Bipolar and Managing Extreme All-or-Nothing Behaviors
People with bipolar disorder often have extreme behaviors that personify the “all-or-nothing” school of thought. This thinking is pretty self-explanatory: either you do everything or you do nothing but never anything in between. For example, you become the most health-conscious person and eat only lettuce and chicken breast while running every day or you sit on your couch, Netflix-binging and eating ice cream. Either you have a relationship with the most beautiful person with every-second fireworks and storybook romance or you refuse relationships entirely. I am guilty of bipolar all-or-nothing, extreme behaviors/thinking, often according to mood, but I do try to manage them.
Bipolar and Extreme Dietary Behaviors
I am one of those people that can go from eating virtually nothing and counting every calorie to eating Ben and Jerry’s on a daily basis. I have those kind of extreme all-or-nothing eating behaviors. Some people might call that binging and purging a la bulimia, but I wouldn’t classify myself as such. I would just say that I have a problem with extreme, dietary behaviors, likely related to the bipolar. I am hardly the only person in this group – bipolar or not. (Note: if having bulimia is even a possibility for you, you should talk to a professional as eating disorders can be deadly.)
Bipolar and Extreme Sexual Behaviors
Similarly, I tend to have extreme all-or-nothing sexual behaviors, too. Either the sex I have is so intense and kinky that it causes a massive rush of endorphins and adrenaline or I sort of don’t want to bother at all. (And I’m not talking about hypersexuality due to hypomania, either. That's a whole other kettle of behavior.) And I could come up with many more examples. Moderation, it seems, it just not my thing.
Are All-or-Nothing Behaviors in Bipolar Mandatory?
But seriously, does everything have to be an obsession? Does everything have to be black or white? Does everything have to be on or off?
Well, if you were to ask my brain, clearly the answer would be “yes” but my more rational mind, of course, knows that the answer is “no.”
Managing All-or-Nothing, Extreme Behaviors in Bipolar
I think the first step is trying to managing extreme bipolar all-or-nothing behaviors is to recognize them. Do a reality check on yourself. Is what you’re doing reasonable? Are you comfortable with your behavior? Is your behavior hurting yourself or others?
Then, once you’ve determined you’ve got a problem, you’ve got to come up with a solution and if moderation isn’t your thing naturally, then maybe you can use your wiser mind to overlay moderation on top of extreme behaviors and thoughts. This does take work and mindfulness.
For example, when you’re eating, you can ask yourself if this is a reasonable meal for someone of your body type and activity level. Are you possibly overeating or undereating? If that’s the case, can you gently modify that behavior slightly? And I’m talking about slightly here. Don’t swing from one end of the spectrum to the other; (again, extreme) just try to change things a bit. Maybe eat a bit less ice cream. Maybe go for a walk. Maybe incorporate a starch with a meal if you’re undereating. And so on.
What I know is that people with bipolar are a people of extremes in so many ways, so remember, trying to impose some perfect model of moderation is going to drive you as mad as living in the extremes, so just make small adjustments towards the middle. No one’s perfect and your inclinations are your inclinations. As long as you can honestly say you’re not hurting yourself or someone else and you’re making progress, then you’re making positive changes that, hopefully, will come more naturally in the future (actions do tend to build our habits).
Image care of Flickr user Paul.Klintworth.
Tracy, N. (2015, November 20). Bipolar and Managing Extreme All-or-Nothing Behaviors, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2019, August 18 from https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/breakingbipolar/2015/11/bipolar-and-managing-extreme-all-or-nothing-behaviors
Author: Natasha Tracy
Gale, I'm a bipolar woman and I've lived a very difficult, painful life. I am relatively stable on medication today. But when I read about your husband, I had only one thought:
Run. Leave the man. Seriously. I have been the kind of crazy he is. I have hurt the people I love. And if I hadn't gotten on meds, I wouldn't have blamed people for leaving me, too.
Gale, if he won't get help, then YOU must get help, for yourself. Leave him. See a psychologist. Your life has meaning and value. You don't deserve to live in a bipolar hell. If your husband isn't even trying to get help, then it's time for you to take control of your own life, your own feelings. It's okay for you to take care of yourself. It's okay for you to do the right thing for yourself.
