set and I wanted a nice one. So, in honor of my mom, I decided to spend the $ on comforter, sheets, pillows, bath rugs, towels, etc. The day I made this decision, I was NOT experiencing compulsivity symptoms. I shopped. I put nothing in my cart. I sent a few ideas to myself and my husband. Ideas simmered. I enjoyed playing on Etsy and toying with unique options. No compulsive desires. AND THEN….
Last week, my heart began to race, and my mind was desperate for me to find the right comforter NOW. My irrational brain was wholly convinced that if I didn’t find something soon then I would not be able to find anything ever. Or, even worse, I’d find something I like and if I didn’t pull the trigger and hit ‘buy now’, then it would sell out and I’d be perpetually disappointed. My rational brain kept trying to calm my emotional system with messages like, “If it sells out, something new and better will come along.” Or “The house is in the middle of renovation, don’t bring a new comforter into this mess.” Or “Wait until there’s a sale.”
My emotional brain was not listening. My anxiety rose. It moved from desire to obsession. Obsession is never good. Obsession is what will put that piece of bread on my plate.
When I chose the comforter, it was 10PM and I was tired. I should’ve have waited until the next day and then purchased because, in my agitation, I kept putting the wrong thing in the cart – which, of course, triggered irritability. Still, I couldn’t have stopped if I’d had a gun to my head. The package hasn’t arrived yet, but my guess is, I’ll end up with 20 towels and only a flat sheet. That’s what bi-polar compulsivity looks like for me.
With irritability I can identify what’s happening. But compulsivity is harder to recognize in the moment. I’m able to defend my actions and therefore refute the compulsive nature. It’s always in retrospect that I see the monster for who she is.
Compulsivity is a tangible monster that separates bi-polar me from the real me. She’s annoying and persistent and can win almost any argument. I can already picture her licking her fingers after I give in on that piece of bread. She’s a powerful force.
Sadly, most compulsive episodes don’t involve just one item. I wanted/needed the comforter. At the same time, I wanted/needed this book and that book and this colander and that pair of pants. While it’s very upsetting, my husband does realize he’s lucky. My compulsions involve comforters not cars. Books not jewelry. Appliances not vacations.
For some of you, your irritability and compulsivity cause serious problems with relationships and finances. I’m sorry for that. I wish there was a magic bullet, a magic pill.
Since no two of us suffer the same way, the following advice may not be helpful. But, it might be the exact right thing and, at the very least, it will give you something to think about:
ADMIT: Admit when you’re being devoured by the compulsive/irritable monsters. I have learned that speaking that truth often throws water on it. If you have a significant other who is supportive, tell him or her. Be sure to tell this loved one NOT to police you. That’s gasoline not a fire hose.
PRE PLAN: Make a plan BEFORE the attack. I have a rule – before I buy anything, I put it in my cart and have to wait 48-hours before I purchase. This has really helped. I’d say that I am able to resist purchases at least 70% of the time. BUT I did buy that dang comforter – rules be damned!
TRACK BACK: Once the episode is over, I take a few minutes to think back. What triggered me? What did I do and not do that might have helped? Did I need to make any apologies?
I DO NOT BEAT MYSELF UP – I just take an honest look and see where I can learn one dang thing.
I’m already tracking back on this BREAD MONSTER (even though she hasn’t won – yet). I’ve done two hours of exercise this morning. While this is great, I’ve also fed my beast: Now she can claim I’ve earned it and she can remind me that I haven’t eaten enough to support that level of exercise. She’s right. I haven’t eaten enough protein to compensate for the caloric output. That should be an easy fix.
I know what some of you are thinking: just don’t go to that restaurant. Go some place without yummy peach bread. Ahhh – another compulsion is at work. Kale salad is wonderful there and adds to my virtuous-ness. Exercise AND Kale salad – what a good girl (or at least my monster thinks so).
Do you see how Eating Disorders and Bi-Polar become such a struggle?
