“Bipolar urges” are the strong desires or impulses that people managing bipolar disorder may experience. Sometimes, giving in to these impulses can lead to significant life changes, such as quitting a job or spending excessively. It’s important to understand that while urges are a natural part of human behavior, managing them in the context of bipolar disorder is critical to prevent negative outcomes and maintain stability.

In this episode, Gabe Howard and Dr. Nicole explore the challenges of discerning whether urges are symptoms of bipolar disorder or regular human emotions. They stress the importance of using strategies such as creating checklists, setting boundaries, and consulting a support team when making decisions. If you or a loved one manages impulse control in the context of bipolar disorder, this episode is for you.

Gabe Howard

Our host, Gabe Howard, is an award-winning writer and speaker who lives with bipolar disorder. He is the author of the popular book, “Mental Illness is an Asshole and other Observations,” available from Amazon; signed copies are also available directly from the author.

He is also the host of Healthline Media’s Inside Mental Health podcast available on your favorite podcast player. To learn more about Gabe, or book him for your next event, please visit his website, gabehoward.com.

Dr. Nicole Washington
Dr. Nicole Washington

Our host, Dr. Nicole Washington, is a native of Baton Rouge, Louisiana, where she attended Southern University and A&M College. After receiving her BS degree, she moved to Tulsa, Oklahoma to enroll in the Oklahoma State University College of Osteopathic Medicine. She completed a residency in psychiatry at the University of Oklahoma in Tulsa. Since completing her residency training, Washington has spent most of her career caring for and being an advocate for those who are not typically consumers of mental health services, namely underserved communities, those with severe mental health conditions, and high performing professionals. Through her private practice, podcast, speaking, and writing, she seeks to provide education to decrease the stigma associated with psychiatric conditions.

Find out more at DrNicolePsych.com.

Producer’s Note: Please be mindful that this transcript has been computer generated and therefore may contain inaccuracies and grammar errors. Thank you.

Announcer: You’re listening to Inside Bipolar, a Healthline Media Podcast, where we tackle bipolar disorder using real-world examples and the latest research.

Gabe: Hello everyone! My name is Gabe Howard and I live with bipolar disorder.

Dr. Nicole: And I’m Dr. Nicole Washington, a board-certified psychiatrist.

Gabe: And today we’re going to be talking about taming your urges with bipolar disorder. Now, Dr. Nicole, I have to imagine that most people who don’t live with bipolar disorder don’t understand what taming bipolar urges means. They get this idea that there’s like a manic, grandiose dragon and we’re like, shaking like a chair at it, like a lion tamer. Do you know what I mean when I say taming bipolar urges?

Dr. Nicole: Listen, I’ve been treating bipolar disorder for 20 years, and I still don’t know if I know what you mean when you say bipolar urges.

Gabe: So, I believe that everybody has urges, and that’s going to be a theme throughout this podcast. But when you live with bipolar disorder, the urges become more serious. Let’s just go with serious because, for example, some of those urges can be to quit your job without a plan. Some of those urges can be to spend your rent or your mortgage on an idea because you know, hey, you’ll worry about that in a couple of weeks. These ideas can be to get on a plane and fly to another country on a one-way ticket with no plan to get back. Urges can encompass everything, and people with bipolar disorder, especially with grandiosity and mania, we get a lot of, well, their urges. You may call them ideas or you may call them manic symptoms, but to us, their urges.

Dr. Nicole: But those things aren’t exclusive to people with bipolar disorder. I have lots of patients who don’t have bipolar disorder, who struggle with social media obsessions, and gaming and internet in general. So, I think I’m still a little confused about the whole bipolar urge thing.

Gabe: Yeah. It doesn’t. It sucks to live with bipolar disorder because we never know where bipolar disorder ends and just regular life begins. Uh, obviously, if you’re spending all of your money, that’s going to be problematic. Uh, and I think we really should delve into some of the bigger things. But before we get into some, like, large concepts and even some medium concepts, I want to do like a too long didn’t listen on the little things, right?

