Zippers are my enemies. I know that may sound strange but hear me out. I have bipolar disorder, and I tend to be impatient.
Picture this: you’re heading outside on a chilly winter evening, throwing on your coat as you grab your keys. You’re meeting up with friends, but you’re running late. Your coat has a zipper running all the way up the front of it. You’re in a hurry and you don’t have time to waste. Now, try to slow down and zip up your coat slowly and carefully. Something as simple and mundane as bundling up in a warm jacket before entering the frigid air outside should be easy. It should be quick. But it’s not. Zippers—of all things—actually require some patience. The place at the bottom where the two sides connect (actually called the retainer box, if you’re interested) has to fit together just right. Perfectly, in fact. And if your coat has any folds in it, the zipper can easily get stuck. If your coat is old, it can run right off the track. If you’re not careful, slow and above all, patient, it’s actually pretty easy to break a zipper. This has happened to me more than once. And not just with outerwear. I’ve broken purse zippers trying to hurry myself out of line after buying something at a store. I’ve botched up gym bags at the end of a workout because I couldn’t wait to get home and shower. Zipping something up isn’t rocket science, but because I often rush through things, it feels like it is.
It’s not just zippers. I’ve ruined more meals than I can count because I overconfidently assumed I didn’t need to follow a recipe because of a hypomanic overinflated ego. “Why bother reading the recommendations for this dish?” I’d think, “I’m so smart, I can figure it out without wasting time. In fact, I’ll bet I can cook this meal better than the cookbook author!” Then whoops, I ruin it. It turns out, the people who create recipes know more about cuisine than I do. They take time to learn the best methods for preparation and cooking time. They taste-test meals. Although I know all this, in the moment, logic flies out the window and I sacrifice taste for time, often much to my (and my boyfriend’s) detriment.
I’m guilty of doing this with IKEA furniture, too. It takes a certain type of person who possesses a certain level of zen to correctly assemble particle boards and dowels in the right order. Often, the instructions can be so confusing it seems easier to throw them out the window. I’ve constructed everything from bookshelves to beds upside-down and backwards because I refused to dedicate the time to doing it right. In the end, I spent longer than I should have because I had to take the piece apart and put it back together again the right way. There’s something to be said for the old saying, “measure twice, cut once,” even when the only tool I’m using is an Allen wrench.
For years, I’ve been plagued by the two-headed imp of impatience and impulsivity. And that little monster often goes hand-in-hand with bipolar disorder. If I’m hypo/manic, my mind races like a speeding locomotive, and that spills over into my environment. I make rash decisions that I often regret. I’ve gotten rid of clothes I loved when I was obsessed with Marie Kondo-ing my closet. If I’m depressed, I get irritable, so I don’t have the patience to deal with anything, let alone simple everyday tasks like brushing my teeth for two minutes like my Sonicare timer tells me to. Then I don’t clean my teeth as well as I should. What’s worse, I snap at people around me and I don’t even realize I’m doing it because my mind just won’t stay centered. It seems like no matter what state I’m in, I find it almost impossible to slow down and focus on anything.
I have a scratch on my hand from yanking my arm out of the produce drawer in my fridge. I got frustrated because it took too long to maneuver some bulky broccoli out from between a bag of celery and bunch of carrots. I scraped the skin right off my knuckle. I injured myself, and it never quite healed. I now have a little scar to remind me that the little imp can be my undoing if I’m not cognizant of it.
The imp has messed up little things like zippers and recipes, but it’s also had a dramatic impact on my life. Impatience and impulsivity can impact my decision-making abilities. I’ve impulsively shoplifted (something that’s way out of character for me) and slept with people who I knew posed a huge risk to both my health and my safety because I just went with the moment despite the potential consequences.
Many people who live with bipolar disorder struggle with impulsivity. In depression, my mind is often poisoned with impulsive negative thoughts that denigrate my self-worth. The little voice in my head tells me I’m ugly and stupid. In hypo/mania, I can experience overwhelming flights of fancy that I should buy things I can’t afford or take risks I know I shouldn’t.
Impulsive thoughts are lightning bolts. They are uncontrollable electrical impulses that shoot through my brain without warning. Then impatience swoops in and I’m zapped with a sudden and urgent need to do something about my ideas. Without impatience, impulsive thoughts have nowhere to go. They stay stuck in my head as abstract notions. But impatience gives me the drive to carry out hurried ideas.
This was especially dangerous when I experienced a mixed episode. The little monster in my head told me I was worthless, and life wasn’t worth living. Then the manic demon in my mind told me to do something about it. I’m incredibly lucky that I not only survived my suicide attempt, but I’ve learned from it so I can prevent those thoughts from spiraling out of control in the future.
Now that I’m older and wiser, I’ve begun to recognize the imp for what it is: distorted thinking. The best tool I’ve found (in addition to medication, therapy, healthy eating and proper sleep hygiene) to quiet and even combat the imp is mindfulness.
When I’m depressed or hypo/manic, I tend to get lost in my mind. I’m thrown to and fro as intrusive thoughts intoxicate my brain in a swirling tornado. But forcing myself to live in the moment by practicing mindfulness techniques has helped me immensely. Surprisingly, mindfulness doesn’t actually get rid of the imp, but it keeps the imp from controlling my life.
Now, when I have impulsive thoughts, instead of impatiently acting without thinking, I notice the thoughts and pay attention to them. I slow myself down using mindful breathing, yoga, meditation and just plain old awareness to keep the imp from dictating my actions. I’ve learned to quiet the imp by not letting myself get lost in my impulsivity or impatience. Now I’m no longer a victim of distorted thinking.