Did I Say That Out Loud? Neurodivergence and Impulsive Behavior

I just can’t help myself. And, believe me, I’ve tried.

Living with neurodivergence, I am constantly dealing with impulsive behavior. Over the years, though, I’ve managed to rein it in a bit. Kinda sorta. Like, it’s still there but life has taught me to wait a beat before buying that super cool thing or doing that really fun-looking activity. And, a lot of the time, I’m able to wait. Not always, but a lot. One place, however, that I consistently struggle is with blurting shit out. Case in point: this past Monday, I was at my “Helping Old People Exercise” class and the instructor was showing us a new exercise. She prefaced some adjustments to ramp up the difficulty by saying, “You might want to do this…”. Before I even realized I was saying anything, the words, “Yeah, I don’t wanna do that” came out of my mouth. Not the worst thing I’ve blurted, but still. Now, this probably won’t come as a big shock, but neurodivergence and impulsive behavior are very close friends.

Neurodivergence and Impulsive Behavior. What’s Up With That?

Okay, you all know my love of definitions so you also know that this is going to start with, wait for it, a definition. We’ll get to how neurodivergence fits in but for now, know that in their paper, “Impulsivity: A Predisposition Toward Risky Behaviors“, Nour-Mohammad Bakhshani writes, “In psychopathology, impulsivity is defined in three different ways:

  1. Fast reaction without thinking and conscious judgment,
  2. acting without enough thinking, and
  3. a tendency to act with less thinking compared to the others who have similar levels of knowledge and ability

Which is a good description as far as it goes. And, where it doesn’t go is into causes (see, I told you we’d get to it). Impulsiveness isn’t solely a neurodivergent thing, of course, but that’s what we’re talking about so shut up. To find out why it does affect NDs, we need to look a few other places. The Carmen Pingree Autism Center’s blog points to executive dysfunction as an issue, while Healthline talks about the rush of “juicy brain chemicals” that can result from some impulsive behavior. When, like me, you have a shitty executive living in your head and a low level of dopamine (one of those “juicy brain chemicals”), your life is pretty much a perfect storm of impulsivity.

Holding the Line On Neurodivergence and Impulsive Behavior

Like I say in the opening paragraph, I’ve found ways to rein in my impulsiveness. Before I go any further, I want you to understand that in no fucking way am I saying I’ve got this shit on lock. Just that I’ve managed to find ways that keep it from majorly fucking up my life. The main way to do this is by learning to recognize impulsive behavior for what it is. I mean, it’s pretty fucking hard to stop doing something if you haven’t identified it. Of course, this is easier said than done. One of the ways I picked up on it was through my dad gently (sometimes, not so gently) poking holes in my plans. Initially, I was like, “Goddamn it, I’ll show him. I’ll game this shit out and have a real goddamn plan.” Which, of course, is what he was after. Another, much more painful, way I did this is by dealing with a fuck ton of negative shit consequences because I did some stupid impulsive shit. One last disclaimer: this worked for me but it doesn’t mean it’ll work for you. We’re all different, no matter what the NTs think, and you’ve got to find your own way.

Filtering It Out

Like I said in the intro, I have a tendency to say shit I really shouldn’t say. You know those filters we all have? I.e., the thing that keeps you from saying shit that should be left unsaid? It goes without saying that those fuckers are important. They can save a relationship, keep a job, or preserve your dignity. If they work properly, that is. But mine? They really… don’t. My filter is either all the way on or all the way off. With no middle ground. I was discussing this with my son, who has some of the same issues, and we decided this on-again-off-again phenomenon was due to a weird combination of ADHD and ASD. A fun little bonus from this combo is that my ADHD has me blurt shit out while my ASD makes sure that shit is weird and cringey.

A Done Deal

There was a time when I thought I might be able to get my blurty-ass-ness under control. I actually thought that if I was a good boy and tried really super hard, I could be just like all the other boys and not say the wrong thing all the goddamn time. Eventually, though, I learned that this shit ain’t gonna happen. Oh, it’s a little better than when I was a kid but my 6-year-old grandson has a more effective filter than I do. You would think that by age 61, I would have learned that there are just some things you don’t say out loud. Well, I do know that. But, I can’t seem to put that knowledge into practice. So, it looks like I am doomed to be eternally blunt and inappropriate.

A Binary With No Fucking Backsies

So, impulsiveness is definitely a thing with NDs. And, with a shit ton of work, we can usually manage a certain level of control. Some of us more than others. None of us all the fucking time. Unfortunately, society’s expectation are pretty goddamn binary with an all-or-nothing approach. Like, when they find out you have ADHD, they expect you to have zero control and just do shit all willy-fucking-nilly. And then, once you start working on that shit, they expect you to handle it. Like immediately. And permanently. No fucking backsies allowed. It doesn’t work that way, though. And, that’s kind of what I’ve been getting at here. I’ve gotten my impulsiveness handled. Sort of. At least in ways that don’t fuck things up for me too much. Which is really about all you can expect. And, there ain’t nothing wrong with that.

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