What manic spending taught me

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One of that things that can arrive with a hypomanic/manic episode is this reckless energy that sometimes (actually most of the times if untreated) gets out of control. Risky behaviour can affect many areas of your life, from relationships to finances.

My bipolar disorder decided to fully manifest itself while I was studying abroad. My first mania encompassed ‘’increased goal-directed activity’’, and it consisted of an uninhibited desire to go on shopping sprees and the delusion of being financially powerful. When we buy something, we get instant gratification. This applies to all of us, manic or not. To make matters worse, impulsivity is another ‘’must have’’ in a manic episode, so, there is no thinking twice about financial consequences. During this period of increased energy, we often buy things we don’t need and we can’t afford. We literally spend money we do not have without feeling a trace of guilt or fear.

Keep in mind that I was a student, and students usually live frugally. I also do not come from wealth and until my mania I was perfectly capable to cater to my financial needs. And then, something happened and I became this unstoppable buying machine. I wanted all the things, my needs and wants became blurred, there was this feeling of false happiness, more like an adrenaline rush.

I won’t go into detail and tell you what I spent my money on, but I can tell you that I was one of the lucky people who did not get in debt and there was not a lot of financial damage, mostly because I had somebody that was there to witness my unusual and impulsive behaviour and because there was not much to spend because I have no credit cards- the perks of being a poor student!

In her wonderfully powerful book ‘’An unquiet mind’’, Kay Redfield Jamison describes her experience of manic spending:

“When I am high I couldn’t worry about money if I tried. So I don’t. The money will come from somewhere; I am entitled; God will provide. Credit cards are disastrous, personal checks worse. Unfortunately, for manics anyway, mania is a natural extension of the economy. What with credit cards and bank accounts there is little beyond reach. So I bought twelve snakebite kits, with a sense of urgency and importance. I bought precious stones, elegant and unnecessary furniture, three watches within an hour of one another (in the Rolex rather than Timex class: champagne tastes bubble to the surface, are the surface, in mania), and totally inappropriate sirenlike clothes.’’

Mania is not the good part of bipolar, mania is dangerous and the crash is inevitable. My circumstances at the time saved me from grave financial consequences, but for many people struggling with bipolar disorder spending can have horrible consequences. People can lose their homes, spend their savings, put their loved ones into a lot of financial stress and insecurity.

So, what’s to learn from this experience? These are the most valuable lessons for me:

1. An impulse buy will always come with regret.

2. I don’t need 100£ worth of makeup, I don’t even use that much make-up.

3. That shiny dress that looks so tempting will forever stay in the wardrobe.

4. 20 pairs of shoes are more than enough.

5. Buying without thinking is waste. It is a waste of resources and it affects the environment, so it goes against my values.

6. If somebody tells you that you might have exaggerated with buying a certain item, better believe them.

7. Keeping track of your finances is boring, but it’s worth-while.

8. Being aware of the things you already have is a great way to stop buying more.

9. It is really exciting to upcycle and give things a new life.

10. Using a certain item until it reaches its life end means honouring the item and the workmanship.

11. We can live an uncluttered life if we buy less.

I know that all this is common sense and many people have this innate ability to manage their finances, but for us bipolar folks, that ability seems to completely disappear during the highs.

I am proud to say that since my first bad episode I managed to keep my finances under control. Let’s say that other circumstances contributed to that and that I also had proper support. Even so, I am still practicing being mindful about what I have, because money is a serious matter, and I had my fair share of financial difficulties throughout my life. I hope that my effort will pay off and that I won’t have another bad spending spree. If I will, then I can come back to this post to remind myself that I know better and that I am capable of managing my impulses.

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