When Bipolar Depression ‘Attacks’ My Wallet: How to Control Online Shopping When Depressed
While mania may often be more associated with over-the-top shopping, it can also be important to watch how bipolar depression can affect your spending.
The story I tell myself about money is that I’m not good with it, but the truth is that I’m afraid of it.
Most people who live with bipolar disorder have at least a few stories about impulsive spending during a manic or hypomanic episode. I certainly do, and I often wonder if those stories might be totally catastrophic if I had access to more substantial credit.
However, as difficult as I find this to admit, I have to confess that depression has been harder on my finances than hypomania.
I’ve spent far more time struggling with depression, and while the hypomanic indiscretions are bigger and more obvious, I’ve found there are certain patterns in my depressive spending that really chip away at my finances. I choose based on convenience (always expensive), I don’t consider the big picture because survival is my primary concern. I bribe myself to get things done (M&M’s are a currency unto themselves), and I buy small things I don’t need to console myself. The result is a lot of wasted money.
Waking Up to Trouble
The struggle to manage my money starts the moment I wake, or rather with the delay of it. When I am depressed there is never enough sleep, and there is no such thing as waking up rested. As a result, I choose based on what requires the least amount of effort.
Choices made for the sake of convenience rarely result in economy. It’s more cost-effective to prepare your breakfast rather than grab a coffee and a muffin on the way to work, or the dreaded Cliff bar from the vending machine on first break, but staying in bed ten minutes past the third alarm is an excellent way to guarantee you won’t have time to scramble eggs.
During depressive episodes I make desperate/expensive food choices because I haven’t put energy into planning (I don’t have it) and there’s very little reserved for execution.
For me, it’s important to recognize that during these times, I do need to lean on the crutch of certain conveniences and to choose the more affordable ones. I pay a three dollar fee for my online grocery order and it’s worth every penny because it saves me the cost of takeout meals. The Cliff bar from my cupboard, while not the breakfast of champions, is still cheaper than the one from the vending machine. It’s worth noting that you don’t need to be depressed to struggle with this area of your budget. I imagine anyone who feels pressed for time can relate. Depression just makes it worse.
A Dangerous Distraction
Sometimes I find myself falling into the trap of magical-thinking shopping when I’m trying to distract myself from what I’m feeling, or not feeling.
For me, wellness looks like reading multiple books at a time, writing, playing fetch with the dog, and devouring jigsaw puzzles.
Depression robs me of the pleasure I take in these hobbies by stealing my ability to focus. You can only read the same paragraph so many times before you close the book, and the dog prefers if I throw the ball again after he retrieves it.
This kind of aimless shopping is a bit like flipping through T.V. channels for the sake of escaping your own mind. The difference is the cable bill doesn’t go up every time you decide on something else.
I tend to do this online, and when I catch myself, sometimes it helps to pause and ask what I’m feeling, or more likely, trying not to feel. At this point it becomes obvious that whatever I’m looking at will not cure me of this feeling. Depression is an empty that can’t be filled up by things, or food, or any amount of drugs, noise, and people.
Channel surfing is a lot cheaper, and if you invite someone to do it with you, it’s only a step away from socializing, which I hear can be quite healthy.
There are times when depression leads me to spend money in the spirit of “screw-it-I’m-going-to-live” because what is the point of fighting so hard to hang on to this life if I don’t bother to celebrate it now and then?
A sense of entitlement springs up from my unseen and unending battle. I will never return to the open arms of my people as the heroine who conquered, and the impossibility of this victory has left me to purchase my own ceremonies and my own medals. No one throws you a party for resisting the urge to act on your suicidal thoughts, but I’ve bought myself the dress and the cake. More than once.
Searching for Solutions—and Finding What Works
Of course, it’s the people who are missing, and yet there have been times when this waste of money was my holding-on-to-life purchase; the thought of my credit card bill was the only reason I had left to go to work on Monday.
This is a situation when borrowing from the 12-step model and checking in with someone close to you can be helpful:
“Hi Myles. How are you?”
“Just logged on to Amazon to buy poo bags for the dog and put a sixty dollar French press in my shopping cart because I’m running low on reasons to hold on. Can we talk?”
If you struggle with this kind of spending and you do any kind of online shopping (even for practical stuff like poo bags), it’s best to avoid any type of automation in your checkout process. This small additional hurdle might not be enough to prevent a more ambitious manic spending spree, but when I’m depressed it’s exactly the kind of extra step that prevents me from buying the French press.
I’ve spent a small fortune on chocolate, relying on the sugar and the endorphins to propel me through small, mundane tasks that seemed impossible—cleaning the house for guests, making a deadline, taking the cat to the vet. Who wants a carrot on a stick when you can have M&M’s?
Should I have to bribe myself to be an adult? Maybe not, but I need to keep moving forward, one foot in front of the other, even if I have to rely on some childish incentives.
I’ve also spent a certain amount of money on props and costumes to serve the performance of wellness. Hair dye, dry shampoo, perfume, the good foundation—they all fall to this lot. I have certain articles of clothing that are classier than the life I lead, and while there’s something to be said for looking after yourself, it can only be said if you do so within your means. There’s no scarf fine enough to change the fact I set three alarms just to get out of bed. If it were so, there would be one alarm and one scarf.
Hiding is expensive. The pursuit of wellness is cheaper than the performance of it, but being out as “mentally ill” carries its own cost and its own pressures to perform.
I’ve had the experience of people using bipolar to undermine my credibility, so I worry that shortcomings in my appearance (and shortcomings in general) will be taken as proof that I am indeed mentally unfit for whatever role I’ve undertaken, and there’s some small deluded part of me that imagines applying lipstick will solve this problem.
The answer to bigotry and ableism is not a trip to the salon. That shame is not mine to carry, and yet I feel it. And I have spent so much money trying to fix it. And the wasted money is more shame, which gives me more to hide.
If you feel that you aren’t enough, there is nothing you can add to your life to take that feeling away. So before I spend money on a product or service, I’ve adopted the habit of asking, “How will this make my life better?”
The poor decisions that I make when I’m depressed are made with an awareness that they are exactly that, poor decisions. Notice that I haven’t made any suggestions about budgets.
That’s because it’s hard to make choices for a future you find impossible to imagine. The most important thing you can do for your finances when you’re depressed is to treat your depression.
Take your meds, talk to a counsellor, access a support group, get a breath of fresh air, eat something that grew in the dirt or on a vine, go to bed on time. You know what helps you. It’s boring stuff, and it’s tough because these things are not fast-acting. You can do this stuff for a long time and see no improvement, which may be a sign it’s time for a change in your treatment.
I said I was afraid of money, but that’s not entirely true. It’s not the money I’m afraid of. It’s the story it tells about my illness, because if I look carefully at my spending habits, it’s like staring into a clear pond. The reflection will show wellness, hypomania, or depression.
This content was originally published here.