In order to live successfully with bipolar disorder, it’s important to know our limits—to be aware of the things we need to stay away from. One of my bipolar friends, for example, knows he cannot go into a bar. Period. Another has an arrangement for someone else to manage her money because she can’t trust herself when she has access to it.
For me, the monkey on my back is going into business. I’ve had two personal bankruptcies in my life, both because of failed businesses. Each time I refused to see the down side and take steps to scale back during bad times. My hypomania was stimulated by all the creative ideas I had for expansion—new products, new marketing methods, new tools and gizmos. I worked like a fiend, but ended up in a deep hole financially and emotionally.
Running a business provided me with endless stimulation, and that kept away the depression. Until it failed. Talk about a downer! After my first bankruptcy, I sat around the house drinking all day. I broke up with the guy I’d been living with for seven years, and moved to another state. I swore I would never go through all that ever again.
How many times do we have to hit our head before we learn to duck? My second business, a mail-order publishing company, looked like a sure thing. I was much better prepared to run it, having worked for a similar company for several years first. I had the knowledge, the skills and the necessary financial support. Logically, I should have been successful, and I was for a while.
But I’m bipolar, and running a business is my personal nemesis. Even my fifteen-year-old daughter, who worked for me part time, warned me not to buy some expensive Pitney Bowes equipment for the mail room in order to save on the minimum wages we paid her friends for working after school. I wouldn’t listen to her, my new husband, or anyone else who tried to give me sensible advice. I was lucky that time. My marriage survived somehow. But we moved to another state anyway. It’s hard holding your head up after a business failure and bankruptcy.
I thought I’d learned my lesson about going into business. After my second bankruptcy, I did some freelance writing, and then went back to school for a Masters and PhD in creative writing. My husband, Adrian, and I were living in Tallahassee, Florida where I attended Florida State University when my stepson, Eric, asked Adrian and me to check out a new business venture he was considering. It was called FundAmerica, a buying club where members could also make money by selling memberships to others. Essentially, it was a kind of pyramid scheme, but I caught the whiff of stimulation from it and went gung ho.
The more money you invested in FundAmerica, the more you could make, so I naturally said we’d put in the full amount, $20,000, and I’d be Eric’s partner. All of a sudden I was awake in the middle of the night thinking up marketing plans. Forget the boring PhD I was two-thirds of the way into. I was ready to roll for FundAmerica.
Now Eric did not have a sterling history either and had been in rehab for drug addiction several times. He was a terrific salesman, though, so I was eager to have him for a partner. “Partners in crime,” is what the rest of the family thought, as they called anxiously to try to talk us out of it. They couldn’t think of a worse scenario than Eric and me going into business together.
One clue that I was getting out of control was lying to Adrian. When I started to hide bad news from him, that was a signal I was becoming irrational. I think I did this shortly after we signed up for FundAmerica.
Luckily for me, Eric came to his senses quickly. He realized that getting involved with FundAmerica would stimulate his worst inclinations and most likely lead to a relapse in his recovery. “I think I’d better just take an ordinary job,” he said.
I was deeply disappointed, of course. I wanted that stimulation so badly. But Eric’s decision had saved me from myself. We were also fortunate to get our $20,000 investment back. In 1990, FundAmerica filed for bankruptcy after Florida, Texas and California declared that it was an illegal, endless-chain pyramid.
So have I finally hit my head enough times to know to duck? Technically, I’m in business right now as a freelance writer and artist. I sell my paintings, and I self-published a book I’m marketing. Yes, I do still get over-stimulated at times with grandiose marketing plans, and I will always have to watch myself. But I’ve learned a bit about my limits.
What are yours? Tell us in the message boards.
Published On: June 20, 2006
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