We never really know the content of others’ thoughts, if they think in the same way as we do, in words, conversation, images, or impulses. When I was in my twenties, I sought and received psychotherapy for depression, but didn’t know I had bipolar type II disorder. High achievers, those with racing thoughts and workaholic leanings, were not diagnosed as bipolar back in the 80’s and early 90’s. We maintained a facade of normalcy. We held jobs, had stable relationships, paid our bills, stayed out of trouble. In the midst of achieving, of maintaining, I struggled with disturbing thoughts and impulses that made no sense.
One day while waiting for the BART train in San Francisco, I found myself with an unsettling intrusive thought, image and impulse. For no reason whatsoever, I felt compelled to push a stranger in front of the train. I thought the thought, I saw an image of myself pushing the stranger in front of the train, I felt the impulse to do so, and I had to argue with myself, restrain myself to prevent me from doing so. I told myself, “You feel no anger toward this person. Even if you were angry, it is wrong to push people in front of trains. It is murder. If you pushed that person in front of the train, he would die.” I felt no murderous rage. Absolutely no feeling attached itself to the thought, the image, the impulse. Yet, I had to struggle with myself, hold an unseen internal debate, to rein in the impulse. I wondered if other people had similar thoughts, similar impulses, and if so, why weren’t people getting pushed in front of trains all of the time. Because I was working really hard not to do so, for that action was extremely egodystonic for me. I saw myself as a good, helpful, loving person, not a killer.
When driving over bridges or on windy mountainous roads, I’ve had similar impulses, and had to argue, “Kitt, you cannot fly. If you drove off this bridge/cliff, you would die. You do not want to die. You would devastate many people – friends, family, suicidal psychotherapy clients – if you did so. Stop. Stay on this road, on this bridge, do not drive off it.” Then there have been lesser impulses with associated images of me hanging up the phone mid-conversation for no reason, seeing myself throwing plates without any of the passionate fury usually connected with that act.
Never have I come close to killing anyone, nor have I driven off any bridge or cliff. I do understand, though, what it is like to have unsettling impulses and thoughts. For me, those impulses and thoughts conflict with my sense of self, my ability to reason, my internal moral compass.
Under different circumstances, fueled by rage, not compulsion, I have broken a couple of plates and slammed a few doors. I am a fiery Irish lass, after all.