Dr. Nicole: Oh, absolutely. And for people with bipolar disorder. I think the extra level of concern comes in is if I’m gaming all night and then I’m not getting good sleep, or I’m on social media all night and then I’m not getting good sleep, those things can set you up for a mood episode. So then something that started off as just a normal urge kind of landed you in bad juju, so it could lead to that. So, I do think it’s important some of the things I will encourage my patients to do, because really, at the end of the day, we all want to feel normal, right? We all want to feel like we’re a part of what everybody else is doing. And if I’m especially a young person and all my friends are gaming all night long, I don’t want to have to say, sorry, guys, I have bipolar disorder. I have to get my sleep, Dr. Nicole said. I need to get eight hours of sleep or I might get manic, so I’m going to have to cut it out. That sucks, I get that. So, finding ways to ensure that you’re getting your sleep but not lose fun, you know, naps on the front end. I’m going to give myself one night where I stay up a little late. Those things are fine. Giving yourself time limits and timers like, I’m only going to allow myself an hour of hanging out on these internet streets at night. I’m going to bed. That’s all I got. Do that. I think there are little things that you can do that still give you the ability to enjoy those urges, but within reason.

Gabe: I have to say, setting those boundaries up front for taming those bipolar urges is probably the most powerful tip that we can offer, especially for the smaller things like gaming, social media, staying up all night watching TV. Just let your friends know that you have to go to bed at 11:00 or 10:00 or 9:00. Don’t tell them why. Right. That’s just that’s just TMI. That’s just oversharing. Just say, hey, I’ve got to be done by 11. Why? Because that’s the time I have to be done. Why? What are you going to do? I have to be done at 11. I you don’t owe anyone an explanation. And if they’re going to judge you for it, well, that’s just a topic for another podcast. We don’t always have to overshare, but there’s other things that we can do, right? Technology is actually a very powerful thing. We can set it so that we can only spend a certain amount of time on social media, and then it’ll lock itself. These apps do exist, and we can take advantage of them, right? Other things like shopping. It is fun to shop, but give yourself a limit in cash and get rid of those credit cards. And when I say get rid of those credit cards, I mean like give them to a trusted friend, a parent, a spouse, your BFF and leave with cash, right? You’ve decided, hey, I want to go shopping and I can spend $60, so you’ve got $60 cash and then just head out.

Gabe: This is a way to manage those urges. What I want people to start thinking about is where is your boundary? Think about how to manage urges, especially common urges, before they happen. Now, Dr. Nicole, this wouldn’t be inside bipolar if we didn’t just fall down the urges rabbit hole. So, I want to talk about big things like quitting your job, spending all of your money to let’s just cash out our 401 KS, quit our job and invest in the next Google. Because I got to tell you, I’m super excited. I got an email; I got an email and this stock is going to be bigger. I’m just I’m putting all of my money in there and you’re going to be so, so, so jealous if you don’t do it too. Because, you know, oftentimes when people talk about how urges got them, they’re not talking about spending too much time on social media.

Dr. Nicole: Yeah. I mean, if you told me that, I’d say, pump your brakes, big fella, and I would, I would, I would be trying to figure out what else is going on with Gabe that makes him think he wants to do these things? Okay. So, these urges, because I want to make sure I get this in my mind. I tend to think of the quote unquote bipolar urges as something that happens during an episode. So, you’re telling me that these urges, these bipolar urges that we’re talking about do not happen exclusively during a manic or a hypomanic episode?

Gabe: Obviously during a manic or hypomanic episode, or even during grandiosity, they’re easy to label, right? They look a certain way. They may even feel a certain way. Where I get worried is, how do you know if you’re symptomatic? How do how do you know? Like, I’m sitting here talking to you right now. You and I are having a great conversation. You know that I live with bipolar disorder, and I tell you that I’m getting ready to drain my 401 K and invest it all in this company that was just founded. Now you’ve got to make a split-second decision. Is Gabe symptomatic or

Dr. Nicole: Mm-hmm.

Gabe: Is Gabe brilliant? Is this a genius idea because it somebody did this with Google and they’re a millionaire.

Dr. Nicole: Right.

Gabe: But we also hear about people with bipolar disorder investing in penny stocks all the time, or just sending their money to random email links that they get.

Dr. Nicole: Yeah, but I mean, that’s the thing. If you make a lot of money from it, people will say you’re a genius. And if you don’t, people will say not nice things about you. But that may have nothing to do with your bipolar disorder. So that I mean, isn’t that the hard part?

