Trying to Kill the Pain of Postpartum Depression By Overspending

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postpartum depressionI’ve never been so thirsty that I’d do anything for just one sip of water. But I can imagine walking through a desert with no oasis in sight, dying for but a drop, throat so raw it’s nearly impossible to breathe. As a rule, I’m fairly germophobic — I mean, I’d throw out an entire jar of mayonnaise if it sat out on the counter for an hour — but I can see why someone might drink water out of the intestines of a dead camel after a day wandering in a giant oven full of sand.

I thought of this desperate kind of thirst today as I considered spending $59.99 on a box set of the Fablehaven books at Costco. It had been a bad, bad day — the kind of day that made me want to sit in a hot shower for two hours then sleep in a hotel bed with fluffy pillows until my postpartum depression brain stopped hurting.

The day started out fine, but as it went downhill, I scrabbled for a foothold like I always do. Initially, I tried to go the emotional eating route, but food hasn’t been tasting the same to me lately. Then I tried leaving the house, but after getting myself and the kids dressed I had to take a break to lie down on the couch and cry. Things started looking up when my husband called to say he was on his way home from work and would pick up one of the kids to give me a break, but I still couldn’t make myself smile.

I ended up going with my younger son to Costco, where I’d planned to go earlier to pick up some groceries. After going through the store and putting the food on my list in the cart, I went back around again looking for stuff I didn’t need. I threw in a sweatshirt, a new book, some unnecessary snacks for my children, and a 10-pack of colorful gel pens. When I arrived at the table of Fablehaven books, I realized I’d officially passed from shopping to self-medicating.

Like the proverbial wanderer in the desert who will drink water from whatever source presents itself, when an episode like today rolls around, I grope blindly for whatever will numb the mental pain of postpartum depression. My first instinct is always to eat, then to cry, then to spend money. All of these “instincts” have gotten me into trouble more times than I can count.

I’ve never been good at managing money, and my husband handles our finances for the most part. But my problems with money are a whole different animal from my inability to budget. I started realizing just a few months ago — around the time that I stopped taking the painkillers I was starting to get addicted to — that I get the same rush from spending money that I get from overeating, from risk-taking, from exercising, from painkillers. All of these things stop, even if only for a moment, the anxiety, the obsession, the torture of postpartum depression.

The funny thing is, the spending doesn’t have to be serious. Even if all I buy is a new book worth $5, I get the rush. It just has to be something I don’t need. I think it’s the frivolousness, the irresponsibility of wasting money on an unnecessary purchase that makes me feel like life isn’t as dull and predictable as depression makes it feel. The only problem is, the purchase isn’t always $5, and even if it were, those little splurges add up.

It’s hard to explain the feeling of complete disappointment in yourself when you realize that your husband might have to take a second job because you can’t stop spending money. My dependence on the rush I get from spending a little money here and there has brought my husband and I to the brink of financial disaster more than once, and it really has been one of the only points of real contention in our marriage.

This is yet another facet of postpartum depression I’ve had to learn to deal with. It’s an ugly part of me I don’t really like to talk about–the side of me that overspends isn’t the real me. It’s the shadow me that needs validation, needs to feel superior, needs to be admired for the “stuff” that she owns. I kept this side of me hidden from everyone in my life, because I was so ashamed of the fact that I derive pleasure from such superficial sources. I’d always judged women like that, and now I’m one of them.

Well, today at Costco I finally came to a realization: All that “stuff” will really mean nothing if I lose everything in the end. And that’s a real possibility, because overspending is no joke. I could literally lose everything if I can’t find another way to make myself happy.

It was difficult to put away all the unnecessary stuff at Costco. I kept the sweater, because I actually do need it; today was the first cold day of the year. But the pens and the Fablehaven set? Those didn’t come home with me. It’s a small step, I know. But at least it’s a step forward, and not a step back.

Alexis Lesa

Photo credit: © diego cervo – Fotolia.com

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About Katherine Stone

is the founder & editor of Postpartum Progress. She was named one of the ten most influential mom bloggers of 2011, a WebMD Health Hero and one of the top 25 parent bloggers using social media for social good. She also writes the Fierce Blog, and a parenting column for Disney's Babble.com.

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  1. I think that this was me for a while after I had my first child. I would go to Target and just buy stuff – CD's that looked good, books, clothing, candles. And it made me feel better…and I had to stop because it was having a negative impact on EVERYTHING in my life. Thank you for this post!

  2. Kathy Morelli says:

    Hi Alexis – what a raw blog post this is.
    You care very brave to share theses deep emotions. Spending to feel more whole, better, etc, is something that many people do. You are not alone in this. Bravo for putting the "stuff" back. Bravo for reaching out to others in an electronic community. I often reflect on how our society manages to isolate women from each other, and pushes things onto people, instead. Imagine if our communities were more walker friendly and there were more open-air cafes and places for people to connect IRL. Perhaps that would ease our collective feelings of disconnection and dependency on spending.
    Here is a link to an article about our dependency on extrinsic values (materials things) and the rise of emotional distress. I had blogged about last month.
    http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/39335628/ns/health-me
    take care, Kathy

  3. Katherine Stone/Post says:

    Alexis,
    It's like you were writing about me. I have SO had the exact same problems. With me, it mainly focuses on clothes. It's like I've convinced myself that clothes are my suit of armor, and can protect me from feeling down, or being rejected, or feeling "not good enough". I love fashion, truly, but if I'm honest there's a part of it that is not about fashion but about me trying to fill some hole that can't really be filled. At least not with material things. God bless you for your honesty and courage. We can all help each other get through these trials by talking about them and lifting each other up.
    — Katherine

  4. I think we are the same person. I rarely go shopping alone (food shopping, Target…anywhere) b/c I have an anxiety attack about what to buy…what we need vs. what I want.
    I was just in Sam's Club the other day. No gel pens for me– did look for a new book, but ended up buying a CD instead. Target….forget about it! I go in for 1 thing and spend $100.
    Eating and shopping…. dulls the pain until the reality of the consequences of the overeating or overspending set in.
    Seriously, Alexis, I think you read my diary and then blog about it! <3

  5. Alexis! You just described my funk yesterday! This has been my crutch. I have no idea what else to do. Any suggestions from survivors to those just surviving?

  6. Alexis-
    I am going to add my name to the list of those saying "you are narrating my life!" You really are! I have struggled with this since my son was 2 months old. I would wander the empty malls mid-morning, pushing the stroller and buying things in stores that I would never, ever have gone in previously.
    My son is now 22 months old, and I still struggle. I recently made a promise to my husband that I wouldn't buy anything new for myself for 3 months. This is not the first time I made this promise, but I'm hopeful that this is the time it will stick! I know that this has to be common for women suffering from a PMD. Thank you for bringing this to light!

  7. I have started spending thousands. I am also an over eater but I haven’t been eating, just spending lately. I have a three year old and a six month old but I’ve had these problems before children though I’ve never spent this much. I remember what I had to do to stop overeatting; I had to fast first ( no purging) and try to simply be normal with food for as many days in a row as I could. I wonder if over spending is the same. Thank you for your blog!