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Illnesses like depression and anxiety can limit your ability to attack opportunities with all the entrepreneurial viciousness of a litter of upwardly-mobile wolverines.

How Mental Health Affects Your Finances

May is Mental Health Month, and that’s why we, your fabulous yet imperfect Bitches, have been sharing stories of our own mental health challenges. Kitty bravely explained how she’s dealt with depression, and I walked you through my adventures with anxiety. Then we examined the human brain itself through one of our favorite books: Kurt Vonnegut’s Galapagos.

We’ve been overwhelmed with the outpouring of support from our followers. But even better, our lovely readers have come out of the woodwork to share their own stories of life outside the neurotypical spectrum. And this. Is. Glorious. We’ve never felt more warm fuzzies for our community and we’re proud of each and every one of you for carrying on through depression, anxiety, ADHD, and whatever other mental weirdness you’re dealing with.

But some of you might be asking at this point, “I thought this was a money blog. What the hell does mental health have to do with personal finance?”

Everything.

Medical expenses

Let’s start with the obvious: medication and therapy can be hella expensive. Especially if you don’t have insurance.

I pay $36 every three months for a refill on my anxiety medication. And a visit to my GP to get prescribed said medication is $60. And if I want to see a therapist? $100 per appointment with insurance. It adds up.

And I’m pretty damn functional! But there are people out there with much worse mental illness. People who deal with schizophrenia, borderline personality disorder, or even addiction can be in and out of in-patient facilities over the entire course of their lifetimes. The costs can be astronomical.

For more on the joys of insurance and unexpected medical expenses, check out these classic BGR posts:

Unlike an injury or a disease of the body, there is no “cured” with diseases of the mind. There is only effectively managing, coping with the disease. A mental health patient—even those of us with relatively minor mental illness—is looking at a lifetime of treatment costs.

But I caaaaaan’t: productivity and quality of work

Before I sought treatment, there were moments when I was literally crippled by a panic attack, frozen into inaction like Han Solo in carbonite. It was a struggle to get my work done because I was literally trembling with abject terror. As a result, my productivity plummeted and my quality of work suffered.

Once, I thought I heard my boss on the phone with someone who was complaining about me. This triggered a panic attack so bad I had to lay down on the floor of my office in the fetal position. It felt like I was having a heart attack. It took almost an hour before I could get anything done.

And for what? My panic was completely irrational—that’s kind of the point of a panic attack.

It is fucking hard to get shit done in a timely manner when your brain is like

This kind of detriment to my productivity definitely affected my income. After all, it was partially my anxiety that prevented me from asking for a raise sooner.

The romantic notion of artists, musicians, and writers with mental illness deriving their brilliance from their mental illness is bullshit. Vincent Van Gogh, David Foster Wallace, and Janis Joplin may have been geniuses, but they completed their masterworks in spite of their mental illness, not because of it.

Think of what they might have accomplished had they not had to battle their own minds to create their art. Think how much more productive they would have been during their careers if they had been able to effectively manage their atypical mental health.

For one thing, they would have lived a lot longer.

Leave me alone to die: opportunity cost

When Kitty knew she needed to make the major life decision of switching jobs, she just… couldn’t. She didn’t have the energy required to do the thing because her depression was sapping her will to do anything.

So instead, she wallowed, her depression like a ton of bricks on her ample-yet-shapely chest (you’re welcome, gurl).

Illnesses like depression and anxiety can vastly limit your ability to attack opportunities with all the entrepreneurial viciousness of a litter of upwardly mobile wolverines. While you’re busy battling your mental demons, opportunities are slipping through your fingers, never to be grasped again. This is known as opportunity cost. Your atypical mental health is essentially costing you opportunities.

It’s not that your abilities and intelligence aren’t up to the challenge. It’s that whatever’s going on in that big, brilliant brain of yours makes it feel infinitely harder to do the thing.

