The Problem with Impulsiveness

Okay, you say, so you’re a bit impulsive at times. Who isn’t? What’s the big deal?

Here’s the big deal: With me, there’s no such thing as “a bit impulsive”. I’m REALLY impulsive. And when I go down that road, it can be a real problem coming back. The “whim” I get, to go check out Facebook for a minute turns into a two-hour time drain of reading all sorts of non-information about people I barely know anymore, clicking through to YouTube to watch videos, surfing around the web to indulge my curiosity, and generally not doing the things I originally sat down at the computer to do.

I’m burning up all my available energy, doing things that have nothing to do with my best interests. The end result is that I’ve lost two hours of my day that I’m not getting back, and if the things I was supposed to be doing were very important, now I am not only behind on things that are important to me, but I’m also more tired, so getting back to doing them is harder. I may have “taken the pressure off” by indulging my curiosity and allowing myself to follow my impulses, but I’ve now added more pressure to my life, by getting so far off track.

The other problem with impulsiveness, is that the things I tend to give into — though they may feel good at the time — don’t actually help me live my life in a productive way. Giving in to the impulse to yell at my spouse or other loved-ones has rarely produced positive results (to put it lightly). At the moment, when I’m venting at them, it feels honest and true and sincere, but it doesn’t do much for them. And I end up straining important relationships, thanks to not curbing my impulses.

Incidentally, I have a friend who sustained a mild TBI about 10 years ago, and they have huge problems with this sort of impulse control. The main difference between me and them is, they haven’t sought any help for their injury, and their relationships have suffered as a result. They also had a few small strokes several years ago, which complicates things further. They just love to vent and yell at people, because they say it makes them feel better. Personally, I think they’re just indulging their impulses — “go with the flow, man!” they tell me all the time. They are severely underemployed (they don’t get out of bed till about noon each day, and they often don’t go to sleep till 3 a.m., because they’re busy reading emails or following some other impulse of theirs. The only thing that keeps them afloat is their spouse, who has a great job — and is usually so busy with work that they’re not around to keep them on track, which is a double-edged sword. I’ve tried to suggest other ways of living life, and they’ve said they want to do better, but so far there hasn’t been much change. Oh, well…

Impulsiveness comes in all different shapes and sizes, and left unchecked, it can really wreak havoc. In my case, not only does it pull me off course and keep me from doing what I’m supposed to be doing, but it also gets in the way of me getting back on track when I’m no longer impulsively distracted. I mentioned it above, but in more depth, the whole process of getting myself out of my impulsiveness-vortex can be a real drain on my system. Here’s how things go downhill:

  • I realize I’ve gotten pulled off what I originally sat down to do  (write an important letter to a creditor, for example).
  • I get a little startled at how much time has gone by, and I am dismayed that I’ve spent the last two hours impulsively flitting here and there, instead of just getting this letter written.
  • I start to beat myself up over having “forgotten” to do this, and I start calling myself all sorts of unpleasant things.
  • My mind is racing, my heart is pounding, I’m sweating, and I’m getting more stressed by the minute, as I imagine the terrible things that can happen to me because I got pulled off in a different direction (20 different directions, actually).
  • I spend waste a whole bunch of time being hard in myself and trying to get myself back in line. I’ve used up a lot of energy, surfing around and doing this and that, and now my brain has less energy to work with than before — just at the time when I need more energy.
  • I get frustrated and irritated, and my spouse makes the mistake of walking in the room and talking to me. By this time, I’m beside myself  with frustration, and I yell at them for bothering me. No impulse control there, either. Temper, temper…
  • We end up having a fight, and both of us end up feeling even worse than I had felt by myself when I realized I’d gotten distracted and pulled off course. Now, not only am I a slacker, I’m also a total loser and a terrible spouse. What good am I?
  • The final result is, I’m all tied up in knots, my spouse isn’t talking to me, the letter gets written, but it’s a painful, convoluted process and I don’t get all the information correct. I’m worn out and agitated, which gives me a headache and makes my whole body ache. My hearing is quite sensitive, and light bothers me. I need to go to bed early, but I’m so bent out of shape and overly fatigued, I end up sitting up late watching t.v. to get my mind off things, surfing around the channels — again, impulsively — eating snacks and drinking soda. Not good at all.

Now, I’m not laying all of this at the feet of being impulsive and getting distracted, but this is now impulsiveness can contribute to the mess my life sometimes becomes. It’s not just that I get pulled away from doing things I’m supposed to be doing. It’s that I have to work that much harder to get back to those things, once I realize what’s going on. And I have to overcome the internal chatter that’s talking all sorts of trash about me in the back of my head.

Okay, you might say, so you’re impulsive, and it’s a problem. Doesn’t everybody have this challenge now and then? I can think of a hundred different people who do this, too.

I’m sure there are plenty of people who struggle with this. But for me, TBI has a way of making everything bigger and badder than it would normally be. It intensifies my emotions, slows down my thought process, and it complicates my thinking, so that things that one would think are pretty straightforward, actually require more effort than one would expect. Plus, the after-effects are pretty severe at times. Because emotionally I get so tweaked that I blow my distraction and impulsiveness out of proportion and I can’t see the way clear, sometimes, to just get myself back on track. It’s pretty discouraging at times, to have to struggle with something that should be so easy. Other people do it – why do I have such a terrible time with it?

It’s one thing to get impulsively distracted, it’s another to get stuck there, and then have to work like crazy to dig yourself out of the hole… And get worn out and bent out of shape in the process. You wouldn’t think it’s that big of a deal, just to get back on track, but sometimes it’s a huge friggin’ struggle. Probably one of the biggest contributing factors in this is fatigue — the tiredness that sets in after using up my energy doing everything except what I started out doing. But that’s another post for another day. For now, suffice it to say that impulsiveness is a Real Issue when dealing with TBI. In some ways, for me, it’s truly Issue #1.

How I deal with this is a subject for another day. For now, I need to get back to taking care of some work I didn’t get done yesterday… ’cause I indulged an impulse to do something other than what was on my to-do list.

I suppose it never ends…

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4 thoughts on “The Problem with Impulsiveness

  1. To me impulsive is getting a thought and acting on it without thinking it through at all. And spontaneous is getting a thought and thinking about it at least a little bit before acting on it. In my view spontaneity is a really good thing. It keeps my life interesting. However, my impulsive tendencies have really gotten me into trouble in the past. So, I will retain the right to be responsibly impulsive…a.k.a. spontaneous :)

  2. Since as long as I can remember, I have felt a need to explain myself – as if I need to make excuses for being me. Well, anyway I unexpectedly bumped into the woman I mentioned above, and worried that I’d misread the situation. I thought I might see her so I waited, then when I didn’t I sent her a text message saying sorry blah blah. Later I saw her and chatted. Then because I mentioned something else I had been embarassed about (a medical issue – non brain related) and I saw something on TV which reminded me of it, I once again texted her this week as I didn’t see her. Later, I did see her and ask her a question, them immediately realised what I was saying might been seen as prying so I said sorry. Later she spoke to me and said:

    a)Stop texting her unless its important
    b)If I send I text, just send it and don’t apolegise
    c)We can still be friends….

    Emotional lability, impulsivity and the need to explain myself is not a good combination. Does anyone else find this? The anxiety and worry means you need to explain as your fightened of being misunderstood, then the impulse takes over, then you get end up making a fool of yourself and worry about upsetting others, and fee worried…..

    Hmm. How do you explain that to another person?

  3. Pingback: Where Angels Fear to Tread: Impulsivity after Brain Injury - Changed Lives New Journeys

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