Gabe: Yes. Yes. So, you see the challenge, right? People who are living in recovery with bipolar disorder, we remember all of those times that we went out on the limb that we took the risk that we did the thing. And of course it didn’t work out. And of course, all the people around us were like, duh, why? Why would you think that was going to work? You literally quit your job to start a business without a business plan. You’ve talked about that before, that when people come to you and say, hey, Dr. Nicole, I want to quit my job and start a business, and you’re like, okay, well, what have you done to start the business? And they’re like, it’s all up here, right? And they start tapping their head. It’s all up here. Or in some cases like, no, no, no, I wrote it down. And then they give you pages upon pages of like pictures and just nonsense. But to them it makes sense. It would be great if all bipolar urges looked like the stereotypical pop culture reference if people drawn on walls and magazine clippings.

Dr. Nicole: Uh-huh.

Gabe: But they don’t. And people like me who live in recovery. I do wonder sometimes. In fact, I, I wonder with every decision, Gabe, is this a good idea or are you? And here’s the key word becoming symptomatic

Dr. Nicole: Mm-hmm.

Gabe: And you don’t realize it yet.

Dr. Nicole: Okay. So that. Okay. So, I will say that there are times when patients will tell me things like, I haven’t had a full episode since I saw you last, but I did have a day or two where I started to feel a little high. My mood was a little too high. I started thinking about spending lots of money and doing things, but I was able to rein it in. So, I do have people tell me things like that, and I honestly never know what to make of those little blips on the radar, right? Because they don’t ever meet criteria for a full episode. Usually by the time I see the person, it was like, oh, two months ago. There were a couple days where I was tempted to go to Hobby Lobby and spend $500 on decorations, but I was able to kind of talk myself out of it. And then after a couple of days, I kind of came back down to my normal baseline mood. I’ve had that happen a lot, and I honestly don’t know what to make of that. So, I guess that could be what we’re talking about.

Gabe: I think in many ways that is what we’re talking about. Except that here, here’s where it gets tricky. That $500 is going to be different for every person.

Dr. Nicole: Yes.

Gabe: For example, if you have a patient who makes $1 million a year

Dr. Nicole: Yes.

Gabe: And they told you that they wanted to go to Hobby Lobby and spend $500

Dr. Nicole: Yes.

Gabe: On Christmas decorations, and they think that that’s a blip in the radar, you’re like, you’re a millionaire.

Dr. Nicole: Right.

Gabe: I know you’re a millionaire. So no, but if you have a patient who is making minimum wage is barely getting by, that, you know, is struggling with money, and they’re like, hey, my rent’s not due for a week, and, and I have that money. So, I thought about decorating my house and enjoying it for that week and then hoping that it worked out okay. Well, now, now you’re on to something. Except here’s where it gets sort of tricky. What happens when that person who takes their rent money,

Dr. Nicole: Mm-hmm.

Gabe: Right. And they spend it on the Christmas decorations and their place looks beautiful. And then at the end of the month, right before their rent is due, they get their holiday bonus. It’s the first time the company’s given a holiday bonus in ten years, and that pays for their rent. So, this now reinforces to the person with bipolar disorder hey, sometimes it could work out. So, when we talk about taming our bipolar urges look, the reality is, is sometimes you hit on 19 and you get a two, but I want everybody to hear me very, very clearly. If you are at a blackjack table and you have 19, do not hit. It is a very bad idea, even though I cannot conclusively say for 100% because I can’t predict the future, that it won’t work out. This makes it tough for people like us.

Dr. Nicole: I get that, but it also is about patterns and in history. So yes, if the millionaire spends 500 at Hobby Lobby, it’s not a big deal. But if the millionaire has no history of that kind of behavior, it’s concerning. I don’t care if they can’t afford it, if the person who doesn’t have a lot of money spends $500, but that person has a history where they’re manic, depressed, normal mood of blowing their rent money on things they can’t afford. That’s also not necessary. I mean, concerning in the sense that it’s bad decision making, but not concerning from a manic standpoint.

