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A Bad Time of Year for Compulsive Shoppers

Dec 19 2011 | Comments 4

Photo from Design Boom

Photo from Design Boom

A lot of people seem to think compulsive shopping is a joke. I can hear a beer-bellied former frat boy saying to his buddies, “Don’t all women have that disease?” Hardy har. The reality is that as with any compulsion, the compulsion to spend can be just as destructive as the compulsion to drink or gamble or shoot up.

I have a family history of compulsive spending, and without getting into personal details (a first, I know, but I’m protecting someone), it still affects the way I deal with (or don’t deal with) money and possessions. Material objects for those who come from compulsive environments become associated with dishonesty, shame and frenetic need. They’re not a source of joy. And yet, I myself have struggled to keep my finances in order—not because I spend too much, but because I can’t bear to touch anything having to do with money, and that includes bills. In a sense, money doesn’t exist to me, which makes it difficult when it comes time to file your taxes. In my younger days, I defaulted on student loans, allowed my credit rating to sink, let credit card interest accrue. It wasn’t all connected to my family history, but some of it certainly was. Being complicit in someone else’s compulsive behavior, as I was as a child, makes for an adulthood spend under the covers, metaphorically, when it comes to that substance. Like the child of an alcoholic, you want to stay safe—and if that means never touching a drink (or money), so be it.

For people who celebrate Christmas, this is a tough time of year for many reasons: family dynamics, stressful travel, and in this terrible economy, facing the reality of not having enough money to buy gifts. For compulsive shoppers, however, it’s particularly hard. CNN has a story about it today:

For compulsive shoppers, buying something creates a feeling related to the euphoria that alcohol induces, said Bonny Forrest, a psychologist in San Diego. As with alcoholics, it’s hard to keep away from that rush of pleasure.

About 6% of women and 5.5% of men are compulsive buyers, according to a 2006 study from Stanford University in the American Journal of Psychiatry. The mental disorder has not been studied extensively, but it is thought to be an impulse control disorder.

… Compulsive shopping sometimes goes hand in hand with alcoholism and eating disorders, Forrest said. It’s not currently a separate diagnosis in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, the “Bible” by which mental health professionals identify conditions. Psychologists usually view it as an issue of impulse control rather than a sign of obsessive-compulsive disorder; OCD medications do not tend to work for shopping problems, Forrest said.

There’s no hard line between treating yourself to a pair of shoes on a bad day and being a compulsive shopper — it is a spectrum. When shopping causes distress in your relationship or if shopping is the only way you can deal with negative feelings, it can be a real problem, Forrest says.

Here are some tips to control the problem:

-Pay for purchases by cash, check, debit card.
-Make a shopping list and only buy what is on the list.
-Destroy all credit cards except one to be used for emergency only.
-Avoid discount warehouses. Allocate only a certain amount of cash to be spent if you do visit one.
-”Window shop” only after stores have closed. If you do “look” during the day, leave your wallet at home.
-Avoid phoning in catalog orders and don’t watch TV shopping channels.
-If you’re traveling to visit friends or relatives, have your gifts wrapped and call the project finished; people tend to make more extraneous purchases when they shop outside their own communities.
-Take a walk or exercise when the urge to shop comes on.
-If you feel out of control, you probably are. Seek counseling or a support group such as Debtors Anonymous.
-Avoid people or places which tempt you to shop/spend
-Cut up plastic; close charge accounts; rip up credit card offers and home equity applications
-Make lists before going to the store; buy what you need only – call support people, take a trusted friend
-Wait a good period of time before you make an impulsive purchase
-Ask yourself: Do I need this or do I just want it?
-Seek out specialized counseling, medication, support groups, read books about compulsive shopping/spending

For more see Shopaholics Anonymous and Debtors Anonymous.

liz | 12:37 PM | anxiety, compulsive shopping, compulsive spending, holiday shopping problems, impulse control disorders

Depression Confession: Megan Fox

May 18 2010 | Comment 1

megan-fox-juno-premiere-01-preview[1]Okay, actually, it’s not depression. But since this is a category I’ve used for a long time, it seemed like a good headline. Megan Fox isn’t depressed, though. She simply has OCD. From USA Today:

“I could go days, weeks, without talking to another human being,” she swears. “I hate receiving compliments; I hate being told I’m talented or people think I’m going to be a movie star. I always feel that it’s forced and fake.”

She admits she has obsessive compulsive disorder. “This is a sickness, I have an illness — this is not OK anymore,” she says.

She refuses to use public toilets without covers or eat with restaurant silverware. “Every time someone uses a bathroom and they flush, all the bacteria is shot into the air,” she says. “Putting my mouth where a million other mouths have been, just knowing all the bacteria that you carry in your mouth? Ucch!”

