Unimportant Decisions and Bipolar Depression
Help! I can't decide what to watch! I woke up this morning, after a raft of disturbing dreams, and I realized in short order I had some extra bipolar depression to deal with. I realized this when I sat in front of my television and couldn’t decide what to watch. Or if to watch TV at all. I had a whole whack of programs recorded in front of me and every one felt “wrong.” I stared at the TV. I stared at the computer. I couldn’t make the commitment to pick up the computer nor turn to a TV show.
A decision like this would normally be made in moments. Maybe seconds, at the longest. And I would guess that the average person wouldn’t see the difficulty with this situation. But this type of decision can make a depressed person freeze. This type of tiny, meaningless decision can turn a bipolar brain in to a bipolar rock. This type of decision can be so overwhelming that it eclipses all else and produces a state of paralysation.
Bipolar Depression and Indecisiveness
Indecisiveness is a symptom of depression. It’s not one that people tend to talk about, but it is one that causes problem in daily life. We make hundreds, maybe thousands of decisions a day – some conscious and some not – and just imagine if you brain couldn’t make them. Just imagine going into the kitchen to decide what to eat and becoming incapacitated at the choice between chicken and fish.
Again, I think this is hard for the average person to wrap their head around but the choices seem impossible to make. It feels like Sophie’s Choice over simple things like what to wear. I can’t tell you why choices feel so overwhelming, I can only tell you that they do. I can only say that every choice seems like the wrong one.
Maybe this is due to apathy. Maybe this is due to anhedonia. If you don’t want anything, or if you don’t like anything, then no choice appears better than any other.
I suspect there is more to it than that, though. I suspect the problem lives deep in the roots of whatever bipolar depression really is. It lives somewhere in the decision-processing parts of the brain.
Making Unimportant Decisions with Bipolar Depression
I think, when incapacitated by indecision, it’s important to step back and remember that few choices truly matter. So if I step back and do something else entirely – like take a walk or pet the cat or clean the bathroom – somehow it’s easier to remember that the decisions are mostly meaningless and any choice, really, is okay. Just pick one – any one – and go with it. (Because I will say that the choices feel less “wrong” once you’re committed.)
[Of course, if the decision really does matter then it’s much harder, but I’ll have to save that for another article.]
Tracy, N. (2014, May 6). Unimportant Decisions and Bipolar Depression, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2022, December 3 from https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/breakingbipolar/2014/05/unimportant-decisions-and-bipolar-depression
Author: Natasha Tracy
This is so fascinating! I've always had a tough time making decisions, but have recently been pretty down in the dumps and having an AWFUL time making stupid decisions! It's SO dumb...
In recent months, I've had a death in the family and an apartment fire and had to move residences (and I'd gotten to the point where making even the tiniest decision seemed overwhelming). I didn't realize my depression could be the CAUSE of my indecision until I read these articles by Natasha. Thank you!
I've literally spent a month trying to decide which of the two bedrooms in my new apartment I wanted to sleep in (I'd use the other as a den or study). In the meantime, I'm sleeping on the couch. That's crazy.
After I read this article yesterday, I moved my mattress into Bedroom #1 and got a good night's sleep for the first time in FOREVER.
P.s. its not just on what to eat..ha. its everything. From what to wear, to what to do, so on and so on. I thought that maybe getting a massive whiteboard and organising everything beforehand so I dont have to make any on the spot decisions might help but then hiw would I decide on what to put on it?! Argh, nightmare haha
Oh my god im the same, except its every second if everyday. Im not bipolar though, I have dissociative identity disorder, bpd and other stupid conditions. I cannot decide anything and trying to overwhelms me completely. Not being able to also consumes me. I breakdown and stress out over the decision of what to eat so sometimes I just dont bother. Why is this? Im at the end of my tether. Its not a life at all. I feel so bitter and dead inside
I too struggle all day everyday with these same inabilities to make virtually ANY decision, especially small ones that don't matter.
Although it is comforting reading this column about others who can relate -
Did I miss something? I was hoping that I would find some answers in this post on how to reverse or manage (without prescription drugs). Any help??
I'm 69 yrs old and still suffer from making decisions, even the smallest decisions are hard to make. I'm thankful that I'm retired and don't have to go out everyday. If people could only understand how difficult life is being bipolar.
It was great to hear the experiences of others who have trouble making small decisions. One other thing that distresses me is making lists of things I feel are important when I am "feeling good"and then not being able to carry them them out when I become depressed. The things that were important to me become no longer important so it becomes really hard to make a decision on where to start. And if I feel that a whole day has been wasted I get down on myself and feel like I am just being lazy. Guilt and regret is what follows. But knowing that others are going through the same thing makes me feel less isolated. Thanks everyone for sharing.
Great piece on an important topic. I can't count all the people I've met whose depression limited their concentration, confidence, & decisiveness. I reassure them that it's all part of the depression, thus quite treatable and completely reversible. Many people fear they've developed Alzheimers or some such. Not so.
I have the decision making problem, too, when I'm depressed (which is much of the time) but it turns out in hindsight, when I had the truly paralyzing inability to decide anything while depressed, the psychiatric drugs I was taking were compounding the problem significantly. Off all meds for over 4 years now, I still have decision making problems when severely depressed, but it's not anywhere near the same level. I believe the cognitive damage that these drugs cause to some people (I suspect most, but who knows?) is a major culprit. At the time I was on the drugs, I did not realize how impaired I was.