Gabe: And of course, this is where life becomes problematic. You know, it wasn’t that long ago that I said, hey, I’m going to become a speaker, a podcaster, a writer, and an author about living with bipolar disorder. And if you haven’t listened to my mom’s episode, she literally said she thought I was sick again. She was really worried about it. And if I’m being honest, I didn’t think I’d make it this far. I would love to tell you that I had all the confidence and faith in the world that I would end up on Healthline Media with a podcast working with Dr. Nicole Washington. But no, no, if you would have asked me on day one if I would have got here, I’d be like, no, there’s not a psychiatrist in their right mind. It’s going to host a podcast with me. I mean, if we’re being honest, but I had a good plan. I took it slowly. It took me a decade to get here. This wasn’t overnight. And these were protective factors. Okay, Gabe, you’ve got this plan. Where do you think you’ll be in a year from now? Probably still struggling.

Gabe: I, I’m not going to be an overnight success. I’ve got this plan. I’m going to I’m going to raise my profile a little bit. I’m going to get on social media. I’m going to start writing these articles. I’m going to start making connections. I’m going to go to places and give speeches. And as I get a little bigger, you know, I can get a little bigger speeches, etc. and that was a protective factor for me that let me know that that I was not experiencing symptoms. I actually had a good plan. But even though I was doing all of that, my own mother and, and my, my wife at the time and other friends were extraordinarily concerned about this because this whole thing was predicated on me quitting my job. I had to leave my job to start this business. And they’re like, I don’t know, Gabe. Now. It worked out great. So, everybody could say, well, Gabe, you were right. You don’t need to do anything again. No, that’s wrong, that’s wrong. I need to figure out why that was a good idea so that I can apply it to other decisions.

Dr. Nicole: But, but is that, is that the urge? Like, was that what you would consider a bipolar urge? Because to me, that just sounds like you were thinking about making a career change and you thought it out pretty well. People around you didn’t think so because they didn’t know what to make of it. But it doesn’t. I don’t, I just don’t know that I would consider that when I think of what we’re talking about as these bipolar urges, I don’t I don’t think that’s it.

Gabe: So, this is one of the reasons that I want to hug you. Like I just want to hug you right now. Like you’ve got to be the best psychiatrist in the world because every other psychiatrist, upon hearing that their unstable patient who then over the course of years became stable,

Dr. Nicole: Mm-hmm.

Gabe: Now wants to quit their job and start a business being a mental health advocate where they will make a living. It sounds unstable and most people do not bother to follow up. They don’t. They don’t ask the questions that you’ve asked. Now again, we’re not making content for psychiatrists. We’re not making content for family members. We’re glad you’re listening. You are more than welcome to be here, but we’re making content for people that live with bipolar disorder. So, at some point I had to I had to say, okay, I want to quit my job, take all my money, take all my time and invest it in that business. Why is that not mania? Because it sounds like mania. It sounds like grandiosity. It sounds like hypomania. It sounds like a quote, bipolar urge. In my case, it was not. How did I know that? And that is what we want to talk about on the podcast and really help people understand so that they can make those same decisions.

Dr. Nicole: Okay. So how did you know that? How did you know?

Gabe: Luck. Just dumb luck. I fell ass backwards into it. I there, it’s a risk, right? Some of it is risk.

Gabe: One of the ways that I knew about it. And this this is super, super important in my personal experience, every single idea that I have had at this level goes away after a couple of weeks.

Dr. Nicole: Okay.

Gabe: So, one of the things that I do, even to this day, right? I am 47 years old. I have been stable with bipolar disorder for 15 years, and I am still going to do this. If I get an idea in my head, I write it down, I commit it to memory, I talk to people about it and I wait a few weeks.

Dr. Nicole: Okay.

Gabe: I wait a few weeks, I wait a month, and then I decide if it is worth it and if I am still excited about it in a month, then the planning stages start. And when I say the planning stages start, I don’t want anybody to hear that. I hired like a team of experts and got a focus group and went to lawyers. No, I just made some notes like, okay, Gabe, if you want to be a mental health advocate, what do you need to do? And the first thing on that list, if we’re going back in time, was, I’m going to need a website, right? I’m going to need a website. I’m going to need some business cards, I’m going to need a logo, I’m going to have to write a speech. And of course, if I’m going to give speeches, where am I going to give speeches? And I just kind of jotted them down, honestly, in the, in the notepad of, of my computer. I don’t want anybody to hear that I made, like a Harvard level business plan for this because I did not.

