Bipolar and Credit Cards, Loans and Debt

cosmo-mhw-psychosis-19-05-15-1x1-1557915242

Mania for me always leads to overspending. I’ll spend an exorbitant amount of money on useless, meaningless stuff.

Shoes, bags, clothes, collectible toys, lego figurines (yes, really), games consoles, hotel rooms – I could go on and on. I’m not a materialistic person by nature, but with mania I just can’t help myself. It’s an overwhelming compulsion.

Overspending is a common symptom of hypomania and mania. It can have a huge impact on your day to day life, especially when an episode has ended. You realise how much you’ve spent and it can lead to debt, anxiety over money and even not having enough money to cover all the bills.

At one time, during a serious and extended bout of mania, I amassed; four store cards, and three credit cards. I maxed them all out. I found myself in a mountain of debt, thousands of pounds worth. I couldn’t afford the repayments and was threatened with bailiffs. Even though I was earning a reasonable wage, I had to give up my flat. Luckily, I could move in with my parents, but was still paying rent to them and had to try and somehow reach the repayments every month.

What upsets me is how I was preyed on by companies when I was extremely vulnerable and ill. One time, I was in the town centre, when I was approached by a salesperson on the street. I was absolutely wired, full of manic energy and couldn’t stop talking. It was obvious something was wrong, that I was very unwell. They used my impulsiveness against me, and with very little convincing, got me to sign up for a credit card. I starting using it as soon as it arrived. I didn’t check the APR before signing up, which was extortionate. Impulsiveness reigns supreme when I’m manic and I’d sign up for pretty much anything if it was offered to me. Every time I was asked to sign up for a store card, I obliged.

There must be some way of prohibiting people when they’re manic from signing up for credit cards, or taking out a loan. I don’t know how this would work, but it would have saved me a huge amount of stress and worry about money. The stress alone has made me ill, and I’ve become severely depressed because of it. I still overspend when I’m manic. Although now I don’t have access to my credit cards unless I really need to use them. I’ve handed them over to my partner, because I can’t trust myself with them when I’m ill. But what if you have no partner or anyone you can trust and understand the problem? I don’t know what the solution is, but companies and banks should be ashamed at how easy it is to qualify for loans and credit cards.

Why I Decided To Go Freelance

I wake up to my alarm ringing and the cat sitting on my head. I look across and my husband is still blissfully asleep. It’s six o’clock. It’s freezing. It’s dark, and I have to be at work in an hour. It takes me twenty minutes to walk, or I can take the rammed packed bus that stops at every single stop along the way. Either way, I have to be out the house in under forty minutes. That’s the problem. Trying to do anything that early in the morning is like wading through treacle and time has this way of feeling like it’s on fast forward. You might have realised that I am most definitely not a morning person. I never have been. Getting up this early in the morning does not agree with me. It’s too early for me to eat. If I have anything before 10 I’ll feel nauseous, and I might even throw it back up. It’s like my body’s way of shouting at me “What are you doing being up this early?! Go back to bed!” So no breakfast. I won’t get back from my shift until mid afternoon and won’t get a lunch break.

I’ve been toying with the idea of going freelance for the past year. I’ve been slowly building my writing portfolio over the last three years and recently it’s escalated. I’m getting actual paid work. It’s work I enjoy and I’m proud of. The problem has been juggling my writing with my part time job. For a while it worked quite well, but I found myself at work wishing the time away. It might be because I had a deadline looming, or I had some great ideas I needed to pitch, or I needed to update my blog with a new post. I’ve also started a podcast this year and honestly I haven’t had enough time in my schedule to record regular episodes. On top of that I was looking after my niece once a week. I had all these ideas and not enough time to implement them.

You’re probably thinking; but you only work part time, how can it be so difficult to find time to write? I find it difficult to go from serving coffee and chatting to customers for six hours, to then sitting down and concentrating. I find it hard to focus when I’m switching gears so suddenly. I also have to be mindful of how much pressure I put on myself. Stress and tiredness are the number one triggers for me for a manic episode.

The one thing that scares me about going freelance is money, or the lack of it. I’m not a materialistic person – one of my favourite dresses is nine years old, so it doesn’t bother me if I can’t buy new things. If I can pay the bills and my husband and I can still go out and see friends and have date nights, I’ll be happy. Where I’ve been working for the past year and a half I’ve been on minimum wage. I’ll miss that steady income but it’s not like I’m going from some high earning job to unpredictability. Plus, my job was shift based, and I was on a zero hour contract. That meant I never had a guarantee of regular work anyway. I’m used to living in uncertainty.

Then there’s the big one. The one predominant, constant issue in my life; my mental health. Could I manage making my own routine and sticking to it? Could I deal with the stress of working for myself and managing my time? I’ve been mostly stable for the past year, besides a few wobbles here and there. One of which resulted in my psychiatrist not taking seriously my suicidal thoughts. I felt there wouldn’t be a better time than now to take the plunge. I’m aware that such a big change in my life and routine could be a trigger for an episode of mania or depression. I’m going to look out for the warning signs and make sure I’m taking care of myself.

I’m excited about this new challenge. I know it won’t be easy, but writing, especially about mental health has become such an important part of my life. I’m passionate about it and I’m going to try and make it work.

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.