Most of us are naturally inclined towards being more rational or intuitive in our decision-making. Personally, I tend to be much more on the rational side of the spectrum. But then you layer mental illness on top of that, and it can start to get more complicated.
The basic scenario we’ll use for the post is being at the grocery store, standing in the cheese section, and needing to make a difference about what kind of cheese to get. It’s a scenario I was in not too long ago was my brain was really mashed potoato-y, so that’s the story behind that.
Perhaps contamination obsessions are telling you that if you don’t pick the right cheese and take it home in exactly the right way, funky bacteria in the cheese will wipe out your family.
Needing to make the “right” choice
Perhaps your inner critic tells you that if you make the wrong cheese choice, your family, or whoever you might be serving the cheese to, will decide that your bad cheese choices make you a useless human being, and you’ll be stuck with that shame until the end of time.
Not trusting your judgment
The self-doubt monster might be sitting on your shoulder all the way to the checkout, and perhaps all the way home, hissing at you that you know sweet bugger all about cheese and you’re not even close to being qualified to make any cheese-related decisions.
Overwhelmed by pros & cons
More options is not necessarily a good thing. With 3 options, you’ve got 3 sets of pros and cons to weigh. With 10 options, you’ve got a headache. If you’ve got 20 options, your brain might explode.
You couldn’t care less what kind of cheese you get, because you really don’t care about much of anything lately. You think you might possibly care when it’s time to eat the cheese, but it’s hard to make a decision based on a future possible interest.
Similar to getting overwhelmed, this paralysis gets stuck in overanalyzing. Going so far in the analytical direction leaves you with nothing in the right here, right now.
Wikipedia offers this quote from Alfred Henry Lewis: “The best thing is to do the right thing; the next best is to do the wrong thing; the worst thing of all things is to stand perfectly still.”
There’s a different kind of decision paralysis resulting from underthinking. The part if the brain that makes decisions is away on vacation. The relative merits of the different cheeses don’t even enter the equation.
This is what was happening to me on a recent trip to the store. There was no thinking about pros and cons; that part of my brain was MIA. So I stared blankly at the cheese for several minutes. Normally, I would give up and walk away without any cheese, but I had already made the decision to buy the ingredients for a dish that required cheese of some sort, so I stood and stared until I finally grabbed one.
Some more from the comments…
What? There’s cheese? I didn’t even realize I was in the grocery store…
Same same… and same
Decision-making can be avoided entirely if you get the same cheese every single time.
All you can eat buffet
Then there’s the manic need to have as much cheese as possible, as quickly as possible, and throw in the most expensive cheeses from the deli for good measure. Credit card limit? What’s that?
Must get it now!
The person coming down the aisle behind me might grab the only good cheese that’s left, so I have no more than 2.6 seconds to act or I’ll miss out on the good cheese!!
Oh no, there’s only 2.6 seconds until that person is here. I can’t be that close to them. Okay, which aisle is free to hide out in until the cheese area is unpolluted?
A variant of this is oh no, there’s Joe that I used to work with! I haven’t showered in a week and I don’t want him to see me. I have 2.6 seconds to find somewhere to hide without giving him a chance to see my face. Screw the cheese, priorities people!
To summarize, the possible decision-making approaches we identified were:
- needing to make the “right” choice
- not trusting your judgment
- overwhelmed by pros & cons
- paralyzed by indifference
- paralyzed by overthinking
- paralyzed by underthinking
- no decision needed when it’s always the same
- get it all
- get it now
- must get out of here
There’s nothing simple about living with mental illness! Are there any other cheese decision-making processes you can think of? Do any of these resonate with you?
The Mental Health Resource Directory page has contains a wide selection of useful mental health websites and apps.