Money can’t buy you happiness… but that doesn’t stop you from trying

As the inestimable Dumpster Doggy has explained, “self-care” has become a bajillion dollar industry in which we’re encouraged to spend money on overpriced luxury goods in order to feel better. To care for ourselves.

And damn if it doesn’t feel good to #treatyoself once in a while in the name of self care! Obligatory Parks and Rec gif, minimum one per article read the fine print goddammit:

But as has been explained time and time again: money can’t buy you happiness. Or mental health, for that matter.

It’s all too easy to fall into a cycle of impulsive spending in an effort to “fix” legitimate mental illness. The temporary high of “retail therapy” is just that: temporary. And it certainly doesn’t take the place of real therapy or other methods of effectively managing your mental health.

But in the moment of a mental health crisis, it can feel extremely tempting or even logical to spend money on the consumerist corruption of self care. Money that you won’t have later when you truly need it. Money whose future absence could trigger another mental health crisis. I know I’ve certainly had a panic attack or three over money before.

Do not get sucked into the habit of attempting to buy your way out of your particular flavor of mental weirdness. It won’t work, and you might need that money later for legit medical treatment (see above).

You only have so many spoons

There is a really excellent explanation for the challenges of living with a neurodivergent brain or chronic illness: Spoon Theory.

Spoon Theory gives you a visual representation of your own energy and ability for the day… in spoons. If you only have three spoons (units of energy) for the day, you need to use them wisely. You must prioritize your spoon usage. You can only gain more spoons once you’ve rested and recharged through genuine self care.

So if you only have three spoons for the day, and you use them up taking a shower, feeding yourself, and answering an email… you have zero spoons left for being a productive and profitable human. You only have so many spoons, and if you don’t ration them well, you’re going to run out before you can use them to make money.

Of course, you can try to struggle through once you’ve used up your daily allotment of spoons… but at what cost? Kitty and I were recently talking about her struggles with depression during a period in which she was working full time and side hustling her tail off:

“You feel like an always-working automaton who’s constantly forcing yourself into debt, but it’s spoon debt, it’s energy debt. And if you stop, you feel better… but now you’re forcing yourself into real debt, at least if you’re not at a good, stable place in your finances and career.”

Spoon debt can lead to real debt all too easily. And if you haven’t established yourself with a cushy emergency fund or safety net, you’re going to end up sacrificing financially in order to regain your spoons.

Your turn, minions! I want to know about a time when your mental health negatively affected your finances. Tell us what happened and how you got through it in a comment. Sharing is caring!

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8 thoughts to “How Mental Health Affects Your Finances”

  1. Yeah, mental illness can really fuck your life up. My various mental issues, for example: Made school hard and then impossible, gave other people in school excuses to treat me like shit, which made functioning in school even worse and permanently ruined my self-esteem and confidence. Due to this I wasn’t able to complete my country’s equivalent of high school, and while I still want to finish that and get into college (in America now, and at least here there are more options for colleges even if they cost money), the thought of attempting to study again is terrifying.

    And no education = no job prospects. No job, no money, had to live on disability (better than american disability, but still crap), that plus anxiety and no confidence meant not being able to get a driving license. I only now got my learner’s permit (at least it’s cheaper and easier in the US). I was lucky to meet someone with a good career who is able to support both of us, but that also means I depend on them and have very little independence. And being stuck in the role of a ‘housewife’ also contributes to making you feel worse. Maybe especially when you identify more with a nonbinary gender and other people see you as a woman? Idk.

    Depression also makes saving money by doing things like cooking your own food and stuff a lot more difficult.

    And anxiety and depression etc also make it so much harder to find help like therapy and whatnot, which makes it even harder to get better. I’m still trying to improve my life, but who knows if I will ever get anywhere near where I want to be, financially or otherwise.

  2. I had my own brush with mental illness – it’s so important to have kind love ones to hold your hand and support you.

    Almost snuffed myself back then – even got as far as the edge. But those times of suffering really teach you what’s truly important. Wayne Dyer, Eckhart Tolle and Paxil helped too.