Dr. Nicole: But did you have to? So, I guess it still goes back to. Well, there’s a couple things that goes back to for me. So, the first thing I take from this is you had the ability to say, huh, I wonder if this is an episode or if this is like truly a good idea worth dealing with. You had the insight to be able to even make that statement within yourself. So that in and of itself tells me that you had not reached a level of instability where any idea that came out of your head was just going to be a bad one. You know, there are times when the lack of insight and it just if it isn’t there, it just makes the whole process such a mess. And it doesn’t sound like you had that. So, I think it’s hard for me to take that one thing in a bubble and just say, oh no, he wants to start a business. He must be manic. I would really want to have known what else was going on with you around that time. What was your sleep like? Were you making any other decisions that seemed erratic? Were you different personality wise? You know, talking to the people that are around you, that love you and know you? Did they notice anything different? If it’s just this one thing and it’s not those other things, then you’re right. We got to go back to okay, is this the start of an episode and is this your tail? Like, is this your. I get great ideas when I’m about to enter an episode. Is that your tail? Because for some people it is. Or is it just an idea? So, I love the thought that you give yourself a little time, like when you question yourself, that you gave yourself a couple weeks to just kind of kind of back off and let it stew a little bit and see if it still sounded like a good idea a couple weeks later.

Sponsor Break

Dr. Nicole: And we’re back discussing managing urges when you have bipolar disorder.

Gabe: One of the coping skills that I think that everybody needs to learn, not just people with bipolar disorder, is this idea of when is a decision coming out of an emotional place. Now, for those of us with bipolar disorder, we have difficulty managing our emotions. That’s, that’s pretty much what the disorder is. There’s there’s that big, big spectrum and we’re trying to exist on it. But I, I really think about, as longtime listeners know, my grandfather passed away over a year ago now, he was married to my grandmother for 70 years. And my grandmother got some grief counseling from her church. And one of the first things they said is, look, you’re not going to want to make any decisions for a year. You’re trying to decide if you want to live alone. Now that your husband of 70 years has died, that’s a really reasonable thing to start thinking about. Does she want to downsize? Does she want to live in the house? And it was made very clear to her that you’re not going to want to make that decision a month after your husband passes away? That’s not when you’re in the good mindset for it. And I thought that was a really powerful coping skill for people with bipolar disorder. You’re not going to want to make some of these bigger decisions, especially ones that you can’t easily get out of within a few weeks, or maybe even a few months of a gigantic episode.

Gabe: So, when I when I think about coping skills, the ability to hit pause and wait and see how you feel in a couple of weeks, I believe is a very powerful coping skill that those of us in recovery, working towards recovery, going to support groups, going to therapy, working with our Dr. Nicole we should learn that coping skill before it matters. That way we know the difference between making big life choices, which we are all going to have to make, and responding to bipolar urges because hey, it sounds really, really excited to quit your job, sell your house, cash out your 401 K, and I’m telling you, this is the next apple. This is the next Apple. It’s the next Google. And we hear this a lot. And it’s scary because the vast majority of people who have that enthusiasm about something, I mean, seriously, Dr. Nicole, I think anybody who has that level of enthusiasm often fails. We can all think of our relative, the get rich quick person, the invest in every single multi-level marketing that comes along. Right. But this bipolar podcast. So, I think that’s a very important skill for people with bipolar disorder to learn, manage, practice and think about often.

Dr. Nicole: I get that I want to get back to these urges because I think I’m still struggling with this whole urge thing. So basically, we’re saying that the urge could be a symptom.

Gabe: Could be.

Dr. Nicole: But it could also not be. And it could also, it sounds like not even be related to bipolar disorder.

Gabe: Perhaps.

Dr. Nicole: This is very gray. I don’t like this.

Gabe: Yeah, isn’t it? Doesn’t it suck to live with bipolar disorder?

Dr. Nicole: I don’t like this. This is very gray. I don’t, I don’t like this, Gabe.

Gabe: I wouldn’t like it if I were you either. Now think about how people living with bipolar disorder feel.

