This week at our bipolar meeting, we talked about problems dealing with money, and in particular, going through bankruptcy. I remember the first time I had to file bankruptcy in the early 70s when my small business failed. I felt such a sense of shame, failure, and humiliation. I sat around drinking all day and thinking about killing myself.
The bankruptcy put the final nail in the coffin of my relationship with a man I’d been living with for six years. I moved out of the house we owned together and took a small crummy apartment, all I could afford. I hid away there and then after some help from a therapist I gathered what little strength I had and moved back to my home state to start over. I swore I would never go through that again.
Ten years later I was running another small business, which was deadly for me because it stimulated my hypomania and unreasonable optimism. I over-expanded, over-spent, and never put money away for the down times. Lo and behold, after a few years I found myself facing bankruptcy again. This time, thankfully, my marriage survived, but just barely.
It’s been 25 years and I’ve been able to hold it together, mainly because I never want to go through the agony again. But I know I have to avoid the kinds of situations that get me into trouble. This was a theme at our meeting as everyone shared their stories of financial disaster and what they are doing to prevent another one.
One member said she had to give up control of the family’s money to her husband and let him pay the bills because she was too prone to impulse spending. Another person had hired a bookkeeper to handle his finances because he knew he could not trust himself. For some, restricting shopping opportunities was the key, or not owning a credit card.
Mishandling money is a typical symptom for those of us suffering from bipolar disorder, and it’s a symptom that can destroy our marriages and punish our children as well as ourselves. We need to get a handle on it, and the first step is acknowledging the problem. After that we need to sit down with our family, and perhaps a therapist or credit counselor, and make a plan that will ensure we keep the spending impulse under control.
Lynne is an abstract painter and writer from Ithaca, New York. She wrote for HealthCentral as a patient expert for Anxiety and Bipolar Disorder.