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My life with Impulse Control Disorder

Difficult to diagnose, difficult to live with and often misunderstood

by Kendall Worth

The author, Kendall Worth, is a poverty activist, Street Feat vendor, and frequent contributor to the Halifax Media Co-op.  Photo Halifax Media Co-op
The author, Kendall Worth, is a poverty activist, Street Feat vendor, and frequent contributor to the Halifax Media Co-op. Photo Halifax Media Co-op

I was 23 years old when I was first diagnosed with Impulse Control Disorder (ICD). Experts say that Impulse Control Disorder cannot be diagnosed when you are a kid. Earlier on I was diagnosed as suffering from Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), and as a kid I was also considered a “slow learner”.

When I interviewed my doctor for this article, he gave me copies of two medical journal articles on ICD. The articles state that ICD is a subgroup of learning disabilities, ADHD, anxiety, and depression and that this mental disorder can be caused by having the experience of living with a lot of stress in your life.

I just want to say that from my personal experiences of having this disorder, I know that there is evidence to support the above statement. After-all, I had been diagnosed with ADHD as a kid, and with anxiety and depression as a young adult. Furthermore, I have had times in my life when I had felt that I could not deal with a lot of stress.

Let me give you an example from the time I still lived with my parents in rural Nova Scotia.

I remember the very first real job which I have ever had as a young adult. The type of work which I was doing was unloading fishing boats. This job was one of the few places where a person could gain employment within short driving distance from home. I lived in Seal Harbour, in Guysborough County, in those days.

Not only was it a job without a future, it was also stressful. The work-related stress which I had to deal with during my time of working at this job caused me serious problems. We would work 16 hours days, with 2 weeks off in between the unloading of boats. It was hard physical labour.

I was always on call, meaning there was no set work schedule. One frustrating aspect of this job which would stress me out a bit was when I would have to cancel plans for the weekend because of getting called into work on very short notice. Getting called the night before to come in to start work the next day was often the case with this job.

I found that I could not handle a lot of stress and my impulses would act up. In addition, my learning disability made it hard for me to do my job. My coworkers did not understand my disability and that made it difficult to get along.

One day I got so stressed that I ended up causing an incident which got me fired from that job.

And that is just one example of how I have lived with stress during my whole life. As a kid and teenager I grew up in a rural community. We lived a one hour drive from the nearest town, Antigonish, a twenty minute drive from the nearest general store. As a teenager I could not join after-school sports teams because of those distances. Under those conditions living a normal teenage life was only a dream for me.

My current doctor believes that those factors contributed to my ICD.

At the time, I did not know that impulse control disorder even existed. I was 23 years old and living in Halifax before I was first given an opinion that I might have this disorder.

However, my doctor believes that I had ICD at the time I was fired from my job, and all throughout my childhood and young adulthood. My doctor now tells me that “people with impulse control disorder cannot handle a lot of stress and this is how the lack of understanding of my disability played a part in getting fired from that job.”

My doctor also tells me that ICD often gets mistaken for ADHD in kids and young adults. That was the case with me as well. During my 6th grade I was first diagnosed with ADHD.

I grew up knowing that I was a slow learner in school. I failed three grades and had to repeat them. I remember a psychologist coming to my school to visit me and do assessments.

I also remember as a kid having appointments with other specialist for assessments. My teachers tried to put me in special classes to get help during my school years. Many times I felt I could not get along with kids my own age. I was suspended from school many times during my school years.

I remember during my entire teenage and young adult life I have also had issues at times dealing with anxiety and depression. There have been times in my life when complaints have been made to the police and others about me being seen fidgeting in public when I was sure I was not doing it.

This happens to be a symptom of impulse control disorder. According to my doctor, fidgeting while you are sure you are not doing it is a major symptom of ICD.

A person with ICD lacks the ability to control his or her impulses. I do experience this at times in my day to day life. Most able bodied people take their ability to think before they act for granted. This is not an easy task for those of us who have impulse control disorder.

At this point the question is how can a person control and perhaps cure ICD?

It is hard to understand what it is like to have this disability for people who do not have it. There is no actual medication known to man that a doctor can prescribe to help ease the symptoms of this diagnosis. There are medications for depression and anxiety, both come with impulse control disorder. However, when someone who suffers from ICD takes those medications it only helps with easing those symptoms, not the whole disorder.

It helps to have good social supports in your live. Coming from a supportive family helps.

Getting counselling to help deal with the symptoms of this diagnosis is also important.

Regular exercise including long walks, running, swimming and other activities that use up a lot of your energy are helpful. In my case regular exercise controls the symptoms pretty well. I happen to be real good swimmer. When I go swimming I find doing this exercise has a nice effect on me.

Having a bit of structure in the day to day life is also good as a way to deal with having the disorder. Avoiding stressful activities is recommended.

In conclusion, I just want to say that there do not seem to be many who have been diagnosed with ICD. This is the main reason why this diagnosis is misunderstood. More awareness needs to raised about this disorder.


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