Trying to Kill the Pain of Postpartum Depression by Overspending

I’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