I totally sympathize. I don’t even tell people the kinds of things that gross me out because it would be so hard to understand. But the toilet is a real problem for many people with such issues. ‘Cause it’s gross!

To learn more about OCD from someone who doesn’t look anything like Megan Fox, keep your eyes peeled for the amazing movie OC87. It’s an incredibly nuanced look at this concept.

liz | 2:05 PM | anxiety, celebrities

If You Do Nothing Else Today, Read This

Apr 2 2010 | Comments 0

An incredibly eloquent submission by Joe Gutstein.

Let’s imagine for a moment that you are long into the public mental health system. You have been in the hospital multiple times, in a couple of partial hospitalization programs, and have spent years in sheltered workshops and day programs. You’ve received the Prophecy of Doom, “Too sick for too long to get any better.” You’ve heard plenty of statements beginning with “You can’t, You won’t, and You will never.” You’ve been told endlessly that something is intrinsically (genetically) wrong with you and the only thing that will truly save you is a medication yet to be discovered. You’ve also been told that the most important thing you can do is get on SSI or SSDI in light of the prolonged and persistent nature of your illness. You’ve been told to engage in meaningful activities generally limited to walking, listening to music, and reading. You’ve been told countless times to avoid any stressors which might be associated with more rewarding activities and these stressors will doubtless lead to yet another hospitalization. You’ve been told so many things.

You’ve lived through several successive Eras: Psychosocial Rehabilitation, Evidence Based Practices, Transformation, Recovery and now Recovery and Wellness but the only thing that actually changed was your medication. You’ve been referred to as a patient, a recipient, a client, a consumer, a prosumer, a self advocate and now a “person with ….” but everything is the same at the hospitals, the sheltered workshops, the partial hospitalization programs and the very day program you now attend. You are now told pursuant to the Recovery model that you are suddenly empowered but what evidences your empowerment? What is it in your life that is now different? When did you last hold a meaningful job, live in decent housing, go on a date, attend to a party which wasn’t held at 3 pm or have friends over to your place? Has your health improved? Has your circle of friends and acquaintances changed? Has your income increased to provide for more options? What activities do you now engage in which you wouldn’t have before you were empowered?

Are you empowered? Not really, nothing has changed in your existence. What you do have is a familiar long standing delusion in which you are empowered. You imagine, it is part of your symptomatology, that you can provide anyone anything and everything with a CGI script. This is an empowering belief within your disempowering reality and among all the other folks at the day program it gives you a unique identity, a unique story where being unique in other areas might not be highly regarded. Fortunately, there is no impact on your role as a person in the day program unless you chatter away about it. (No more so than your peer who believes he is being watched by friends on another planet. After all, he is no longer alone all the time. Someone is watching over him where no one else might otherwise care about him.)

What is going to replace this powerful delusion and that which accrues to you by virtue of it? Let’s consider your options and the system of supports and services which will assist you in replacing it. Knowing that it is best not to ask for anything specific which might fall beyond the groups found at the day program, You say, “I want to be empowered.” The reply is “Of course, we can help you with this. Did you know that the day program has an Empowerment Group?” (You knew there was an Empowerment Group.) Consequently, you are signed up for the day program’s Empowerment Group. It meets in the same room as the Socialization Group which was going to help you get a date on Saturday night and the Pre-Vocational Group which was going to help you get a meaningful job. But you know the folks in the Empowerment Group. Not a one has become empowered. (The group meets weekly and all the chairs are in a therapeutic arrangement. There are handouts and members of the group so inclined read aloud from the handouts.)

So in the final analysis, you have the delusion and the Empowerment Group. The delusion is empowering but the Empowerment Group isn’t. Sadly, no one asked you the right question in the Era of Wellness & Recovery. Now – for the first time – the very question he or she would want to be asked in the same circumstances is being asked, “What do you need to thrive?” What is it that would lead you to hope for a life where the delusion has no value and might be patently detrimental. And for once you truly know that your answer shouldn’t be limited to something that happens in another group but involves real skills, fostered and facilitated in the real world with services and supports which promote a life. And just maybe you’ll now believe in the possibility of that date on Saturday night and a meaningful job for this new reality is more satisfying and empowering then any long held delusion.

liz | 11:05 AM | DISABILITY, SCHIZOPHRENIA, anxiety, bipolar disorder, depression, hospitals / hospitalization, meds, politics, stigma

Goodbye, Anti-Sacred and Profane Writing Machine

Jun 25 2009 | Comments 2

After a long battle with cancer, PW staff writer, Guardian columnist, punk-rock novelist, NME gadfly, gender-twisting rebel comedian and poet Steven Wells has gone on to other things. Well, not really. According to Steven, there’s no such thing as the afterlife, and if there is, I guarantee he’s really, really pissed off right now. I can just picture him at St. Peter’s Gates, saying, “Fuck me! This shit actually exists?”

