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Why I Turn to Shopping When I’m Struggling With Depression

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“This is what depression looks like for me,” I thought to myself as I aimlessly wander through the mall on a Saturday afternoon, two huge shopping bags in hand. People pass me and have no idea that I’m having a meltdown because from the outside looking in, I look like a regular shopper, hunting bargains at the mall. In all reality, I’m hurting inside. So, retail therapy is what I try, even though I know it’s not the healthiest coping strategy for me. My wallet certainly doesn’t appreciate it.

I’ve always been fascinated with malls since I was a child, even though I’ve had many a panic attack in them. Having social anxiety disorder and going to the mall can be a recipe for disaster for me, but on this particular Saturday it’s not my anxiety that is taking over; it’s my depression.

I’ve been struggling with depression for about a month now, and I haven’t had an episode this bad since my college days. So today, I took myself to the mall where I ended up “shopping ’til I dropped” in an attempt to feel something.

I will admit that there is a power in buying and a euphoric feeling of finding the perfect pair of shoes or purse or jacket or jewelry, but like anything it’s a high that eventually goes away. I feel confident when I shop and just for a brief moment, I don’t dislike myself.

I don’t dislike that I’m anxious in most situations. I don’t dislike that I’m unhappy when I look in the mirror. I don’t dislike that I shame myself for being on antidepressants. I’m forgetting about all that stuff for a quick moment in the mall.

On this particular day my self-esteem was taking a beating, so into Old Navy I went. I bought three pairs of pants that I didn’t need but felt alive under the bright lights and upbeat music. Then I went to Macy’s, where I bought expensive leggings and a sweater that looks like all of the sweaters that are already in my closet. Eventually, as I walk around the mall, I start to feel crappy again, so I Google compulsive shopping and read a WebMD article about shopping sprees being a surprising sign of depression.

So, I take a breath and remember that I got out of bed this morning and try every day to overcome the darkness that sometimes surrounds me. It’s not easy and I’m learning as I go that trips to the mall can be healing and harmful all at the same time.

That’s me; shopping bags in hand, not a hair out of place on my head with a false confidence that can last anywhere from minutes to hours. I’m struggling as I walk, depressed and a little bit lost. I’m not OK and that’s OK.

Getty Images photo via Marcos Calvo

Originally published: February 23, 2021
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