I was once a high-valued corporate spy, investigating customer service everywhere I went by working as a mystery shopper. After a year of luxury brand espionage, I went inactive.
Why would I forgo hitting posh hair salons on the house, free smells, scrubs, and soaps while receiving hand massages? Wouldn’t I miss playing ‘let’s pretend I’m rich and famous’ while being measured for Haute Couture I’d never pick up?
After 22 years of living and working full-time with Bipolar I, I fell into a depression so deep I had to quit a stimulating, high paying job. I applied for disability insurance and was immediately approved. So I’m that sick. Eventually I felt better.
My best friend was a Mystery Shopper. She took me to lunch at incredible restaurants while chattering about overdue reports for ‘shops’ she’d already done.
She said she’d show me the ropes; warning me about companies selling lists of companies. She said they were scams.
I signed up through the Mystery Shopper Providers of America (MSPA). The MSPA represents both shoppers and hundreds of mystery shopping companies. There are ethical standards both are expected to uphold. There is work outside this network but I was warned it was unreliable. Things like not getting paid.
I registered with five companies my friend said she enjoyed working with. All of them were upscale. Two of them represented restaurants only. I filled out endless personal profile forms. It was interesting to study each brand’s corporate culture and customer service requirements. It was thrilling to spy on their employees and inform on them. I became hypomanic.
There were drive-thru banks, movie theatres, and car dealerships. The shops that paid the most were boring economy hotels that required a weekend stay and a 100-question report due the next Monday. I was so elevated, I just couldn’t stay in one place that long.
My grandiosity got over on me at the ‘just looking’ drop ins. By then, I was beginning to hear things. The handbags all screamed “Take Me Home!”
Once I had to purchase and return shoes on a credit card. I was ashamed. How could I be such a horrible, lowly creature that I couldn’t afford a pair of flats?
What really cost me was equating money with value. If I didn’t have enough money to keep something I wanted, I wasn’t anyone. What a mindwarp.
My last run involved six desirable shops at high-end cosmetics counters. My payment was one hundred dollars per, to be used for purchases I could keep. I was offered a complimentary makeover. While she was touching my face, the saleswoman kept intoning, “You should buy this, your face needs more moisture,” etc.
I dropped over $700.00. Even though I had been compensated $600.00 in cosmetics, I lost $100.00. And that’s not including gas and online time spent on reports for these projects.
This also happened in my restaurant jobs. We were supposed to bring a friend, but they didn’t give you enough for two. Not wanting to seem stingy, I always overspent.
Eventually, I realized I was spinning my wheels, and had racked up five thousand dollars in credit card debt. I went online and deactivated all of my profiles. I made a significant shift.
I see the importance of giving back to the world, leaving something good in my trail. Even though I’m on disability, I want to be a creator, rather than someone who has to buy things all the time in order to feel whole.
I began to write, study nutrition, exercise, make jewelry, and try new recipes from the newspaper to improve my meal planning and cooking. I feel better about myself.
As a person with bipolar disorder with a tendency towards mania and overspending, I don’t need additional triggers. I have friends with bipolar disorder who hit every sale, and have finally stopped urging me to take them there.
About the only time I go to a shopping center is during the holidays or to see some art film that’s not playing elsewhere. I go to the grocery store nearly every day. That’s enough time consumerism for me.
Read the rest of Allison's posts for IBPF here. Allison has also written for NAMI Not Alone and has personal blogs on Wordpress and Tumblr.You can find her on Facebook where she has a closed group to share coping strategies for living with bipolar disorder.