Content notice: this post will talk about poor mental health & self harm
I am mentally ill. I take meds, I’ve spent time in psychiatric hospitals, I’ve self-harmed in a myriad of ways, I have had years of suicide ideation, I dissociate, I have blacked out weeks at a time.
Like many people, one coping behavior I have when I’m struggling with my own mind is retail therapy. I’m mostly pretty frugal (I don’t currently work, and when I did I earned very little), but a few times a year I’ll have spending sprees. I’ll cross the line, blur my limits. Shopping becomes a compulsion. I never make any single huge purchases, but rather many smaller purchases which, while totally reasonable in isolation, quickly add up. I don’t buy a new laptop or an iPhone or a designer handbag; I buy a couple of books from my wishlist and little bits and pieces for my home and a nice jigsaw puzzle and much-needed new shoes and nail varnish and a dress and art supplies slightly spendy lipstick and, well, underwear. Obviously underwear. Underwear is especially tied up to my mental wellbeing, to self expression and body confidence and acceptance of my sick, painful, broken body.
Buying all these things does make me feel better, and does help to make my life nicer. But honestly, I can’t afford it. I shouldn’t spend so much. I don’t have the money. But I deserve a treat, don’t I? YOLO. My life is difficult right now and if something cheers me up, it’s worth it. And that really is ok, I think. There is so much societal moral value tied up to spending money – especially on “frivolous”, feminine-coded products – and I want to move away from that kind of thinking. Spending money is ok. You’re allowed. You’re even allowed to buy an expensive lipstick, if you want! It’s even ok if you love communism and would ideally live in a moneyless society! You are not a bad person for spending money. But when spending becomes a compulsion, when I lose control, when I’ve reached my credit limit, then it’s a problem for me.
I’ve recently realised that the compulsion driving this when it gets particularly bad is the same feeling as when I self harm, and there is the same cycle of compulsion > action > relief > guilt > compulsion. Harming my body makes me feel bad about myself, which I then relieve by harming my body; overspending makes me feel bad about myself, which I then relieve by overspending. It’s the same kind of spiral.
Toward the end of last year, I felt this spiral coming on. I overspent in the sales. At the same time, my benefits stopped, finances got even tighter. I implemented my January spending ban. I managed it, and was proud. Then came February and my birthday and I wanted to treat myself. But it quickly spiraled out of control. I lost perspective and rationality. I kept on spending. As I said above, not just lingerie, but lots of it. Compulsion, compulsion, compulsion.
Yesterday I reached my credit limit. It’s a relatively low limit – in the hundreds rather than the thousands – and one that I will be able to pay off quickly by keeping my purse closed for a few months. In a way, it’s a relief. An externally imposed limit. I can stop now. I have to stop now. It’s literally impossible to make any more purchases.
Still, it’s hard. There are constantly sales. Constantly beautiful new pieces from my favourite designers. Sample sales from designers I’ve only just discovered & could never afford otherwise. The lingerie community on twitter and instagram, constantly posting pictures of dreamy underwear. It’s hard to see fellow bloggers – and other fashion/lifestyle bloggers – posting their newest acquisition, their shopping hauls, while holding myself to much stricter limits than they seem to have. But I have to remind myself that social media presents a distorted image of the reality, like looking at the lives of others through a water-filled glass. I don’t know their circumstances, but most are surely not the same as mine. Maybe they work full time, maybe they have a rich partner or parents, maybe most of what they review is free PR samples, maybe they are just ordering things to post before returning, maybe they don’t actually buy that much and saved and budgeted, maybe they are deep in debt.
I don’t want to drop off social media to avoid temptation. I want to get back to my normal, to being able to see nice things and just add them to my wishlist, be content with just sharing them and saying wow, isn’t this nice, look it this! without having to buy anything, apart from once in a while, when I can afford it. I know I’ll find support from my fellow bloggers. And I’m working on it.