Health

My Life as a Kleptomaniac

It still shocks me when people react negatively to my stealing. I guess part of the horror/beauty of mental illness is the totally blinkered relationship you develop with risk. Getting busted doesn't even occur to me.

by Patrick Marlborough
Apr 29 2016, 12:00am

All illustrations by Michael Dockery

I'm at the Vatican, looking up at another painting of a crucifixion. I'm also sliding a $34 gold-plated biro down my sleeve and letting it drop out the bottom of my jacket. It disappears into one of my overstuffed pockets and tips my total hoard to about $143 worth of Catholic trinkets. They include tourist baubles for Pope-loving wet nurses, would-be nuns, and repentant masturbators. All little symbols to indicate, "Hey look, I was at St. Peter's" and "I flagellate myself when I think of Elizabeth Warren in an erotic context."

To me, they mean nothing. They are just a jumble of pilfered items to add to a collection that has spanned airports, departments stores, libraries, and gift shops the world over: pocketable useless goodies that I just can't not pick up.

I nod at the nun behind the counter as I leave.

I was diagnosed with kleptomania not long after the slew of other diagnoses that became my identity: chronic depression, general anxiety disorder, bipolar, borderline personality disorder, chronic pain, et al. And of all the blowback from having donkey brain, I've always found my compulsive stealing the least troubling. I've been doing it since I was very young. It used to come with a heap of guilt, but that somehow died out when I was a teenager.

Oliver Twist left an indelible mark on me as an eight-year-old (BOOKS RUIN LIVES!)

A lot of kleptos talk about getting hooked on the "rush" of theft. The disease is so commonly linked with severe depression. It's a way just to break through the apathy. That's definitely a part of it, and like any mental illness, the reason and "feeling" comes in various shapes and guises. For me, it's also a part of my manic side. It feels like an obscure thing to master and to signify myself as being alive.

Oliver Twist left an indelible mark on me as an eight-year-old (BOOKS RUIN LIVES!). I always wanted to emulate the Artful Dodger and the sly Fagan. Robert Bresson's masterpiece Pickpocket opens with a slow examination of the fluidity and skill that goes with petty theft. The illusory nature of it, and the weird feeling of fulfillment that comes with making something disappear right in front of an unsuspecting dupe.

I know you're thinking I'm just looking for ways to intellectualize petty crime, but fuck it. There's something deeply satisfying in the feeling of transgression. It tickles down my crooked neural pathways so worn by the ebb of depression and anxiety. The pleasure is not a smugness but a very physical shiver—a deep tickling that's hard to explain or simulate.

It still shocks me when people react so negatively to my stealing. The most common response is something like, "You'll ruin your life, what if you're busted?" But I've never been busted, and part of the horror/beauty of mental illness is the totally blinkered relationship you develop with risk. Getting busted doesn't even occur to me.

Plus, I pick my targets. Even before meds helped me gain control, I had rules. Never steal from small businesses, friends, private citizens; don't take anything of sentimental value or anything that can't be replaced. Put me in an airport, institution, or headquarters though, and I'll go a little nutty.

I once stole a van load of throw pillows from a casino out of equal parts spite and boredom—tossing them over the fence by the poolside bar into my beat up Mitsubishi van. My mom loves those pillows. I hate casinos. It all works out.

For a while, I was also stealing potted plants from bars and restaurants. I have a nice little collection of herbs and succulents sourced from the finest Perth eateries.

Thanks to all my other mental illnesses, I don't get much blowback from what I call The Guilts . When you live in a constant state of crippling anxiety, it is hard to stop and say "Well jeez, maybe I shouldn't have taken all those phone covers from Dick Smith... Oh boy, I hope I'm not the reason they're closing down!"

Your brain doesn't get that kind of clarity. I am still rolling with guilt over the time I accidentally popped my grandmother's "Happy 80th Birthday" balloon. That happened 20 years ago and is, from all accounts, a false memory. But that's what I'm dealing with.

For the past four years or so, I basically stopped stealing because I went on stronger medication. But back in September, I cut down on poison A and took up poison B. Then, along with rapid weight loss and uncontrollable horniness, I started ganking again.

Since September, I've stolen $426 USD worth of stationery from an office supply chain (mainly moleskins—fuck off, 50 bucks!). I keep a tally in my phone of what I steal—where it's from, what it's worth. On my recent six-week European sojourn, I stole $94 worth of water and sandwiches from various airports, $255 from museum gift shops, $36 worth of bottled water, and $143 worth of New Testament idols from the Vatican gift shop.

I was stealing from the Catholic Church. The way I saw it, I was getting my tax dollars back on all those inquiries into all those sex crimes they'd hidden from the public for so long. Better to line my pockets than the pockets of Cardinal Pell's barristers.

Besides, isn't their whole shtick forgiveness?

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