    This is an important post for writers (you know who your are) because our breed has a *history* ✍️

  3. One of the loveliest [sarcasm] effects of anxiety and depression is their tendency to make me spin my wheels. Half a day can go by without my having made a single step forward in my latest deadline.

    Fortunately that doesn’t happen as often. But when it does, the inability to work leads to shame that I haven’t gotten anything done and then fear that I won’t be able to finish on time, which leads to more shame, and ’round and ’round and ’round. Mental illness: the gift that keeps on taking.

    Thanks for putting yourselves out there so that others can see they’re not the only ones who feel the effects. As you already know, sometimes you feel completely convinced that it’s just YOU who’s effing up — that everyone else has it together.

  4. Ouch, those are some nasty co-pays. Mine are a lot lower, but then again I pay a gawdawful amount for my insurance on the marketplace.

    I definitely still have issues getting things done, being frozen by the pressure of “should” and “need to.” It’s exhausting and anxiety-inducing. My anxiety has gotten worse recently so I’m going to talk to my doc to see if we need to lower a recently increased dosage. That could be causing the issue. I hope that’s all it is.

  5. I applaud this series of posts SO MUCH. Here’s another fun one; mental illness can cost you a job. I know because it happened to me. In hindsight, it was a recipe for disaster. I had relocated where I knew no one, had no support network and no car. I was on the west coast but forced to work east coast hours. I was personally living in a depressed state for months and, since my work was my only real social interaction, my discontent spilled over onto my professional world. I had a breakdown at work and was fired shortly thereafter. It was my rock bottom. I was forced to take control of my emotional health…and soon after my financial health. Out of the darkest period of my life, The Lady in the Black was born. Do my mental health issues still impact my finances? You betcha. But I work hard to never find myself back at rock bottom every again.

  6. My boss at my new-ish job (8 months) is such a bully and its bringing out the worst of my anxiety like never before. He’s constantly loudly criticizing and threatening me – its super draining and all I can do not to cry in a heap, let alone muster the energy to get my ass out of here. I literally wake up sick each morning and dread going to work. I see him in the hallway and feel my hands shaking. Its ridiculous. And I’m supposed to get my shit together and start scouring job posts and polishing up my resume and smiling through interviews all like “OH I LOVE MY CURRENT JOB but I’m just looking for MORE GROWTH” or some bs.

  7. EVERYTHING in this post rings true. Especially the opportunity cost. It’s hard to do anything good for yourself when you give zero fucks about anything (yay depression), and hating your soul-sucking job amplifies that about tenfold and makes the prospect of finding a new one insurmountably daunting (ask me how I know because it’s certainly NOT happened to me with both my previous and current job!). Plus, the reason I’ve only asked for a raise once in my life is because ANXIETY. Mental weirdness is damn expensive.

    The day I read about the spoon theory was a great day. Such a fantastic way to explain things to people!

  8. Love it! We need to talk MORE about mental health!

    Yes, our mental health can have a major impact on our finances and how successful we can be with money. Our brain is a powerful tool that can dictate what we can achieve.

    When we are depressed, anxious, sad or in any other negative mental state, we tend to make the worst decisions (subconsciously) in order to maintain the status quo. This is, if you feel that you suck at making money, then you will subconsciously make every decision in order to prove that idea over and over again.

    I personally have had to battle many times with depression, and investing in the stock market and being depressed has lead to take horrendous decisions, as in, when I was at lowest point and I had losing stocks, even though I knew they were good, I would sell them at loss. All this to continue inflicting more pain to myself and stay in the same state.

    I now have a couple of tools and mantras that help me battle depression:

    1- 5 Second rule by Mel Robbins, this is how I force myself to take action
    2- “I am a powerful mother%#$%” I repeat this to myself everyday! I can create anything
    3- I only listen to energetic, positive music. No more depressing jams!

    Thank you for this great post Kitty and Piggy! Keep on rocking bitches!

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