We’ll all miss Steven so much, and I’ll say more about that later. For now, I’m wishing the best to all family and friends who are hurting. That’s what Steven really cared about in the end, though he was very passionately annoyed by knitting, as well.

Steven was often told he was anti-American. I loved his passion, and he cracked us the fuck up every day. This video was part of a series he did for PW called Steven Wells’ America, in which he took sacred cows and basically grilled them for dinner. Below, he reflects on the religiosity of an America that voted for Bush a second time (Steven was a staunch atheist). Toward the end he smiles a bit, so you know that he knows he’s being ridiculous. And that’s part of what was so cute about Steven — he’d rant, but then laugh at himself.

liz | 10:41 AM | BIG PHARMA, Funny or Offensive?, GLBT, Song of the Day, alternative treatments, anxiety, celebrities, children, cute fix, depression, hospitals / hospitalization, media, meds, military, philadelphia, phobias, politics, random, religion, suicide, violence

Mental and Obsessed

Jun 16 2009 | Comments 0

My column this week — out tomorrow — is about the TV show Mental. I have so many objections to the show, it took a long time to write. I could only fit in one of my central points, which is that … Well, I’ll let you read it tomorrow.

This was on NAMI’s Twitter feed recently:

Watch “MENTAL” on FOX-TV Tuesday 9:00 PM ET. Does it stigmatize or open minds? NAMI is monitoring. Send comments to

There are also a couple feeds about the new A&E show Obsessed, which documents real people with real illness. Though some of its elements are sensationalized, I actually appreciate that the show will raise an awareness of what some people grapple with. Though Nidia’s OCD is incredibly extreme, I think any person with OCD will recognize themselves in it (at least I did).

The show also advocates Cognitive Behavioral Therapy as the most effective treatment for anxiety disorders, which is unusual in a world of Valium, Xanax, Ativan, Klonopin, etc. The doctors explain things fairly well, though of course judging by the first episode, the show is pretty much like OCD: Extreme Makeover. But based only on the first episode, I believe that it will ultimately help the public understand the secret shame and fear many people suffer in silence with.

liz | 9:01 AM | anxiety, media

Poor Susan Boyle

Jun 1 2009 | Comments 4

The star of Britain’s Got Talent, who shocked the world by being ugly yet talented, is having a kind of breakdown from all the stress and pressure and media savagery. She’s in a mental health clinic now, where, her brother reports, he suggested she went to have some tea and relax. (I’ve never been in a mental health clinic in the U.S. where having tea and relaxing were on the agenda, so I’m eager to go crazy on my next trip to London.) In case you’re not familiar with Boyle’s tale, here is some info on her loss:

Embedded video from <a href=”” mce_href=””>CNN Video</a>

Judge Piers Morgan on Susan’s issues:

Questions are being asked about who is responsible for her mini breakdown. Her brother tries to explain, including his belief that she misses her cat, Pebbles:

I hope she feels better soon.

liz | 11:55 AM | anxiety, celebrities, media

Voulez Vous Texté Avec Moi, Ce Soir?

May 26 2009 | Comments 0

One time I found a guy’s cell phone on the pavement and I wanted to return it to him. So I looked to see who he’d last called and easily found someone to contact. But then … my curiosity got the better of me. Here in my hand I had someone’s life in miniature, and yes, I looked at his photos.

I guess I thought maybe he had a cat and there’d be photos of his cat. If someone found my phone they’d see photos of my hamster (R.I.P., Popcorn), my sugar gliders and my dog. So why not have a quick Cute Fix? What I found on the phone was all porn. Raunchy porn of men doing things to other men, with closeups. Still photos, mind you. Which made me feel so guilty. I mean, what kind of monster was I? Violating someone’s privacy that way? It was terrible. It vitiated the Good Samaritan vibe I felt when I went to the guy’s house to return his phone. I shamefully handed it over. I wanted to apologize, as well as say, “Your life looks a hell of a lot more fun than mine is.”

Random story, I know. But the world of cell phones is so interesting. The first cell phone my family had was huge. Not quite this bad, but close.

Nowadays, they’re slim and chic and people have porn on them. But there are perils, especially for the mental health of the American adolescent. Take this excerpt from a recent New York Times article:

American teenagers sent and received an average of 2,272 text messages per month in the fourth quarter of 2008, according to the Nielsen Company — almost 80 messages a day, more than double the average of a year earlier.

The phenomenon is beginning to worry physicians and psychologists, who say it is leading to anxiety, distraction in school, falling grades, repetitive stress injury and sleep deprivation. …

“Among the jobs of adolescence are to separate from your parents, and to find the peace and quiet to become the person you decide you want to be,” she said. “Texting hits directly at both those jobs.”

