Warning: In this article, I will be speaking frankly about my personal experiences with depression and suicidal ideation. Please only read on if you believe that it would be healthy to do so.
When you do not care whether or not you wake up tomorrow, it’s difficult to make decisions that prepare you for the best possible future. When I relapsed into a major depressive episode during my freshman year of college, money began to feel different. Cash no longer felt like currency, and dollars started to taste like pain pills. Hindsight is twenty-twenty, but I made many, many money mistakes within a very concentrated amount of time. Because depression and other mental illnesses impact a lot of us in the formative years of our relationship with finance, I want to share some lessons and pieces of advice that I would tell to my younger self who was still figuring all of this out.
A bit of background: From my 19th birthday in November 2015 to my 20th birthday in 2016, I had suicidal thoughts and impulses nearly every day. On the days where I did not feel these impulses — and I could honestly count the number of such days on my fingers — I was either feeling down or was inside of a mental rehabilitation hospital. Nothing seemed to help enough. It wasn’t until my 20th birthday that I first started to really believe that I could get better. This was thanks to the combination of surviving for an entire year, increased therapy, finding the right balance with medication, and enrolling in an outpatient facility. While I can thank some coping skills for helping me get through, there was a LOT of trial and error.
But if I could give a younger me some advice, here are a few things I would say (some are finance related, but some are not.)
First, find a (smarter) buddy.
Everyone can benefit from having accountability and mentorship. But if you are in a mental space where taking care of yourself is difficult, finding a friend, parent, or mentor that knows more about money than you do will help astronomically. Part of being an adult is learning how to take care of yourself in the same way that a parent should take care of a child. (I say “should” because many people in my boat did not grow up with an ideal parent-child relationship.) And sometimes, especially when we’re sick, we need extra help taking care of ourselves. I wish I was more open to the people I cared about with my financial decisions. I’m not going to beat myself up for dumb mistakes I made while fighting for my life, but as someone who is now in debt, if I could give my past self some advice, I would tell her to seek out help, because I had no clue what I was doing. Even watching TFD on YouTube would have helped.
Second, you do not have to spend money to keep your friends.
The social pressure to spend money is bad enough without also feeling depressed. With my depression, I became more dependent than ever on my friends, even to the point that it became unhealthy. I lost a lot of money because I would volunteer to buy extra stuff for the apartment instead of insisting that my roommates and I split the prices equally. I lost even more money because I would buy home décor, food, and seasonal decorations to make them want to like me more. In my head, I could no longer remember that they actually liked me. That no longer made sense. They were probably just tolerating me, right?
My friends loved me. I loved them. They would still want to be friends with me if I ate at home before going out with them to save money, or if I was more assertive over equal distribution of household purchases, or if I didn’t act like I was rich when I was not.
Third, money is not something that you simply exchange for goods and services.
If you view money as something that only exists to be traded, then you don’t see its real value. Money is a safety net. Money is a tool that you can use to protect yourself. Money is a key that can grant you independence. Money is something that ought to be respected and handled carefully. You will never go a day without encountering a company that wants a little of your money for itself. When you are depressed, it is so hard to see your worth. You might not even feel real all the time, since you’re constantly trapped in your own depressed and anxious head. So, it’s understandably difficult to say no when a department store is willing to give you discounted clothes in exchange for some of your money. Hold onto that money. Save it. You might not be able to see it now, but the excitement that comes from shopping sprees does not provide you with the same joy that focusing on substantial treatment and getting better will. This, of course, is just talking about excessive frivolous spending. You do not need to feel buyers remorse after purchasing things that you need to take care of yourself. Again, the idea is to take care of yourself as a parent should. You deserve to have an emergency fund more than you deserve some merchandise. Take care of your financial self as you would the other aspects of yourself.
Fourth, seek professional help.
One therapist told me when I was in the hospital that it is not my responsibility to get better, but rather it is my responsibility to continually seek out help whenever I need it. I have spent a total of two weeks inside a mental rehab hospital, gone through numerous therapists and support groups, combed through multiple self-help books, and spent a month attending an outpatient facility. Healing was a very gradual process that I would never have been able to do alone. It took a lot of patience, but I’m at a place now where I finally feel like I can breathe. Going back to the financial aspect, when I initially relapsed into my depressive episode, I was brand new to “adult life” and did not know how to handle money. And with depression taking over my brain, I lost any incentive to learn how to responsibly handle it. I was suicidal; what did it matter if I blew $100 at Target? I wanted to die, so doing anything else that I also wanted to do seemed like a necessary sin. Learning to take care of both your current self and your future self is a very important part of the healing process. If you are unable to care for yourself as a parent should if you were a child, you need to get help at least until you are able to do so.
Fifth and finally, be gentle with yourself.
I am not going to beat up myself for the money mistakes I made. In fact, I am too grateful for my past self for getting me here today to be resentful. I had no clue what I was doing. You might be completely lost, and that is okay. Keep trying until you get to the point where you can give advice to people still struggling. Take good care of yourself. If you’re struggling with mental illness, then your body and mind are fighting extremely hard every day on your behalf (even though sometimes our bodies and minds don’t seem to know what they’re doing, either) and deserve to be respected and treated kindly. Express gratitude and gentleness to your very hardworking brain, and do your best to give it as many resources as possible to get you better and provide your future self with what you will need to succeed.
If you are struggling with depression and/or thoughts of suicide, the National Suicide Prevention hotline is 1 (800) 273-8255. Please do not hesitate to get help!
Brittany likes mango salsa, reading, exploring new places, her friends and family, and long walks on the beach. She is pursuing financial stability in order to provide for future cats.
Image via Unsplash