There is nothing shameful or gross about sex--but it is intimate. Just like there is nothing shameful or gross about mental illness--but again, it is intimate.

Ask the Bitches: “How Do I Protect My Own Mental Health While Still Helping Others?”

We’re going to cap off our series on mental health with a question from one of our Patreon donors! This question comes to us from Patron Zoë. And it is SO GOOD and SO IMPORTANT! I am thrilled that she allowed me to share my response.

Here’s Zoë’s question:

In a recent article, Kitty recommends peers as an alternative to therapy. Philosophically, I think it’s a great recommendation. US culture seems increasingly dependent on monetary fixes rather than social fixes.

Here’s my problem: as a friend of some people with severe mental hurdles who can’t afford/don’t want therapy, sometimes it’s just… too much.

I feel stuck. I want to love them and assuage their anxiety, depression, or suicidal thoughts. But I also find myself hitting a wall where they aren’t getting well or coping any better than they did before I tried to help.

It’s not fair to expect someone to just suddenly overcome a mental health issue just because I talked them through one incident. It’s also not okay to treat a friendship as a transaction. (“One breakdown for you; one breakdown for me: that’s the deal!”) But it also starts to become a pretty huge emotional burden and an unbalanced relationship for a while. In my case, the friends most reliant on my care are on the internet, which means they have fairly unlimited access to me.

I don’t think it’s selfish to want to draw a line… but it feels selfish. And I don’t know what to do.

I really can’t understate what a powerful and difficult question this is. Whether your mental health seascape is placid or stormy, being a constant source of support for other people’s struggles takes tremendous psychic energy. Here are my suggestions on how to manage this incredibly tricky situation.

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Free steps you can take immediately

Our Master List of 100% Free Mental Health Self-Care Tactics

What are you supposed to do if you’re experiencing a mental health crisis and you don’t have a therapist? Or money for healthcare? Or supportive parents? Or transportation and time off to visit a doctor? Or like, the ability to shower and leave the house?

We see you.

Whether you have a serious diagnosed condition, or you’re just feeling stressed or blue, this list details free steps that you can take immediately that might help mitigate your circumstances. Nothing on here is revolutionary. Nothing here will “cure” you of whatever ails you. You cannot solve mental health problems with rationalizing and motivation. But because most of such struggles are chronic, it helps to have a sizable toolbox of behaviors to turn to.

Here’s what we’ve got.

Physiological

  • Drink a glass of water. Don’t gulp it down, drink it sip by sip.
  • Eat something. It doesn’t have to be a whole meal. A banana or a granola bar is great. Maybe avoid super salty or sugary stuff. Unless you’re in a place where you need to drive to Five Guys in your pajamas with no shoes on because I have been there.
  • Stretch and change your position. If you’ve been standing and moving, try sitting or lying down—and vice versa. Stretch like a bear awakening from hibernation. Even if you don’t feel like you have to, your limbs will appreciate it.
  • Get some light. If your blinds are drawn, pull them up. If you’re in a dark room, move to a lighter room. If it’s possible to put sun on your skin, do so. Your poor brain is confused; help her out by having lights on in the day and off at night.
  • Get some fresh air. If you can go for a walk, awesome. If not, just stand outside for a moment. Breathe deeply and listen to the sounds you don’t usually notice: birds singing, wind moving, cars going by.
    • If that’s too much: Open the windows if the weather is nice. If the weather’s not nice, just open them for a minute or two. Light a scented candle.
  • Move your body. Walks are a solid response to basically all feelings and situations. If you have the energy and focus to do more (go to the gym, go for a run), do that. Exercise almost always helps improve and stabilize moods.
    • If that’s too much: Put a time limit on it. Tell yourself “I only have to do this for five minutes, and if I want to stop after that, I can.” The hardest part is to get going. Once you’re there, you may decide you can continue after all. In any case, you have permission to stop.
  • Don’t do anything dangerous. If you’re experiencing severe anxiety or depression, please don’t get into a car or operate heavy machinery.

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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.

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Can it be doubted that three-kilogramme brains were once a nearly fatal defect in the evolution of the human race?"