I have this problem oftem oftem it is about showering and what parts of the house to clean and which one first. I have trouble vaccuming or loading the dishes first. Then if i dont plan my day first where i will go what i will do often nothing gets done. Nice to know im not alone.
I let my manic self take care of my depressed self. Since I go thru depression and mania at least once a month, I have to learn how to function or not. My manic self makes the food, washes clothes, does the housework; my depressed self eats the food, wears the clothes, and doesn't worry about housework. It beats beating myself up during depressions. Most of the time this works for me. Because, if a decision or action takes more than 3 steps, I can't do it in a depression and it's very frustrating and makes me hate this disorder and my life. It's better for me to roll with the moods, DBT theory or something; although my manic self can get overwhelmed sometimes with all the preparations I have to make for the depression. If I can laugh at myself, all the better.
Thank you for sharing this: I felt like "going with the flow" is the best decision. But then again I was blaming myself for being lazy. Good to know other people see this as a solution!
Natasha--thank you so much!!!! I will take a look at all of it. :)
I sincerely thought I was the only one. Thank you for sharing and so accurately describing our type of indecision. When I've tried to confess my feelings of being overwhelmed by such little things to friends or family, I've often been laughed at or just dismissed as "always making a mountain out of a molehill".
My most recent strategy has to been to write tasks (both chores and fun things) on popcicle sticks. When I find myself pacing or staring at the wall unable to make the tiniest choice - I pull a stick. As you listed, often doing something completely different than what I'm facing shakes loose the frozen state.
Thanks again for sharing.
I have this problem all the time. I will spend hours trying to decide something simple like what to eat or where, eventually I give up because I can't decide and will just go to bed. I also have struggles with weird decisions like which shoes to wear outside and go through a million reasons in my head why I should pick each shoe and finally when I can't reach a decision I just stay inside. I even have troubles deciding when I should go to bed. Finding Tv shows are also challenging for me. There are many other seemingly easy decisions I can not make some days. It is nice to hear that I am not alone, I always thought it was just my issue that I was abnormal.
U should create a closed or secret group on FB so people can have more privacy as I am a closet beeper... I generally leave my decisions to my family or therapists
This is a first for me to hear about others talking of this type of behavior. Really has opened my eyes to what I call being weird. And yes it can back you up in a corner where I will do nothing. I stay up late reading or watching a movie and do not want to go to bed, afraid I will not sleep and waste time worrying about an uncomfortable feeling. But I panic early in the morning, and can't get back to sleep. Get up, and try to start my day, but can't stay awake and feel guilty because I may wake up at 9 or 10 AM and my day feels half gone.Can't figure out what's going on. I've quit alot of things I liked to do and will not approach the once pleasant times in my life. I also avoid our extra guest room because of family pictures, and memories of the deep depression and darkness that is associated within the walls. Seems so crazy!Maybe because remnants f these hobbies are in this room that I have given up.
Thank you for helping me recognize it isn't just me. It takes me hours to get ready in the morning just to go out for a walk because I have so many little decisions to make all the time and then I decide to skip going for a walk (or other activities or errands) because I cannot pull together all the little choices that someone else can make almost automatically or subconsciously to complete otherwise basic streams of action needed to complete simple daily functions. Again, thank you.
I've written on the topic on how to convince a person they need help and you can read the article here, but keep in mind that it is on my personal website and is not affiliated with HealthyPlace: http://natashatracy.com/mental-illness-issues/convincing-someone-get-help-mental-illness/
But there is also this book you should check out: http://www.youneedhelpbook.com/You_Need_Help/Overview.html
It's a book full of ideas on getting your loved one to get help. I heard the doctor who wrote it talk and he had thought of a few that I hadn't (my way is only one way) so I recommend you check it out.
I hope that helps.
- Natasha Tracy
my son is probably bi-polar and OCD and very paranoid. we required him to see a psychiatrist about four years ago. he went but would not cooperate and eventually left our home. we heard very little from him which was horrible. he is now 23 and recently (last week) moved back to our home. we desperately want him to see a psychiatrist but have not mentioned it yet because we are not sure of the best way to go about this. any advice? thank you!
I'm going through indecision right this moment. How serendipitous to come across your blog, Natasha!
Do you ever get a headache from trying to make decisions or "thinking too hard" about something? My therapist told me I have "analysis paralysis" and that I think too hard about stuff instead of just doing it.
I've been there, I remember trying to decide whether I brush my teeth, then have coffee or have coffee first, and that somehow making me anxious when I didn't know what to do, it seems so ridiculous......but when you are there in that moment it is real and everyday automatic decisions that aren't even decisions really when you are well become these hurdles you have to cross each day to get thru your day, putting on clothes, if you decide to put on clothes.
I guess this is why "they" say don't make important or life
Changing decisions when you aren't well, like as if you could!?
Don't forget humour to get you through this terrible time. Although perhaps that advice is misguided, I think my sense of humour went down the drain along with my self esteem when I was depressed.
This too shall pass
I keep a 10-sided die handy and will literally toss it to let random chance make meaningless decisions for me when I can't.