Written by Ashley Davies

Voices

Just do it?

Ever thought about kicking a bin, leaping off something way too high or giving a copper a wedgie? You’re not alone, says Ashley Davies, who sometimes struggles to keep a lid on her mad impulses.

Illustration by Louise Boulter.

Illustration by Louise Boulter.

A few weeks ago I did something I do about once a decade and gave in to a mad, stupid impulse. For a split second a teenage bully in my brain said: “Do it, man – it’ll be really funny. Everyone will laugh.” Without thinking, I obeyed, and was left scalded with embarrassment and shame for days.

I had been walking with my husband and a friend through part of an east London train station colonised by skaters late at night. A group of rollerbladers were setting up some kind of slalom course and had laid out some puck-like markers on the floor.

I happened to be carrying a broom that my friend had just bought and the idiot in my bonce told me to sweep one of the markers as far as I could. It was a one-second rush of spontaneous, moronic, solo ice hockey and I was going to score.

Nobody laughed. Nobody. To a needy person who attempts to use humour as a defence mechanism this is like being sued, ignored, punched and spat on all at once.

My friend (who is so confident and gregarious I often feel quite socially inadequate in her presence and hope one day to be smart enough to blame my lapse of judgement on this dynamic) was polite to me but clearly appalled on my behalf and quickly cleaned up the situation and apologised to the nice skater people.

The man setting up the markers wouldn’t even look at me and sighed in a manner that suggested I was the 38th arsehole to have pulled this stunt that evening. My husband looked mortified, but that’s kind of his resting face. I felt horrible.

Only a few weeks before I’d muted the idiot in my brain when it told me to say something daft on the bus. Queuing to get off the bottom deck, I’d paused, smiled and gestured to let a woman coming down the stairs go before me. Another woman was behind her and I had a random impulse to point at her and say sternly: “NOT YOU.” I’d been adult enough to know that would (OK, might) be funny with friends who’d know that was a joke, but you just don’t talk to strangers like that.

“There is a school of thought which argues that technology is eroding a lot of people’s ability to keep a lid on some of their less socially acceptable impulses.”

The last time – 10 years ago – I gave in to the idiot impulse I was walking down the street with a pal and we spotted a mutual friend, a thoroughly lovely, kind guy who never harmed anyone, reading on a bench during his lunch break.

Without thinking, I ran up to him, grabbed his book and did a sort of unplanned shout, and as I did it the image of his poor, sweet face looking utterly terrified seared itself onto the part of my brain that nurtures feelings of guilt. Well, for long enough to know not to do anything like that for another 10 years.

I was hugely relieved when I first discovered that nearly everyone has mad impulses. They could involve thoughts, however brief, of destroying a work of art in a gallery, smashing a window (I get this all the time), kicking a bin (this too), or giving a policeman a wet willy (in case you didn’t have beastly siblings, this is when you lick your finger and pop it into some unsuspecting bugger’s ear).

Other common impulses include the urge to jump in front of a train or throw oneself – or indeed somebody else – off a bridge or cliff. They’re all things you wouldn’t ever actually do, but which seem to appear out of nowhere like a dog at a barbecue, and are generally not an indication of how decent a person you are.

At this point I should clarify that I’m not in any way equating these daft urges with very real conditions such as impulse control disorder, which can result in people being unable to resist the lure of anything from pulling out their own hair to engaging in pyromania and kleptomania. And I’m certainly not laughing at them either. It must be terrifying.

“Nobody laughed. Nobody. To a needy person who attempts to use humour as a defence mechanism this is like being sued, ignored, punched and spat on all at once.”

And while most of us feel mortified if and when we do give in to odd impulses, this is not always the case for people with these particular conditions. As Taylor Glenn, comedian and former psychotherapist, says: “People who exhibit these disorders feel a sense of intense urgency before they give in to their impulse, and a relief and psychological resolve when they do.”

She adds: “When we have those impulses to do something nutty it’s a natural sense of wanting to break from conformity and constraint (some would argue that creative types do this to positive results), but a mix of our social training and impulse control centres in the brain prevent us; we weigh up the consequences and stop our impulse.”

There is a school of thought which argues that technology is eroding a lot of people’s ability to keep a lid on some of their less socially acceptable impulses – hence the huge numbers of people who say hideous things online that they probably wouldn’t dare say in person.

Based on my own experience, I’d say that it’s probably healthy to give in to the occasional mad impulse because only then will you be reminded of how it made you feel. There’s really nothing like hot-faced shame to keep you on the straight and narrow.

@MsAshleyDavies

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Written by Ashley Davies

Ashley Davies is an Edinburgh-based writer and editor and the human behind animal satire website thelabreport.co.uk.