Econ Nerd Review: Kurt Vonnegut’s Galapagos and Your Big Brain

This post discusses depression, anxiety, addiction, suicide, and self-harm. I think it does so in a pretty constructive and helpful way? But I wrote it, so here are some large grains of kosher salt.

Boy howdy do I love this gif.

Reading! It’s just like they said it would be! “I can go anywhere. Friends to know. Ways to grow.”

Today I want to share with you my favorite book about mental health. It’s not a memoir or a self-help book. It’s not even nonfiction! No, it’s a little ditty from 1985 about evolution, ghosts, Armageddon, and nubbins. Kurt Vonnegut’s Galapagos is a brilliant satire on the evolutionary advantages and disadvantages of the human brain. And it completely changed the way I think about mental health, including my own depression.

The opening scene follows a woman as she attempts suicide, and it’s narrated by the dispassionate ghost of a Richard Attenborough nature documentarian type. Here’s a brief excerpt, with a few plot things trimmed out:

“Mary taught that the human brain was the most admirable survival device yet produced by evolution. But now her own big brain was urging her to take the polyethylene garment bag from around a red evening dress in her closet, and to wrap it around her head, thus depriving her cells of oxygen.

“Before that, her wonderful brain had entrusted a thief at the airport with a suitcase containing all her toilet articles and clothes which would have been suitable for the hotel.

“Her colossal thinking machine could be so petty, too. It would not let her go downstairs in her combat fatigues on the grounds that everybody, even though there was practically nobody in the hotel, would find her comical in such a costume. Her brain told her: ‘They’ll laugh at you behind your back, and think you’re crazy and pitiful, and your life is over anyway. You’ve lost your husband and your teaching job, and you don’t have any children or anything else to live for, so just put yourself out of your misery with the garment bag. What could be easier? What could be more painless? What could make more sense?’

“Just about every adult human being back then had a brain weighing about three kilogrammes! There was no end to the evil schemes that a thought machine that oversized couldn’t imagine and execute. 

“So I raise this question, although there is nobody around to answer it: Can it be doubted that three-kilogramme brains were once nearly fatal defects in the evolution of the human race?”

Yeah. This novel completely changed the way I thought about the human mind.

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If you think houses are money pits, try having a fucked-up childhood!

Stop Recommending Therapy Like It’s a Magic Bean That’ll Grow Me a Beanstalk to Neurotypicaltown

May is Mental Health Awareness Month, which makes this an excellent time to talk more about our beautiful broken brains!

(Ahem. Because I am an honest chap, I feel compelled to stress that we did not plan this in advance. We are not nearly organized enough to do that. It was purely coincidental.)

I’m an advice column junkie. My regs right now are Where Should We Begin?, Dear Prudence, Dear Sugars, Savage Love, Care and Feeding, Captain Awkward, Ask a Manager, My Brother My Brother and Me, and the collective wisdom (?) of r/relationships. Yeah… it’s a problem.

When the subject of mental health arises, I’m perennially dismayed to see a very narrow, circumscribed answer appear again and again and again. It goes something like this:

“Go see a therapist; get counseling; find a psychologist; get into therapy; go see your school’s counselor; go to a mental health clinic; you need to be in therapy; find a support group; have you talked to your therapist; have you tried group therapy; talk to your doctor; therapy, therapy, counseling, therapy…” 

And this really bothers me.

It’s not that this advice is bad. It’s not bad! All things being equal, most people would probably benefit from therapy. I have no doubt that the net benefit of professional mental healthcare is incalculably vast.

But it pains me to see therapy described as a one-size-fits-all solution for every person in every situation. I’m someone who experiences intermittent depression. Like half of all mentally ill people in the United States, I’m not currently receiving medical care for it. This doesn’t mean I’m irresponsible or helpless. There are a lot of very understandable reasons why people can’t or won’t seek professional help. Let’s talk about a few of them.

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Buying something you don't need can be an act of defiance against your current situation.

Buying the $7 Chocolate Bar

Yesterday I watched a friend who was struggling with homelessness unpack her few belongings. Inside her purse was a large, rather expensive, luxury-brand chocolate bar. She held it up and twiddled it back and forth in her hands, letting the silver foil catch the light. “Sweetie, I’m homeless,” she said, very matter-of-fact. “You’d better believe I’m getting the good stuff.” And boy was she making a great point.

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