Dr. Nicole: I don’t like this. I don’t like it because I don’t know what to do about it. I don’t know what to do. Um, so. Okay, that’s. I’ll just accept and take the fact that I am not going to be okay with, uh, with this whole bipolar urge thing, but they exist, and I, I will accept that they exist. So then what else can we do to help somebody manage through them to prevent them from becoming bad juju? So, you talked about waiting a couple weeks. If you have that business plan, that great idea, kind of jot it down, put it in a drawer, come back to it later. Anything else a person can do during one of these, these urges, like what can we do to protect? What happens that makes you think, oh, this might be a problem. I might need to talk to somebody about this. What happens for you?

Gabe: Listen, I think everything’s a problem. That’s when I’m managing bipolar disorder. I think everything is a problem. Everything, right? I could I could go to work and have every single colleague say, that was amazing. I could, I could get, uh, Gabe, this was the greatest podcast ever. And I’d be like, okay, but what do you think about that sound blip at, uh, minute, uh, 31? Uh, what was that distracting? Did you think that they’re just like, what are you what are you talking about? Like what? What more do you need? Uh, I need all of it. Uh, so when you ask when I personally, Gabe, make it an external factor? Almost immediately.

Dr. Nicole: Okay. [Laughter]

Gabe: Almost immediately. Uh, but but I, I will fully acknowledge that is not the best coping skill that people with bipolar disorder can use. I think having a checklist is very, very powerful.

Dr. Nicole: Okay.

Gabe: Asking yourself, why is this a problem? What do you hope to achieve by doing this? What is the timeline for a result? How long has this been bothering you? Let’s talk about your example of spending $500 or any large sum of money on decorations. What would that internal checklist look like? Well, the first thing that I would ask myself is, why do I want to do this? Why is this time different from the other time? Is it a holiday where maybe the whole family is going to be together? Is it a special birthday? Am I feeling bad because, hey, I’m getting ready to turn 50 and I just want to throw a bash. Is it? You know, I’m doing well and people have thrown party after party after party that I’ve got to be.

Gabe: I’ve gotten to be a guest for the last ten years. So frankly, I just, I just think I owe it and I want, I want everything to look great. You mentioned decorations. I went straight to holidays and birthdays. Uh, maybe you’ve been saving money for so long and you’re sitting on that couch that’s got that, you know, that one spring that just, hits your thigh in just the wrong spot and you’re like, hey, I, I think maybe I’m just I’m just ready to upgrade my life and to reward myself for all my hard work. Okay. Those start to become compelling reasons to do things. And of course, adding it with the I let a few weeks or even a few months pass. That can be a very compelling reason that you are making good decisions. But what do you do with the urges in the meantime? And the answer is you live with them. You sit on them. You feel them. People think that urges are bad. I don’t think that urges are any more bad than anger. People think that anger is bad. Listen, nothing has ever changed in the world until somebody got mad at it. Nobody has ever done anything new, gotten a new hobby, decorated, done anything big without having the urge to do so.

Dr. Nicole: Mm-hmm.

Gabe: The question is from the time of the urge to the time of, you know, doing it. If that all happens in an afternoon. You may be causing yourself some trouble. Also, if that urge, if fulfilling it, takes resources away from other things like rent, mortgages, your kids’ dentures. Do kids wear dentures?

Dr. Nicole: Kids? [Laughter]

Gabe: I probably should have said braces there. Dr. Nicole if you’re starting to pull medical funds away,

Dr. Nicole: Yes.

Gabe: If that urge involves quitting your job without a plan to get a new job or to make a living, that’s when you know you’re not managing these urges well.

Dr. Nicole: Yeah, I think the best question is, if I spend the $500, am I going to go without something I need or something important because I spent the $500? The question of is my hobby just a hobby or is it becoming an obsession? If I’m going to spend money on supplies for this hobby that are going to interfere with my ability to take care of my needs, it might be a problem if I’m so engrossed in this hobby that I’m not sleeping, and I’m not taking care of things I need. It might be a problem if I’m locked up in my room with my hobby, and I don’t see my wife and my kids for hours because I’m doing this, it might be a problem. So, thinking about what is it replacing? Is it replacing something valuable and what does that look like, regardless of whether it’s money or a project or whatever? I think those will be good questions to add to your checklist. I like the checklist idea.

