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?”
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:
- Financial Lessons Learned from a Night in the ER
- Dafuq is Insurance and Why Do You Even Need It?
- On Emergency Fund Remorse… and Bacon
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!