It’s Talk Money Week and I wanted to talk about impulsive spending when you have borderline personality disorder (BPD).

As part of this and a report released by the Money and Mental Health Policy Institute, I shared my money struggle story with BBC here.

According to some studies, people would prefer to talk about weight loss rather than money and, in a recent study, they found people (on average) think about their finances four times a day for a total of 28 minutes. And we wonder why money has such a profound effect on our mental health. I think the most powerful stats for me are that 16% of people are keeping money-related secrets from loved ones and 14% didn’t know the right time to bring up the topic of money (Source).

I was one of the 16% a few years back.

It was strange because growing up, I was pretty good with money. My mum used to give us pocket money and we’d either save it so we could get something we wanted or, once we’d spent it, we knew it was gone. So simple, but effective. However, when I moved away to university, it’s there that my relationship with money went bad. As any student knows, when you get your loan instalments, you act like you’re a millionaire; going on lots of nights out, buying elaborate items and living the dream. That’s until you realise you’ve spent all your money in the first few weeks and have to wait months for the next instalment.

I thought my money irresponsibilities (not a word but I’m going with it) were behind me when I left uni but actually, I’d set myself up to fail. I was in debt and I just kept spending and spending. When I got paid, I’d pay off a bit of my credit card but as soon as I did that, I’d spend the balance again. I was caught in an impossible situation but I told no one. I did go to the bank for advice on a few occasions but they kept INCREASING the limit on my card, despite me saying that I was worried that I wouldn’t be able to pay it back.

I hid bank statements in the cupboard, never downloaded banking apps and would never check my balance at the cashpoint for fear of what I’d see. I was living in blissful denial and I was OK with it. Years later, however, it came to a head and I had to tell my partner. My money issues had been going on for eight or nine years at this point so I was used to pretending they weren’t there. Luckily, he made me talk about it and I did feel like a weight had been lifted. I also felt guilt, shame, embarrassment and I felt weak. Weak that I hadn’t done anything about it sooner or even acknowledged it.

Luckily, my other half is shit-hot with money and managed to get me to face my demons a bit at a time. He explained how things worked and what I needed to do in order to get myself out of debt. He still helps me now because when I’m in my high moods or my really low moods, I resort to spending money.

This is the reality for people like me with impulsive tendencies.

It’s not just being a shopaholic

When I’ve talked to people in the past, I’ve been met with ‘oh my goodness, I’m a shopaholic too! I can’t help myself’. Spending for people with BPD can be really distressing. Not during the act and not immediately afterwards but days after the dread sets in and the shame and the guilt starts piling up. You can’t think straight and then you have to navigate trying to return all the things you bought that you actually didn’t want.

You can’t stop thinking about spending money

It becomes obsessive. You can’t stop thinking about spending. And not even about buying anything in particular. Everything is appealing. Everything becomes a must-have or an ‘I need’. You keep adding things to your basket and obsessing over how much it is and what a good deal it would be and oo, how it might change your life too. It probably won’t but reality is a distant memory at this point.

The rush you get is very similar (I would imagine) to that of taking drugs

It’s the buzz that keeps you hooked. The anticipation of what you’ll spend your money on. It’s not about the items you buy, it’s about the feeling you get. The whole process keeps you coming back for more. When the rush dies down, you know that it’s not right how this experience makes you feel and promise yourself you won’t do it again until next time comes and your promise goes out the window.

You get stuck in a spending binge cycle and need help

A graphic from Just A Square Peg blog about the impulsive spending cycle

The cycle can go on and on for years. Mine went on for a good eight or nine years and it ended up affecting my mental health in a negative way. Anxiety attacks that feel like heart attacks, that constant feeling of dread in your tummy, not sleeping at night for worrying and being distracted all the time trying to work out how to get myself out of it.

Luckily, my partner made me tell him what was going on. It was scary, I was so ashamed and I cried A LOT. I cried because I felt guilty, I felt shame and I felt like a disappointment but I also cried because I was relieved, I felt a weight had been lifted and that help was now available.

I still struggle with this cycle. I’m not ‘cured’ of my impulsive spending and sometimes it creeps back, like an old friend, to remind me of this. However because I’m more aware, because my partner knows, I have more control over it. I do still get the strong urges but I try to distract myself or hide my phone or go out for a walk. Anything to avoid spending.

If you’re struggling, I know it’s hard but you have to take baby steps in the right direction so you can control it. Open that bank statement you’re afraid of, check your balance at a cash machine or tell someone you love that you need help. You can speak to Mind and Mental Health and Money Advice who can help too. Please don’t go through it alone.