Dr. Nicole: And we talk all the time about how sometimes when you live with illnesses like that, everything for you is framed around the bipolar disorder. But this is a normal human thing. This is not I’m a grown man. I don’t need a checklist. Just because I have bipolar disorder doesn’t mean I can’t make decisions. Nobody said that I do not live with bipolar disorder and I have checklists for almost everything. If you don’t think that, I don’t check myself whenever I’m thinking, oh, I’m going to do this thing, I literally have to sit down with my schedule and say, oh, you want to take on this project? What are you removing to take it on? Are you removing sleep time? Are you removing time with your family? Like, these are things that happen for me on a regular basis. I don’t have bipolar disorder. Just because you do this advice is for everybody. It’s not because you have an illness. And if you feel yourself saying, there they go again, Dr. Nicole and her checklist and preplan it again, it’s just what I do, and I do it for everybody and I do it for myself. And it has nothing to do with your bipolar disorder.

Gabe: I think it’s also important to remember that the symptoms of bipolar disorder can make the mundane sound amazing. And anybody who’s experienced grandiosity, hypomania, mania, we all have these stories in our head of something that was now just frankly, a nonevent. But in the moment it felt incredible. We do need to have some understanding that this could be in the key word, impact our urges as well. And the reason I bring this up is because as we’re doing that checklist, as we’re talking to our trusted friends, as we’re being honest with ourselves and answering the questions, I think one of the questions that we need to ask ourselves and that we need to answer is, do I feel so strongly about this urge? Because it’s an incredible urge. It’s an incredible idea, and I’m excited about it and it’s worth doing. Or am I excited because of a bipolar mechanism? And that’s a difficult question to answer. Is my excitement driven by the idea, by the urge, or is my excitement driven by an external process potentially a symptom of bipolar disorder? Answering that question for yourself will help you decide next steps.

Dr. Nicole: I think that’s really great advice. And as hard of a thing as I know that that process can be, it’s still 100% necessary.

Gabe: All right, Dr. Nicole, we’ve talked about the urge and we’ve talked about the checklist, but let’s talk about other things that we can do. Right. We’ve got the urge. We went through the checklist, but now we’ve got this big idea. Right. Let’s. You said $500 for decorations. I’m going to make that $20,000.

Dr. Nicole: Okay.

Gabe: The urge to spend $20,000 on new, new decorations. It’s there. But you recognize that you can back that number down, right? You don’t have to decorate every single room in your house or your apartment all at the same time. Maybe you go room to room. Maybe instead of spending the $20,000 right out of the gate to redecorate your whole home, you just say, you know, I spent a lot of time in the living room, and that’s where I entertain. I’m going to start there. That’s $5,000, and I know that I can afford $500 a month over the next ten months. So that 12 months, same as cash, gives me a two-month buffer. This is a good plan for me. And then if you get ahead, if you make some extra money, you got your side hustle going. You get that raise. Maybe six months from now, you move on to your bedroom. You move on to the kitchen. Planning stages are often ignored when it comes to managing urges with bipolar disorder, right? It doesn’t have to be all or nothing. The urge that you have does not need to be the plan that you make. Because if it did, listen, let’s go back to me, right. I wanted an NPR podcast making $10 million a year. That was my urge. That was not reasonable. But I made a plan that was slowly and over a lot of time with a lot of help. I don’t want anybody to hear that. It was easy.

Dr. Nicole: Well, that was your goal, right? Like that was

Gabe: Yes.

Dr. Nicole: Your ultimate goal. Uh, that was your goal. Your urge was all the other stuff, right? That I quit my. I’m. I’m gonna. I’m. Oh, I’m quitting. I got you had the itch. You had the itch to just quit and take all your money and go put it into that. But because you were able to plan and take some steps back and think a little clearer about things, it sounds like that was helpful for you. So, this is the equivalent of you’re putting the plan in the drawer for two weeks for people who spending, for those people who have spending issues as part of their urges. One of the things I’ve seen be very valuable. I have people who freeze their credit, who don’t allow themselves to impulsively just go out and spend and get new lines of credit opened, uh, without them physically having to call the credit bureaus and unfreeze it. Uh, I have people who give their credit cards to loved ones that they have to actually go to and say, hey, can I get that credit card? I’m gonna be doing this thing and I need it. And that person already has the questions in line because you’ve already talked about it. So, there are equivalents of the putting the plan in the drawer for two weeks for really whatever your urge is, it’s just a matter of you figuring out what do I need to have in place for me and then go on.

