I won’t lie, I lack motivation a lot. I can be the queen of procrastination. It’s not a desirable trait, to me or those around me. When there’s a task that needs doing and I’m feeling particularly apathetic, I get cranky. I whine. I sigh. It’s irritating. Smaller tasks are not so bad, but if it requires a certain amount of effort, I really have to convince myself to get going. I’m certain that part of it is just laziness. Everyone, normals included, has days where we just don’t want to do anything. Brushing your teeth even sounds like a waste of time, even though you’ve got time in spades because you’re not doing anything else. So what’s the deal and how do we cope?
What’s the deal?
Our brains are different. People with bipolar disorder have distinct differences in brain structure and function. These differences are mostly found in the left, front side of the brain, the prefrontal cortex. Unfortunately for us, that’s where a lot of important things happen, like decision making, emotional regulation, memory and creativity. The good news is that we’re actually more creative. The bad news is that we’re worse at all the other things.
For now, let’s focus on decision making and emotional regulation. When it comes to motivation, you have to actively decide to do something and when you’re deciding to do something unappealing, logic often has to come into play. “I don’t want to do this, but I need to.” Now, I know very few Vulcans so most people I come into contact with make decisions based on a combination of both logic and emotion. With bipolar disorder, this becomes more difficult. See, the emotional part of our brain tends to shout louder than the logical sometimes and it’s hard to shut it down to make the right decision. With depression, that emotion is usually despondency, and it makes you want to curl up in a ball and escape from the world. With mania, it’s logic-be-damned. Spontaneity is key and I’ll do what I want. It takes a great deal of concentration to get past that.
How do we cope?
Good news! There are a few general ways to deal with a lack of motivation.
-Take your meds.
It sounds way too simple, but it’s true. We take medications because they work. Billions of dollars are poured into research to figure out what to do with our unconventional zombie food. We spend years figuring out a regimen to make us feel better and more like how we see ourselves being “normal.” Don’t just throw that away. Believe me, I know that mania can feel great, but try to remember the crash that comes after. Yes, I’m telling you this after I just said that’s hard to do. You may also ignore your medication because you don’t realize how much you need it. It’s time to accept reality. Talk to your doctors. Talk to your psychiatrists. You may need more treatment or you may even need less. Figure it out and stick to it. If you have trouble remembering to take your meds, set an alarm. Make it part of your routine. Carry a couple with you in case you happen to be out when the time comes to take them. Trust me (and research), coping is many times easier when you stick to your meds.
When it comes to motivation, most people are more likely to respond to rewards rather than punishment. This is especially relevant to bipolar patients. We don’t deal well with shame and punishment, which we tend to inflict upon ourselves when we don’t complete tasks or we make poor decisions. So, set up a system. Make a to-do list. When you add a task to the list, put a comparable reward with it. Did you exercise? If yes, you can treat yourself to a mini-binge on your video-streaming service of choice. There are numerous examples of what you can do to reward yourself. Make it personal, and something you’d actually want. You’re more likely to complete the task that way. Oh, and don’t cheat!
-Give yourself a break
If you didn’t know that shame doesn’t work before, consider yourself informed. The more you shame yourself or pile on the guilt, the less likely you are to do something to fix it. Guilt becomes a cycle, and escaping is incredibly difficult. Don’t put too much pressure on yourself. Know your real limits (not the ones depression and occasional laziness give you). For the vast majority of things, the world will not fall apart if you put it off a day when you’re having a really hard time. Learn to trust yourself that you know the difference.
What are your coping mechanisms? Let me know on Twitter @LaRaeRLaBouff