I support those wonderful family members who stick by us bipolars, and the only thing we (as crazy people) can do to repay that love and kindness is to get on meds, to get a good healthy sleep schedule, to manage our moods and behavior. I am blessed to have such people in my life.
Gale, you are a kind, loving person who has given so much. Your husband is not giving you the loving support that YOU require - taking care of himself.
You're not a bad person for the feelings you have for him. You are not a bad person for leaving, either.
Take care of YOURSELF. It's like they say on the airplane: You can't help others until you put your own oxygen mask on. Take care of you, Gale. You've done so much for so long. It's your turn now.
I wish you love.
I think extreme behaviours are a natural extension of being bipolar. Before medication I was either manic or depressed, up or down, etc
There seemed to be no middle ground.
Mood stabilizers, etc help to even things out but not when I refuse to take them...
I was feeling much better in the Spring/Summer and weaned myself off some of the medications to see if I could manage with less or in some cases none. It turned out I couldn't.
The mania kinda snuck up on me but I didn't realize it until I was going days on only 3 hour of sleep a night, but not feeling the least bit tired, and ringing up over $1,000 on my monthly cell phone bill. Luckily I had the sense to go back on the medication and ask for help. I was only on maintenance at the time I cut back so I had to be honest with my pdoc and he raised my meds. Slowly things are starting to even out again.
Live and learn
I am a 40 year old mother of four, so my heart goes out to you. My husband has rapid cycling bipolar disorder. We did not know this when we got married, and we have had a very difficult marriage because of his symptoms. Before diagnosis, we dealt with lying, sneaking, spending, obsessing, irrational rage, sleeping all day, quitting jobs, and the list goes on, as I'm sure you know. I think rapid cycling is the hardest to stay on top of, but there is hope. We have been married for 17 years now, and we desperately do not want to become a statistic. Some days I hate him. Some days I honestly feel like living with him is literally driving me insane. HOWEVER, I love him. I am doing my best to stay committed to this marriage, and remember that our struggles are because of an illness. I write to you because I want to encourage you. It is possible to have a lasting relationship, and happy family.
YOU CAN GET LEVEL. It just takes time and persistence. If your doctor has not prescribed meds that work, see someone else, try different meds until you find one (or more) that work. You need to deal with the depression because you have kids who rely on you. Once you get out of that low, you will be more motivated to tackle the mania. Take one step at a time. Yes, you would feel a lot better with a routine, but start with one thing. Set a bedtime. If nothing else, go to bed around the same time every night. Your sleep schedule is sooo important. When you conquer that, add a regular wake-up time. Or cut naps. One step at a time, one day at a time.
I'm going to pray for strength and courage for you, my sister in Christ. I do not believe I came across your post by accident tonight. You may be mad at God, but He understands and has not left you. I will pray you feel His peace tonight.
I used to do the same thing with food and exercise. I was either eating without limits, especially at night, or dieting and exercising. I never could sustain either state.
Starting in September 2014 I realized that my eating was out of control. I was also angry most of the time. I had to go for long walks just to alleviate the anger. Every day I'd try not to overeat, but I'd do it anyway. I just couldn't stop. So, I joined a particular group, and I've been a member ever since.
I want to share my experience: There are some things I can't stop eating. When I stopped eating those foods, I started feeling my emotions. It was unpleasant, but I hung in there. Then, one day, about 3 weeks in, I noticed that my moods had really stabilized. It's like the food plan, not a diet, was the most powerful and consistent mood stabilizer I had ever taken. I didn't feel angry any more.
I've been through multiple traumas, including my son's mental illness diagnosis after a dramatic demonstration of depression. I haven't eaten over any of it.
My medication had to increase, and another one was added because I'm now in a bipolar depression, characterized by massive anger--not a big surprise. I used to think, well I'll gain weight because that's a side effect, and I've already given up so much. I wouldn't stop eating.
I have since learned that, at least for me, the hunger side effect goes away after a few days if I just stick to my plan.
The mood effect of food was a huge surprise to me. Like I said, I just wanted to share my experience, strength, and hope.