Gabe: I know we’re running low on time, but. But whenever I do a podcast like this, I really, really, really, really, really want to emphasize that urges are not bad. It’s the execution of the urge that’s often bad. I, I get the urge to do all kinds of things. I, I got the urge the other day to, to take everybody to Disney. Right. That’s a great urge. And I even looked it up online. Disney is very expensive. I cannot afford to take everybody to Disney. The urge itself wasn’t bad and it led to someplace good. We have amusement parks in my state that we can drive to that are we don’t have to fly. That lowers costs, right? It’s not Disney, so it’s completely cheaper. And then we were and then I said, look, I can’t afford to take all of you. And they’re like, hey, we’ll throw in some money. Can you maybe subsidize us a little? And all of a sudden me and my family were, we’re going to go to a local theme park that’s just a couple of hours away. So, the urge was fantastic, that urge to take everybody to Disney, because I saw a sitcom at 3 a.m. really did lead someplace great. And I want to make sure that people aren’t beating themselves up because they have urges and equating them to bipolar disorder. Because here’s the rub. I don’t know if that urge was because of grandiosity. I don’t know if that urge was because of hypomania or mania or bipolar disorder at all. Maybe that urge was this family looks really happy. And you know, my granddaughter is not going to be young forever. My nieces and nephews, they’re not going to be young forever. And maybe I want to experience a little bit of that.

Dr. Nicole: Right.

Gabe: And here I am wondering if that urge was because of bipolar disorder. So, urges are not bad.

Dr. Nicole: No, and.

Gabe: Execution of urges can be bad.

Dr. Nicole: It can be. And we often talk about how sometimes people who have bipolar disorder put a little more weight onto their bipolar disorder in their behavior than I sometimes think they need to. Those are just happen for a reason. Why do you think Disney paid that much for that commercial slot so that you would be sitting on your sofa going, I want to go to Disney World. Why do you think the stores put things the way that they put them, advertising those impulse shelves at the end of the aisle to catch you when you walk by? It’s all designed that way that that is literally the point of marketing and advertising. There’s a whole science behind it. It just means they’re doing their job. It doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a bad thing. Like you said, the execution is where the bad part can come in. Because if you then say, I want to go to Disney and I’m going to wipe out my 401 K to do so because it feels like a good idea. That might be where the mania is creeping in that that might be the problem, but just the urge itself, like, show yourself some grace. I mean, that’s kind of how life is supposed to go. That’s why they spend all that money.

Gabe: The bottom line, to put it as plainly as possible, is that everybody has urges, but people who live with bipolar disorder have to learn to manage those urges in context with bipolar disorder. It’s not easy, but it’s absolutely doable. And I want to make sure that everybody hears that having urges is not wrong. It’s just part of the normal human existence. But remember worrying about bipolar symptoms, worrying about how urges impact your bipolar symptoms. This is all part of reaching recovery with bipolar disorder. My name is Gabe Howard and I am an award-winning speaker and I could be available for your next event. And listen, I’d love to bring Dr. Nicole with me. Somebody should really look into that. I also wrote a book, “Mental Illness Is an Asshole and Other Observations,” which you can get on Amazon because, well, everything’s on Amazon. However, you can grab a signed copy with free show swag just by heading over to my website, gabehoward.com.

Dr. Nicole: And I’m Dr. Nicole Washington. You can find me on all social media platforms @DrNicolePsych or at my website, DrNicolePsych.com.

Gabe: And listen. Can you do Dr. Nicole and I a favor? Recommend the podcast to people, share it on social media, send people an email, share it in support groups. You know those super-secret rooms where you’re talking about living with bipolar disorder? Mention the podcast there because sharing the show is how we’re going to grow. We will see everybody next time on Inside Bipolar.

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