For the past year, I’ve had something of a shopping addiction. In part, I simply like owning stuff. I grew up knowing what luxury feels like, and have been lucky enough to always know nice things. I also have a very healthy habit of making money to match my unhealthy habit of spending it; but aside from simply wanting every skincare product Sephora has in stock, I seek to buy things when I get stressed, sad, lonely, or depressed. It’s a problem that began to cultivate itself when I was a senior in highschool. I worked 5-6 days a week making very good money for my age, almost triple what I make now 3 years later, and had no bills to pay, so I spent money quite loosely. I bought whatever I wanted, when I wanted, and still had enough leftover to save generously. This spending, however, always seemed to increase during times of distress, such as finals and when the ACT, which I admittedly took four times, rolled around.
Though my coming-of-age years have been undoubtedly difficult, with challenges ranging from clinical depression, anxiety, OCD, and severe and persistent insomnia, that no doctor can seem to cure, this past year has been one of the most difficult. I have been so busy these past few years dealing with very real and tangible problems, that in a sense I haven’t had time to deal with some of the more normal and expected problems people my age face. Though my insomnia taught me more about myself and what’s important in life than what i’ve learned throughout my entire life, I still feel quite lost. Who am I? What, besides my 20 mg of Lexapro, will bring me true happiness?
I don’t know. It’s a hard pill to swallow for someone who tends to put up a front that I have it all together, and even harder because I tend to plan my life about 12 years in advance at all times (OCD, duh). When I was going through the peak of my insomnia, I decided that I did not want to let my present condition, no matter how difficult, affect my future. Even though things seemed so terribly dark at the moment, I always had hope that there was light at the end of the tunnel, even if that light was a speck at the moment. So I worked my ass off. I got straight A’s for the first time since middle school my senior year of high school. Straight A’s with a record 102 school absences and 2 nights of sleep per week, while working 5 nights a week; and I’ve managed to keep nearly perfect grades throughout college as well. For probably the first time in my whole life, I applied myself.
Is this because I have now magically discovered the importance of school? In part, yes. I have big dreams that I want to achieve despite my circumstances…but, embarrassingly, it has become apparent to me that my motivations in life seem to be very flawed. Yes, I want to be a lawyer, and yes I find law utterly and completely fascinating. The issue is that, because I’ve had so very much time to think and reflect during this quarantine, maybe the reason I want so badly to achieve this success is simply to say I achieved this success. I want to have overcome my circumstances so badly, that perhaps I am pushing myself towards the highest goal I think possible for me to achieve, in hopes that once I reach it I will feel some sense of satisfaction. There is a large part of me that has always felt that once I reach my goals, I will be happy…right?
The thing that is most frightening, is that with all this time to think, i’m beginning to wonder if what I think I want, and what I think will make me happy, might not. What if I spend 3 years working my ass off in law school, and have a high power career, and still feel unfulfilled? What if I can buy everything in Sephora without a second thought, and raid the home isle of Anthropologie, and I’m still not happy?
Like many, I am currently quarantined at home. Having this time all alone to myself is pretty scary, as I don’t normally like to be alone with my thoughts, because it is typically during moments of boredom that my anxiety tends to creep up on me. So I have done what any person who is addicted to shopping would do at this time: I have been online shopping. And… a lot. And by a lot, I mean that is pretty much all I have been doing besides working and drinking wine. And one by one, my packages accumulated until my front door looked like Christmas morning. I let them sit until just the other day when I couldn’t wait any longer. As I opened each one, I felt a burst of excitement and happiness. Only for that happiness to fade about an hour later. This is what I have done all year. Everytime my life gets stressful or I get sad, I go shopping. And it cheers me up, but a few days later the same urge to buy more returns, and oftentimes, if I have the money, I cave; and the cycle repeats.
