Woman at desk with bills, coffee, and laptop frets over money impulses

My Experience with Impulsivity

This is the second of 2 articles on dealing with impulsivity. In the first part, "The Problem of Impulsivity and Parkinson's Disease," I discuss the causes of impulsivity.

My struggle with impulsivity started soon after I was prescribed Mirapex. I began shopping and buying things online. The problem takes 2 forms. Sometimes I buy something I don’t need and I’m unsure why I made the purchase.  Other times I am looking for an item I need but, I spend more than necessary.

My behavior is very upsetting for my wife. She budgets a certain amount of money, and I will overspend by 1 to 2 thousand dollars. Let me share an example.

Shopping and overspending

I love ukuleles. The occupational therapist suggested music therapy. The music therapist suggested the ukulele and I was hooked. A nice beginner's ukulele costs $50 - $150. I was able to find one for $80, but I wasn’t happy, so within a week found a reason to get another.

I spent another $120.  Within a week I came up with an excuse to get another for $300. Then another for $450. I also bought ukulele accessories such as cases, tuners, strings straps, and more. The total cost for accessories was over $2500.

The bottom line was that I spent almost $4000 on ukuleles and accessories in less than 3 months.  Ukuleles weren’t the only things I was shopping for. I spent hours online finding things I didn’t need. The total was almost $10,000.

It leads to stress

I was stressed, anxious, and sleeping poorly before and after each purchase. I came up with reasons to make or justify another purchase. It’s a vicious cycle. I get stressed and anxious, then develop the urge to make a purchase.

I make the purchase and my wife gets frustrated, angry, and stressed. In turn, I get frustrated, anxious, and stressed so I find a reason justifying another purchase and it becomes an endless loop. I am hoping to break the cycle.

I’m talking with my care team and was put on a low dose of lamotrigine. I talk with my wife about the purchase before making another mistake. I attempt to distract myself when the urge hits.

I practice breathing exercises and meditate to curb the impulse. I plan on resolving stress by listening to music or reading. I wish it were easy. It’s not. Despite all I do, I’m still tempted. I’m seeing progress though.

Dealing with the problem

How do you recognize you have a problem? A good starting point is whether you’re taking a dopamine agonist drug.  If you are, then ask yourself questions about your behavior:

  1. Why am I engaging in the behavior?
  2. Am I engaging in the behavior frequently or repetitively?
  3. What am I risking by engaging in the activity?
  4. Does the activity or behavior help me feel better?
  5. Does my behavior bother me or others?
  6. Is my behavior hurting the relationships with my spouse, family members, or friends?
  7. Has anyone said my behavior is a problem?
  8. Is my behavior causing me financial or legal problems?

Sometimes we can’t recognize the problem. It’s okay to ask others. Look for patterns in your behavior. You can always talk with your doctor and care team.

Planning ahead

Once it’s identified, what can you do about impulsivity? Parkinson’s disease is challenging enough without this added to the mix. First, make sure to talk with your doctor or a medical professional. Here are some tactics I use for coping with impulsivity.

Know or try to learn what triggers the behavior. Identify what leads you into temptation and avoid it. Looking backward in time, before the behavior, to find the factors leading you into the behavior.

Plan responses to the triggering activity ahead of time. Like wildfire, impulsive behaviors, are easier to prevent than contain once they start.

Coping skills

Try something different to distract you from the undesired behavior. Practice mindfulness or meditate. You can try a distraction technique such as naming all the fruit you can imagine, say the alphabet backward. Leave the area. Take a walk. The point is to redirect yourself and spend your time and effort doing something positive.  Find what works for you.

Be kind and patient with yourself and others. It takes time to change behavior. Like any skill, it takes consistent and repetitive practice.

Be forgiving of yourself because there are inevitably going to be failed attempts. Be as patient and forgiving of others as you want them patient and forgiving of you.

Talk to your doctor

I want to emphasize checking with your doctor and medical care team. The solution could be a different dopamine agonist medication added to your regimens like aripiprazole or lamotrigine. Perhaps it may be a reduction of the medication causing impulsivity.1 Whatever the solution is make sure to keep your doctor informed.

I hope the information I’ve shared, gives you some insight into impulsivity. I also hope you will examine your actions. If you are in a struggle to get control of your behavior, please talk with your healthcare provider.

Make efforts to ask yourself some tough questions. Answer them honestly and don’t rationalize your behavior. If you struggle with controlling your behavior, there is hope.

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