Health & Fitness

The poor lives that come with sudden wealth

Too much success could be a blessing but dangerous. FILE PHOTO | NMG
Too much success could be a blessing but dangerous. FILE PHOTO | NMG 

“Is the wealth syndrome real? A friend of mine suspects she flopped an interview for a big job after failing to explain how she would handle the fat salary that comes with the position”

A few years ago a man came to see us because of what he called his allergy to money.

He was a doctor, who upon qualifying in India came back home, married, and had by the age of 35 years, a good home and a growing family. He worked hard and soon bought a house in Eastlands. He had a car and dropped his children at expensive schools in Nairobi. His debts were easy to service and he steadily moved up the social ladder.

By 45 years, he had moved to the leafy suburbs of Nairobi, had a booming private practice and was a much-sought after doctor. He acquired membership of a number of clubs and socialised with the high and mighty. All who knew him said he had won the lottery in his life.

Girls were the first to notice how handsome he was. Mothers of some of his patients quickly noticed, soon to be followed by some of his patients. In whispers, all said how well he dressed.

At first, he resisted the ways of the world, but one day, he tasted the “fruit of the garden”. What started off as a seemingly innocent encounter at a chance meeting during an event in Mombasa, turned out to be a full blown affair with a human resource manager in a firm he consulted for.

As soon as his wife found out, life became impossible for the man. To complicate things the HR officer had found out that the doctor was in liaison with her personal assistant at the same time. The more he fought the three women, the less energy he had for any of them. Each accused him of spending more time (and energy) on the others.

He began to feel anxious, angry, guilty and irritable. Soon he lost sleep at night, each night consumed by greater uncertainty about his new life situation. That is when he discovered an old friend called alcohol.

At first a few tots of whisky worked just fine, and he was able to pay some attention to one of the three women, some of the time. The wars became more intense and he decided to put off some of the fires with the only tools he had; money and more money.

Offers for shopping weekends in Nairobi were not enough. He was able to get rid of one or other women for a weekend by sending them off to Dubai, London or South Africa. In time, money did not buy the peace he yearned for. He drank even more.

Before he knew it, his patients had all but found other doctors. At first, he was happy that the long queues of patients he used to find were shorter and that meant he could lie in a little longer in the morning.

Employers called him about patients whose names he could not remember. Some companies said he was becoming rude and incompetent and his medical reports were lacking in the detail he used to apply. He was axed from list of a number of companies.

It was his 17-year-old son who brought him to our attention. He was at a national school and he had been sent to us on account of “disciplinary problems”. The referral letter also indicated that he was a bright boy who was not applying himself in class. Twice he had been found smoking at school and some teachers found him sleepy and rude at school. They thought he was on drugs.

The team psychologist obtained the history regarding his traumatic experiences at home. For three years, his family fought regularly. At first it was about his father’s infidelity but more recently was about money, or more accurately, lack of it.

In the course of time, and as the family became more engaged in therapy, it became clear that the doctor had, in some respects become a victim of his own success. He had climbed the ladder of new money without skills to deal with his new reality.

In his case this was a slow and steady situation but all the same, the effects of a new lifestyle had brought him, his practice and family on their knees.

The sudden wealth syndrome is a term coined by a psychologist Stephen Goldbart, who studied people who suddenly came into large amounts of money.

Their behaviour was very similar to the doctor; new friends, isolation from family and past networks as well as a new lifestyle, that he was unaccustomed to. There is also great fear of going back to a life of “small money”.

Lottery winners have in the recent past shown these features.