My irritability and compulsiveness will ALWAYS be a problem. That could be discouraging but it’s not. If I know the problem, I can stay alert, honest, and forgiving. My goal is not to defeat these problem areas. Defeat is unattainable. But I can put in safeguards before, during and after to help lessen their impact.
My new comforter should arrive today! YIPPEE! Thanks, Mom!
You have a choice because of the compulsiveness, but it seems there is also a lot wrong in and of itself with eating an entire loaf of bread???
Click HERE to download the Discussion Guide and do the journaling activity that correlates with this blog!
If you told me you had a cold, what symptoms would you have? For me, a cold is that horrible headache behind the bridge of the nose and tight ears. For my husband, he’s suffering from a sore throat and dull headache on the crown of his head. The point? No two colds look exactly alike. Another point? No two people suffer in the same way. I hate that tightness behind my nose, but my husband hates the scratchy throat. My daughter hates the exhaustion and cough. Sneezing freaks me out. Others seem to find sneezing funny.
Just as no two people experience the common cold the same way, no two people duplicate the bi-polar experience. And, no two families struggle in the same way. This is one of my primary complaints about Bi-Polar in the mainstream media. “Bi-polar” is flung around in almost all crime shows when the writer is unwilling to be more creative. Based on Criminal Minds or NCIS or Bones or … well, you get the idea … anyone committing a crime must be diagnosed with bi-polar disorder. Ipso Facto, bi-polar sufferers must be a criminal. (Lately, I’ve noticed that crime shows are turning to narcissistic personality disorder as the crime diagnosis de jour.)
I have two primary bi-polar symptoms: irritability and compulsivity. We all get irritable from time-to-time. What makes my irritability a symptom instead of a ‘normal’ occurrence is the recognition that I’m irritable and powerless to stop it. Furthermore, my bi-polar irritability lasts for a very definitive amount of time – 24 or 48 hours depending on the trigger. It’s almost as if my body reacts to something by washing my brain with some irritability hormone and then exactly 24 or 48 hours later, the hormone rinses away. It’s that distinctive. Irascible to Amiable with the movement of the clock.
This is not to say that I always know the trigger but usually I can point to something – especially after it’s run its course. For example, two weeks after my father died, I woke up on a Friday frustrated with the air, with the wind, with the soft sheets. I spent that day thinking this was ‘normal’ irritability because my house was under renovation and it was annoying. But when I woke up Saturday morning just as annoyed and short-tempered, I recognized this episode as a bi-polar irritability episode. It ended as quickly as it began around 4PM on Sunday. When I looked back at this, I understood that I had been too busy to really process my Dad’s death.
A few things help:
For years, I was able to manage my symptoms without pharmaceuticals. That changed about 18 months ago and I’m okay with it. It is what it is. The drugs do help with irritability but not completely. There is no magic pill. What I will do, though, is more closely monitor my episodes. If they start to last longer or arrive more often, I’ll speak to my doctor. I don’t think that will be necessary – I’ve found that if I’m INTENTIONAL in watching what’s happening within myself, I can re-introduce some balancing behaviors(more sleep, exercise by long walks outside, look at my food choices, no overt sugar foods, no alcohol) and manage myself without additional support.
NOTE: If I need that support, I WILL GET IT. I will not suffer (or make my family suffer) because of some pride against medication.
I can put a great plan in place for taking care of myself, inside and out, but I do have bi-polar disorder and this disease manifests itself in irritability. No magic potion will prevent that 100% of the time.
BUT, two words, spoken sincerely, do have magic power: I’M SORRY.
Try those words sometimes and then back it up with action – what do you need to do differently to lessen the suffering?
IMPORTANT: There is a difference between irritability and meanness. I used to be very mean during these episodes. That is unacceptable and unfair. When I had my mental breakdown, I re-structured my life so that meanness does not become my default. This is not to say that I’m tons of fun to be around and sometimes I can be caustic. But I’m not mean just because anymore. If I am not able to pull it back, then I make time to be alone. NO ONE SHOULD SUFFER because I do.
Tune in next time for what compulsivity looks like – and for me, that’s a bigger monster.
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