To be honest, this aspect of BPD is not really a surprise. At times, the need to act on impulses can be distracting and stressful, creating more “garbage” in your day than you really need. Other times impulsivity leads to light hearted, even humorous actions (about as humorous as BPD can get 🙂 ) that would appear quirky to the outside world. A darker side of BPD impulsivity is the act of self harm, ie. cutting, burning, or other disfiguring acts that come about suddenly and without any sort of reasonable forethought.
Just what do I mean when I say “BPD Impulsivity”? In broad strokes, I mean those mental hiccups that make us do things which create stress, distraction, or some degree of neurosis during day to day living. For example, while you’re reading this blog, your mind might be thinking: “Did I shut the car door all the way?”; or “I should lower the volume of the TV right now instead of finishing reading this blog first”; or “the ants crawling around on the floor are making me crazy!”.
On the surface these things might seem quite innocuous, but in reality they only serve to clog up the mind of a Borderline and send them in every direction except straight forward. It’s possible this could be a product of Attention Deficit Disorder (and/or Hyperactivity), or even some form of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. Speaking for myself, however, I’ve never had a diagnosis of those conditions, so I tend to conclude that my BPD is scrambling the signals in my mind.
Here are a few examples from my own life, from harmless to serious:
- The Impulse to rid my surroundings of annoying insects – Sometimes I’ll be working at my computer, and I’ll hear a mosquito buzz in my ear. Like anyone else, I initially shoo it away. A few minutes later, the bug returns and starts buzzing again. I hate mosquitoes and they make me crazy. So, instead of just ignoring the situation and continuing with my work, I immediately drop everything and spend 30 minutes hunting down the mosquito as it flies around my room. I don’t feel “relieved” of this impulse until there’s a dead bug on the ground. All this fuss creates unnecessary stress and wastes time.
- The Impulse to go to the bathroom even though it’s not urgent – After working all day, I like to watch TV in the evenings. I use this time to relax and unwind, and maybe even have a laugh if I’m watching a sitcom. I tell myself to hunker down in my chair and enjoy the free time away from life and my job. Ultimately, instead of just watching TV for an hour and going to bed, I find myself getting up and going to the bathroom (even during the shows, not just at commercial breaks) even if it’s not an emergency. The sudden urge to urinate passes through my mind, and instead of putting it aside for another hour, I feel the unabating need to get out out of my chair and “break up” my relaxation time. The end result produces free time that wasn’t really “free”, because I wasn’t allowing myself to unwind.
- The Impulse to Gamble – One symptom of BPD is the need to gamble, abuse substances, or pursue some other potentially reckless behavior as a way to self medicate. In my case, the poison is gambling. I turned 21 in college, and found the casino to be an irresistible distraction from my boring, lonely college life. It was a great escape from social pressures and feelings of worthlessness. Some nights when I was studying in the library, I’d have the sudden urge to gamble. Instead of ignoring this urge, I’d find myself in the car and exiting my college campus 5 minutes later. Truth be told, I once got pulled over by a policeman for speeding on my way to the casino, because I was so desperate for a rush and need to get out of my surroundings. I never really “planned” my trips to the casino, it was more just a way to release pressure from my BPD stress valve.
- The Impulse to Self Mutilate – I’ve detailed the tendency of Borderlines to self mutilate in a couple other blogs, but I also want to take this opportunity to say that sometimes, self mutilating behavior happens and we may not even know it. To return to my example of watching TV at the end of a long day, I’ll find myself sitting quietly in my chair, and then a couple minutes later my fingers will inch their way to my head and start to pick at my scalp. Other times, I’ll feel around my shoulders or back for pimples and squeeze them. In college this urge was much more dire: I would occasionally feel a sudden need to grind at my arm with a knife or do a “pain tolerance test” with a match and my flesh as proving grounds. I never planned to do these things, nor would even want to do them. I just found myself doing them at the spur of the moment, arising from stressful thoughts or depression.
I have to admit that it’s very hard to control impulsive behavior, unless one is in a highly focused mental state. If not, the BPD mind tends to wander towards the direction of low grade self abuse or some other inane activity that opens the proverbial “can of worms” emotionally and physically.
Is spending a half hour chasing a mosquito around my room, getting more frustrated as each moment passes, really a good use of my time? Absolutely not – but sometimes no matter how hard I try to avoid impulsive behavior, it just takes over my mind anyway.