Bipolar Disorder and Reckless Spending

August 16, 2009 at 4:33 pm | Posted in Finances, Goal Progress, Philosophical Problems | Leave a comment

I read an excellent post this morning on Get Rich Slowly in which the writer examines her unspoken assumptions about money. Apparently her family never discussed it as she was growing up, and like so many young people (myself included), she lavishly furnished her life with credit cards and spent years undoing the damage. Along the way, she had to undo a whole series of attitudes about what good, middle-class people do.

What does this have to do with bipolar disorder? Well, for me, the issue of money is my biggest is-it-bipolar-or-am-I-just-being-irresponsible dilemma. You see, until very recently, I was terrible with money. Terrible. I made more stupid mistakes than you could shake a stick at, including getting a $50,000 doctorate (and that was a state school), cracking open my 401K upon changing careers, and financing a new car instead of paying cash for a late-model used one. And that’s just the beginning. I’ve made stupid mistakes at pretty much every turn, and it’s cost me dearly in money and peace of mind.

In my saner moments, I’ve asked myself, “Did I make that idiotic decision because I’m bipolar and lack impulse control at times, or is it just that I’m ignorant and foolish?” I think in this case I’ve blamed manic depression for some very common, non-crazy behavior. After all, when I read the personal finance blogs, I read repeatedly about people making the same mistakes I made or even worse ones (such as leasing a car — *shudder*). These folks can’t all be bipolar. There must be larger social forces at work. And so there are: changes in the credit card and banking industries in particular.

I think that up until very recently, I’ve been fatalistic about my ability to change my behavior around money. I assumed that when I spent recklessly it was because I was hypomanic and my judgment was impaired, or I was depressed and looking for a lift. And that may be partly true. This returns us to the percentage argument, however. If I can improve my behavior even by 20 percent, then it is my responsibility to do so. And insofar as I don’t trust myself, I can put structures in place that will help me to act responsibly.

I’m finding that this time around, I’m having more success in controlling my finances. I think there are a couple of reasons for that. First, it’s the only goal I’m focusing on right now. I’ve finally taken my own advice and stopped trying to improve everything about myself all at once. Instead, I have faith that improving my finances and my behavior surrounding money will influence the rest of my life positively so that when the time comes, say, to really step up my yoga practice, I’ll be more prepared.

I’ve also found some great tools, after searching desperately for years. For me, what’s worked is a combination of online community for inspiration, books for education, and effective personal development techniques. This, after years of reading self-help books as a way of entertaining the fantasy of change without having to do the hard work of actually changing.

Working in the community to help other disabled people has given me an increased sense of responsibility, too. There’s nothing like acting as a representative of bipolar disorder to make you want to whip yourself into some semblance of functioning.

However, all of this depends on one premise: the belief that I can actually control my behavior to a measurable degree. That belief rests upon several things, but the most important is finally giving myself credit for a remarkable record of accomplishment in the face of tremendous difficulties. I have scratched and clawed and struggled to be where I am. I am deeply grateful for what has been given to me — most especially, caring and committed parents — but at the same time I realize that I got where I am on my own merit. If I can put my life back together twice, then I can do it as many times as is necessary. If I can piece my life back together after total loss, then I can accomplish a lot — perhaps not everything I dreamed of accomplishing before the onset of this rotten illness, but a lot. Including improving, if not perfecting, my behavior around money.

Love to all.

Leave a Comment »

RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URI

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Blog at
Entries and comments feeds.

%d bloggers like this: