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What Not To Do (When You're Depressed, Anxious, Drunk or High)

Know when not to believe what you think

I've met clients over the years who, in various conversations, said quite emphatically that one of their regrets is that they did something really impulsive when they were in a less than functional mindset: they were really really depressed, unbelievably anxious, or drunk or high on something like...(fill in the blank).

A good part of successfully surviving your life is knowing when not to listen to yourself. You've probably heard the standard advice over the year: don't try cut your own hair or get a tattoo when you're drunk; don't decide to tell your boss off and quit your job when you're really angry; don't go to a mall or hit the internet when you're depressed and have a strong craving for shopping therapy; don't ever decide out of the blue to call or text your mother-in-law (or mother, best friend, ex boy/girlfriend) and tell them what you really think; don't handle heavy machinery unless it's between 8 and 11am and you have on full protective gear.

But I was wondering about the other, less obvious don'ts that you need to avoid when emotions or self-medications have taken over. Here is a quick list that I've brainstormed.

• Don't bring up that affair your spouse had 20 years ago.

• Don't take a do-or-die stand with your kids about cleaning up their rooms

• Don't go to a bar hoping to get lucky.

• Don't try to balance your checkbook or do your taxes.

• Don't take an air, train, or even car trip anywhere that you hadn't planned at least 24 hours ago.

• Don't get into heavy online chatrooms.

• Don't set goals for the next 10 years or decide to do a big retrospective of your life.

• Don't cook anything with more than three ingredients or involving high heat.

• Don't engage in any potentially reckless, spur of the moment acts: bungee jumping, dragstripping, wasabi shots...anything the Jackass guys would do.

• Don't handle guns, pitchforks, shaving razors, potential lethal weapons of any kind, etc.

• Don't try and start a serious talk with your teenager about her personal life.

• Don't try and start a serious talk with your spouse about your sex life. Or money. Or the kids. Or his parents.

There are obviously plenty more and you're welcome to add to the list. The theme here is avoiding any impulsive behavior driven by any thoughts of "Why not," "I deserve this," "We're settling this once and for all" or "Sure, I can absolutely do this."

The problem with this list or any good advice is that it quickly goes out the window, or out of your rational brain, as soon as you get upset or drugged. Your prefrontal lobes, that sanctuary of reason, can easily go into sleep mode under these conditions, leaving you at the mercy of the what's left: your emotionally rampant amygdala, your pleasure-obsessed midbrain, the reptilian cerebellum that sees everything as fight-or-flight. With prefronts out to lunch and these guys in charge, left to their own devices and itching for trouble, whatever happens next can't be good.

What to do:

Catch it early: if you know when you wake up that you are feeling depressed or a bit jittery and obsessive, say to yourself that this is not a good day for big decisions or impulsive acts. That doesn't mean you sweep things under the rug that bother you, but hold them in reserve, make a list in fact, and look at it when your brain is more sane, your mood is better, your prefrontal lobes are back on duty. In the meantime do what you have to do, keep with your routines, wait it out.

Make the list: actually get in the habit of writing down, rather than acting on, those WONDERFUL ideas (studying shamanism in Mexico?) that come up when you are in some altered state. If it really is wonderful, you'll know it the next day. If you can't read your handwriting or remember that you wrote it down, you weren't in a good place and need to discard the whole thing.

Borrow someone else's prefrontal lobes: get a reality check from someone you trust, someone who is good at giving you straight feedback: your mother, your sister, your sponsor, the guy who plays 3rd base on your softball team...someone that you are not afraid of contacting out of the blue and who won't delete you when he sees the caller ID.

Post a list: put a list of things not to do, or better yet to positively do when any of these impulsive acts rise to the surface: don't cut your hair or call your mother, or go for a walk around the block, write your ideas down in your journal, go to bed, take a nap and sit by your partner and watch stupid TV. Put the list on your refrigerator so you can easily find it, no password required.

Of course we are not talking about the obvious question: namely why do you get into these states at all. That's a bigger and ultimately a more important question.

Give it some thought, only wait till you're less high, angry, drunk, you get the idea.

And if you happen to be reading this and you think it sounds WONDERFUL, bookmark it and read it again tomorrow.

More from Robert Taibbi L.C.S.W.
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