Why Can’t I Make a Decision?

3 weeks ago I was diagnosed with Bipolar 2. I still am having a hard time accepting it. My question is how come I cannot make a decision for anything. When it comes to my life and making a decision about my career or schooling, I cannot make a decision, I just can’t do it. I have struggled with this my entire life too. Now it just seems worse. I have been out of school for a year trying to figure out what I wanted to do with my life, and I have just gone back and forth not able to pick something and stick with it. What do I do?

I was diagnosed with Bipolar II in January 2011 and it has been a slow process with regards to being able to accept that I have it. I think that for most people, finding out that one has bipolar disorder can be quite the “shock to the system”. I always knew that there was something wrong but was given incorrect diagnoses for years. When I reflect back to previous years I notice all sorts of things in myself that can often be explained by thoughts and behaviors that have stemmed from my bipolar disorder. My disorder has had an impact on a lot of things in my life and as a result I have struggled with many things.

One of those things has been “decision making” in the past and the present. I often have a lot of difficulty with making a decision/s and sticking with them so I can relate well to your question. Your question is a good one but is a fairly “loaded question”. There really is no one answer for it but I will give you my thoughts on the subject and a few suggestions which will hopefully help. It is just a guess but I am wondering if that part of your struggle with making decisions is related to how far you have come with accepting your diagnosis and whether you are “stable or unstable” at the time of making a decision. It is also important that you are being treated for your illness by a doctor as many of us need medication to help stabilize us. If we are not stable we will generally have all sorts of struggles with things like decision making.

For me how I make a decision is really very dependent on whether I am in a “stable state” at the time of making any particular decision. For instance when my bipolar symptoms flare up and I am struggling with either depression or mania my “judgement” is usually quite impaired. My thought processes are generally speeded when mania is present and slowed down during depressive episodes. When this occurs I am imbalanced and I tend to be “all over the place”. Not only do I experience poor judgement but I also struggle with having poor focus and can be quite impulsive in my thinking. As one can imagine this really impacts my ability to think clearly and make a good decision.

In addition my mood can affect the kind of decisions that I make. One day I may be on a “high” and think that I am taking the correct steps to make a good decision. However my thoughts are so fast that in reality I am really not thinking everything through. I usually end up making a very impulsive decision when I am in a manic state. In the past those impulsive decisions have come back and have bitten me in the butt. On the contrary if I am in a depressive state my thoughts are slowed and are generally quite negative. So again my thought process is not at a level of stability thus I make poor decisions as I am not capable of thinking things through as much as I should.

Having said all of that what does one do to make a good decision and stick with it? Again there is not any one answer to this question. Often times for me it has been a “trial and error” type of process. In other words try to learn from your past mistakes when having made a “poor decision”. Other things that I have found helpful are seeing a counsellor or a psychologist. If you are currently not seeing anyone for counselling I would suggest that you discuss this with your doctor. A good doctor can often help you with decision making and/or refer you to a counsellor or a psychologist who can help you. During times of instability I have been able to discuss my struggles with decision making in counselling sessions. I have also spoken with a trusted friend or family member to see what they think when I am having trouble with making a decision. Sometimes they can give you some good feedback and ideas which can help you see some things which you may not have thought of.

When I am in a stable state I have noticed that my thinking is quite clear and I am generally able to think about what the ramifications may be with any given decision that I am to make. I am able to look at the pros and cons and then make a decent decision. As far as sticking to a decision goes, again I think it depends on one’s level of stability. If you are stable and functioning well you will likely find that making a decision and sticking to it is a lot easier during those times. I think that the more self-awareness one can have the more insight you will gain into yourself and that tends to help with decision making as well.

Having some good concrete goals to obtain can also help one stay on track and help you make a decision. Goals give us direction, focus, and hope for the future. Another suggestion is to write things down, a list of pros and cons and any kind of options that you can think of as brainstorming can be very useful with regards to making a decision. One final last piece of advice is when you are struggling with making a final decision about something, “sleep on it”. Try to be patient with the process and re-think things as this will help you to slow down, think things through and help you make a rational decision. Thank you for your question and I hope that I have given you some good suggestions. If you have any comments or future questions please send them to us at www.askabipolar.com.

5 thoughts on “Why Can’t I Make a Decision?

  1. I so want to tell you that EVERYTHING will just ‘pop’ into place and you will know exactly what you should be doing with your life. I have two undergraduate degrees, an MBA, and a Doctorate in Religious Writings which seem a good start for a thirty-five-year-old! (I’m forty-two, now.) However, twelve years ago my bipolar gene decided to appear and I have been fighting the battle ever since.

    The years have actually taught me that I can’t truly trust myself no matter what a highly functioning brain might say. I see a spectrum from family to friends to work partners where I have said, at times, some of the most foolish things that have ruined relationships. It hurts my heart. I can only pray that you are not as bad as I and that you have a better grasp on your actions to know what is what is right and what is the disease. TAKE TIME TO MAKE EACH AND EVERY DECISION – LOT’S OF IT!

  2. Thank you for reading the post about decision making and for your comments Christian. I agree that having bipolar can be a battle at times and that it is wise to take time when making any kind of decision.

  3. I, too, have noticed I have a strong characteristic where I am unable to (or subconsciously unwilling to) make a decision. It’s been hell for school and work (I had/have a 5.0 GPA, but because of this problem, I went to a community college, and nothing’s coming of it). I even question my sexuality, and have trouble deciding what I desire, even though it’s clear in my head and thoughts what I truly want.

    I would love nothing more than to be a clinical psychologist and study the brain and behavior. I’m not just lazy or apathetic; there is honestly a problem. Bi-polar, schizophrenia (maybe), depression, anxiety, and personality disorders run in the family. I’m dealing with so much at the moment, and I’m surprised to say, this one about my inability to make decisions, is one of the most debilitating characteristics I have.

  4. Hi,

    Thanks for this blog. I was panicking today and I typed ‘I cannot make any decisions’. I feel I go crazy. I am also diagnosed with Bipolar II but I haven’t accepted my diagnosis and the treatment. I was diagnosed for years with depression and anxiety and the antidepressants drove me mad. Since I stopped them I felt much better but the level of stress at the moment is unbelievable. I am about to submit my PhD thesis and I am struggling so much that sometimes I feel I am better off. I cannot make a decision about going to yoga or stay to do some more writing, get a holiday or stay in the office every day and night to write a bit more, eat fruit or eat a cake… I am seriously so confused that I don’t know hoe to handle the situation. I keep thinking of trying the meds but I am scared of the side effects. I have only 2 months left to finish my thesis and I do not know how it will affect my writing process.Please help me to decide!

  5. Take the meds. It can’t be worse than what you’re going through now. Accept the diagnosis too. There are many people who have this illness. You aren’t alone.

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