Psychologists expect to see teenagers break free from their parents as they grow into autonomous adults, Professor Turkle went on, “but if technology makes something like staying in touch very, very easy, that’s harder to do; now you have adolescents who are texting their mothers 15 times a day, asking things like, ‘Should I get the red shoes or the blue shoes?’ ”

As for peace and quiet, she said, “if something next to you is vibrating every couple of minutes, it makes it very difficult to be in that state of mind.

“If you’re being deluged by constant communication, the pressure to answer immediately is quite high,” she added. “So if you’re in the middle of a thought, forget it.”

Michael Hausauer, a psychotherapist in Oakland, Calif., said teenagers had a “terrific interest in knowing what’s going on in the lives of their peers, coupled with a terrific anxiety about being out of the loop.” For that reason, he said, the rapid rise in texting has potential for great benefit and great harm.

“Texting can be an enormous tool,” he said. “It offers companionship and the promise of connectedness. At the same time, texting can make a youngster feel frightened and overly exposed.”

liz | 10:25 AM | anxiety, children, media, random, side effects

High Anxiety: Dontrelle Willis

May 14 2009 | Comments 0

Congrats and good luck to pitcher Detroit Tigers Dontrelle Willis who’s back to work after a lengthy struggle with anxiety issues. From the New York Times:

For privacy reasons, [manager Dave] Dombrowski declined to talk specifically about what treatment Willis received for the anxiety disorder, and how it was diagnosed.

On Tuesday, Willis discussed his treatment in general terms. Asked whether he saw a psychologist or a psychiatrist, Willis answered, “Yeah, something like that,” and added that he saw more than one at a time. “Like a team,” he said. The therapy, he said, mainly involved talking to doctors, then to teammates.

“With all the professional things that were going on, they said I needed to relax and have fun and get back to my old self,” he said. “That’s what I’ve been doing. It was just one of those things. I think I was putting a lot of emphasis on every pitch unnecessarily, and they said, ‘Well, just go back to what you were doing before.’ ”

Dombrowski said the team followed the doctors’ recommendations for treatment, which required putting Willis on the disabled list after supplying the commissioner’s office with supporting medical documentation. Willis added that he is no longer undergoing therapy.

“Our goal all along was to put him in a position where he could come back and pitch well for us,” Dombrowski said. “We let the doctors guide it, not the baseball people.”

Dontrelle Willis, Back From Anxiety Disorder, Is Seeking a Return to Form

liz | 12:54 PM | anxiety

Coming Soon to a TV Screen Near You: You!

May 6 2009 | Comments 2

Sounds like A&E is doing the reality thing with crazies, this time. From a press release:

A&E explores the world of individuals suffering from extreme anxiety disorders, including Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, Panic Disorder and Hoarding, and tells the stories of their struggles to overcome them in the new original nonfiction series “Obsessed.” The eleven episode, one-hour series debuts Monday, May 25 at 10pm ET/PT following the season premiere of the Emmy-nominated “Intervention.”

“The series sheds a light on the vast world of anxiety disorders, while offering those who suffer from these debilitating afflictions a path to recovery,” said Robert Sharenow, Senior Vice President, Nonfiction and Alternative Programming, A&E Network and BIO. “Like ‘Intervention,’ Obsessed takes an honest and unflinching look at a difficult subject, programming that has come to resonate with our viewers and that underscores the essence of our brand.”

The essence of our brand? That makes me feel icky.

Of course, the cases are very extreme, or it wouldn’t be fun:

In the series opener, Helen, a single mother of three is tormented every day by her OCD as it’s making her life a nightmare. Her anxiety was spiked when her father died in a car accident. She has extreme panic attacks while driving and she obsessively puts on her father’s bloody clothes from that fatal night. Through Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, (CBT) widely described as the most effective treatment for OCD, Helen must face her fears and try to come to terms with her father’s death and her inability to drive. Meanwhile, Scott is a germaphobe who doesn’t keep a trashcan in his house, doesn’t have any pictures on the wall, washes his hands 50 times a day and sleeps on the sofa because it takes him too long to make his bed in the morning. His OCD has caused him to be desperately alone and he must face his fears through CBT in hopes that he can have a successful relationship.

So let me amend my header, here: Coming Soon to a TV Screen Near You: People Who Are Just a Skosh Stranger Than You Could Ever Be.

liz | 4:07 PM | alternative treatments, anxiety, media

Okay, Guys, Here We Are

Apr 30 2009 | Comments 3

I brought TTWS’ unconventional mental-wellness tips to Huffington Post and they can now be seen on that vaunted site. Please click here. Please click here. Please click here. Because it’s good when you get hits, or something.

Let’s keep adding more tips.

liz | 2:02 PM | alternative treatments, anxiety, depression

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