Bipolar Mania and Money – A Path to Debt

Money is a bizarre concept. We all want more of it and often our relationship with it can turn into an obsessive, fear-inducing nightmare. A certain amount of vigilance regarding our money and spending habits is healthy, but what happens when that self control dissipates for months on end?

I should point out that I am far from materialistic. Growing up I was taught the value of money and living in a politically minded left wing home where we often had to make do without I learnt that life and living meant more than the consumption of goods. That attitude has never abated and I find myself ‘needing,’ new clothes for instance, when my current ones are worn out or torn; not how other people ‘need’ that designer bag or the latest phone.

However, during my early twenties certain aspects of my decision making became irrational. I found myself in a wonderful but intense relationship with a person so tightly wound it was doomed to failure. During that time I was a student, then after that earning a measly salary, but I spent like crazy. At one point I had four credit cards and two store cards. The difference here from ‘needing’ things was that I just didn’t think about the consequences. It became impulsive. For example, my laptop screen cracked. Rational me would have weighed up whether the current laptop was still usable and if not, could I live without one or could I afford a new one. At the time I couldn’t afford to replace it but I marched into town and bought the first one I saw. The relationship I was in was difficult as neither of us had much privacy – so I would book hotels for the weekends. I paid for us both for a week away in the Cotswolds. This spending stopped very suddenly and I found myself in a deep depression.

A year or so later, still with credit cards to pay off and earning slightly better I was at it again. Out of the blue, I booked a flight to Japan. I spent time travelling in Tokyo and Kyoto and loved every minute of it. Again everything went on the credit card – the hotels, nights out, presents for friends and family…I wasn’t concerned about the money I was spending, I was driven by this compulsion to do whatever I wanted.

Continuing along the same vein, when I returned from my holiday I decided I would rent a flat by myself. I couldn’t afford it, but somehow I had enough bravado to convince the estate agent and my family, that I could. I ended up hardly eating and spending one of the coldest winters I had ever experienced in a freezing flat as the gas meter forever needed topping up. I was still remarkably happy though, until the confidence and euphoria left me again.

All of this extortionate spending meant I would eventually have to deal with the consequences. The aftermath of the spending whilst I was manic was desperate. I have had my cards declined, forced to move back in with my parents’ and threatened with bailiffs. The amount of debt I had accumulated was eye watering. Nine years later I’m still paying off debts, and new debt has been added when I have had further episodes of mania.

Although I regret the inevitable stress I put myself through when I eventually gained perspective and the debt I accumulated, I do not regret the experiences I had. I find it difficult to explain why I continued to spend. I was not in denial, I knew what I was doing. I just didn’t care or worry. I knew that everything would turn into sunshine, lollipops and electro rainbow kittens. Looking back on these occasions now I was unwell. I exhibited other behaviours that were not me or I felt that my personality – my passions, ambitions were amplified. In short I was not my usual self.

Since then, I have become much more self aware. Sometimes I need others to be aware for me. That is easier said than done, as when I do spend excessively I am in high spirits and I believe that none of my decisions could possibly be wrong. Parcel after parcel will appear on the doorstep, my partner feeling exasperated at the amount of money I’m spending yet again. I have gone to extremes such as cutting my credit cards up and then shredding them. I have given my partner my cards so I can’t spend when I go into town. I have thought about closing my PayPal account as it makes it far too easy to spend money online.

Over spending during mania is often overlooked; it’s seen as not as harmful as other symptoms. In my experience, it has exacerbated stressful situations when I have returned to some form of stability, or become depressed. It can have lasting effects on the way you live your life.

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