I don’t think I’m alone in this. Yes, I have a shopping addiction. It is one of my many coping mechanisms to deal with my many 21 year old problems. When I tell people I have this addiction they think I’m just being funny, when in fact I am dead serious. I guess I’m not too worried about the shopping though, for a couple reasons. The first being that I know how to budget. I only spend what I have and never get myself in debt despite having a high credit limit for my age. I also work hard and make enough money to make these purchases. The second reason, being that America in general, has a shopping addiction. Adults buy almost everything, with money they do not have. As a nation, we have a problem. We take out loans for our mortgage. We lease cars. We spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to get an education, which many other nations recognize as a basic human right. The average American household has over 200,000 items in it. And statistics tell us we only use a very small portion of the homes we own. Capitalism provides us with endless choices: I can recall months ago needing to buy new toothpaste, and being absolutely astounded at how many different types of toothpastes there were. I’m also pretty sure that almost all of them are exactly the same despite their claims of whitening, gum health, cavity prevention, etc.
The fact of the matter is that American culture tells us we need to take out loans to attend school our whole youth, so that we can one day get good jobs to pay off these loans. We can then buy a large home, furnish it on credit, and lease a car we probably shouldn’t be buying in the first place, which loses over 10% of it’s value as soon as you drive it off the lot. Commercials tell us we need these items to be happy, and I for one, fall for it everytime. When I look at my life, I have so much of what I could possibly want. A beautiful apartment, the entire Drunk Elephant skincare line, and the entire Ouai haircare line. I have Tory Burch Sandals, and a variety of designer purses in every color. I have a nikon camera, a thousand lightroom presets, a Mac computer I am typing this on, an impressive collection of coffee table books, a prius I take a lot of shit from my friends for, and just about every kind of coffee maker you can possibly think of except for drip coffee, because I have no patience. Despite all of this, I still go running to the mall if there is a sale, literally anywhere. I also live in one of the most beautiful places in the world, to top all of this off.
Am I happy? Not entirely. I have my moments. I have people and relationships in my life that I cherish. I get to travel, which is one of the more useful ways to spend your money in my opinion. No matter how hard I try to act happy, and even though I do have my moments of laughing until my stomach hurts, I still know my credit card number by heart. By this I mean, I still find myself buying things to try and fill a void. And I still work my ass off in school (which to clarify, is not a bad thing in any way) to reach for a career that will allow me the financial freedom to make any purchase I want. In a way, it excites me that one day I can buy real silk sheets instead of satin, and I will have enough money to travel for months at a time. At the same time, though, I am also terrified that if I continue down this path, following “The American Dream” that 60+ credits of political science courses have taught me is just a myth, I may never be truly happy. I may have my moments of temporary, fleeting happiness, but in the end I will always be left trying to fill that void that resides in me.
Now I realize that this blog post is quite depressing in a sense, but I wanted to write it in case any of my readers are experiencing something similar. We are in a time of extreme uncertainty, leaving us with hours upon hours a day to sit and do nothing but think. For those of you who struggle with mental health, this takes its toll on you quite quickly. I guess my point to this long story, which seems to have many smaller stories within, is that we have been given an opportunity to rest and recuperate. A time to reflect and sit with realizations that may terrify us, such as my own revelations that I have laid out in this post. I understand that much like me, you may be tempted to ignore your thoughts, and distract yourself in any way possible because just simply being is freakin’ terrifying, and well, depressing. Whether you find yourself shopping like me, or in many males’ cases, addicted to your xbox or PS4, i’m here to say that maybe this isn’t the best use of our time during this pandemic.
I am a very firm believer that everything in life happens for a reason. Though I, like many, am having a very hard time seeing what exactly the reason for the coronavirus may be, I have to believe that something greater than us and our reasonable fears of another recession is at stake. I think we were given this time, not to distract ourselves from our thoughts, but to sit with them. No matter how uncomfortable they may be. Though i’ve spent the majority of this time in quarantine shopping, working, and doing other activities to avoid my thoughts at all costs, I am here to tell you that is no longer what I will be doing. Instead, I will be spending a great deal of time going through my thoughts and facing myself. I have a feeling that it’s going to be a while before we are allowed to leave our houses again, and I intend to use it to better myself.
I will be feeling every emotion, no matter how uncomfortable, and facing every thought I allow into my head with an objective view. I want to experience true and lasting happiness, not the kind I get from swiping my credit card. This is going to be a time of extreme growth for me, and it can be for you as well. I have no idea where this journey will take me, but I believe it will bring me closer to what I am seeking than shopping ever could.