The price of the pandemic: bipolar disorder, money and lockdown By Yvette Caster I’ll just buy some books. I’ll just buy a few lipsticks. I’ll just order some fancy cakes. Lockdown has been hard. I deserve a few treats. £1,000 later I get a text from my credit card company warning me I’m approaching the limit. How did I become so financially irresponsible? Let me introduce you to my manic mind, a mind which lives off its impulses. A mind with a lot of dreams and ideas, and almost zero patience. A mind which, to be frank, is a sucker for the ease of online shopping, the lure of one-click deliveries, the all-too easy payments of hundreds of pounds, made any time of the day or night, at home or beyond, made with nothing more than a simple touch of my thumb on my phone. Later, checking my credit card app, I feel confused and sick with guilt. How did I spend so much money on things I don’t need? How will I ever pay it all back? I know I’ll never confess it to my family, who are supportive and kind but who I know must be sick of bailing out their 38-year-old daughter – supposedly a grown woman with her own independent income and accounts, not a teenager who’s nicked a credit card. In the past, though, things were a lot worse. I amassed debts and cried for weeks trying to work out how a regional journalist’s salary would pay off my cards. I took out more cards to cover the cards. The best advice I ever had was from a friend who, when I had finally admitted the hell I was in, said I should swallow my pride and talk to my family. She was right – however much I despise myself for borrowing (and, I should add, always repaying) my family at my age, at least I know my dad won’t try to screw me over with horrendous interest rates that make my spending mistakes so much worse or with terrifying, ever-increasing overdraft fees, or with fees for going over the overdraft, or fees for still being over the overdraft, of fees for sending me letters to tell me I’m still overdrawn. For years I just denied how bad I was with money, sticking my head in the sand and buying another handbag to cheer me up about it for good measure. Only by recognising my issues have I been able to start to save. I wanted a high-end laptop, so my then-boyfriend bought it for me and I paid him back in instalments. More recently I wanted to buy my own flat, so I moved back home, and paid into the bank of mum and dad – transferring a chunk of my salary every month to help accrue the deposit which, if it had been in my own account, I could easily have blown on expensive lunches and beautiful designer shoes. The plan worked and I now have my own place but, as a freelance journalist and podcaster, I am hardly as financially secure as I could be, and I fear the approaching post-pandemic recession that has been predicted by some. Of course, not all my spending is frivolous or done on a whim during hypomania. Most of the time I’m fairly responsible. I pay my income tax. I pay my council tax. I pay my mortgage, my electricity bill, my gas bill, my water bill, my phone bill, my internet bill, my ground rent, my property management bill, my food bill, my pension, my NUJ membership. And I pay for my mood stabilisers (even though my pharmacist tells me the exact same pills would be free if I had epilepsy rather than bipolar disorder). The government’s so-called financial help during the pandemic has been no help to me. I’m not eligible for Universal Credit and, because last year some of my work meant I was paid via PAYE they consider me more employed than self-employed, even though I’m a freelancer, so I’m ineligible for the grant some self-employed people have received, despite the fact I lost a considerable sum when a travel book I was working on got canned. As I mentioned at the start, I can be capricious when it comes to spending. I don’t expect the government to bail me out – and I don’t need it as much as others do. I’m lucky to have relatives I can trust who can help me manage my money. But if you’re reading this and struggling please don’t lose hope. Bipolar UK has some ideas on where to turn for help here. You may feel better for talking to a trusted friend or relative about money too. The Samaritans are also there for a chat on 116 123 any time of the day or night and StepChange offer free impartial advice on debt help. Bipolar UK’s eCommunity is also a safe space in which to chat. Living with debt is stressful but don’t be ashamed to talk about that stress. Although I’m confident that, this time, I’ll pay off my card again, frankly I can’t help but wonder how many times this has to happen before I stop repeating this cycle. Or if it will ever stop. Or if, in fact, it’s the greedy, grasping banks who should be held to account. They seem to love lending us money. They seem to love us spending and spending, hypomanic or not. They seem to want us to be in debt and to stay there, struggling more and more, falling deeper and deeper, forever. If you liked reading this come and chat to me on Twitter or Instagram @yvettecaster or on Facebook @yvettecasterjournalist. If you like podcasts you may like Mentally Yours, which I co-host for Metro.co.uk. It’s on Apple Podcasts, Spotify and AudioBoom.